Physical Custody vs Legal Custody [Key Differences Explained]

Physical Custody vs Legal Custody

 Child custody can be of two types depending upon the situation. Legal custody refers to a person’s decision-making power in regards to the children, while physical custody refers to the place where the child lives. 

Physical custody can be full or partial. Full physical custody means that one parent has the child for all of their time, even if the child spends some of their time with the other parent. Partial physical custody means that each parent has specific times when they have temporary physical custody of their child. Physical custody rights alternate between parents or are more specific and only occur on certain days of the week or month.

Legal custody is always shared between parents. It means that both parents have equal decision-making power when it comes to things like education, religion, healthcare, and extra-curricular activities.

Key Differences Simplified

Physical custody: According to physical custody legislation, only one parent can live with the child/children. This parent does not have primary physical custody and school decision rights for the child’s upbringing. While the other parent is legally permitted to visit the child/children & decisions are made through mutual cooperation.

Legal custody: Legal custody is an arrangement in which one person (either a parent or another individual/guardian) has the authority to make important decisions about the child’s life, such as education, religion, and medical care. Whereas if both the parents are involved in the decision making then it’s referred to as shared legal custody.


Physical CustodyLegal Custody
Physical custody is a term that refers to the physical presence of a child in a parent's home.Legal custody is the right of a parent or guardian to make decisions regarding a child’s upbringing.
The benefits of primary physical custody are that it is easier to ensure that a child receives proper care, particularly if there are special needs involved.The parent has the right to decide about education, medical assistance & further important decisions.

Physical custody Vs Legal custody in the USA

Physical custody Vs Legal custody difference

In the U.S., the standard arrangement for child custody—where a child lives and who has physical custody of the child—is that one parent is awarded sole legal custody, the reason for sole legal custody is to avoid violence, which gives that parent authority to make any legal decisions for the welfare of the child, while joint physical custody grants both parents rights to share in raising the child, 50/50 custody school decisions where he or she will study

What does primary physical custody mean?

Primary physical custody is a specific type of court-ordered parenting plan, in which one parent has more time with the child than the other parent. It’s commonly used when a child lives primarily with one parent, and the other parent has primary physical custody with visitation.

What legal custody with examples?

Legal custody refers to the ability to make important decisions regarding a child’s life. Legal custody is a term referring to the legal right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding a child’s life. For example, parents can make decisions such as choosing a school, making medical decisions, and determining religion.

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How to get primary physical custody?

how to get primary custody

  • Try to come to an agreement with your spouse without seeing lawyers or going to court. This is always preferred—it’s cheaper and less stressful than a drawn-out court battle.
  • If you do end up in court, prepare your case ahead of time. Be prepared to focus on your own parenting skills.

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What are physical custody rights?

A parent with physical custody of a child can choose to move with them or relocate, even if it is far away from their other parent. The other parent must consent to this move by signing off on a legal document called a “relocation affidavit.”

JD Lipton