This is a very common question in a family law action where a child, or children, are involved, and it is important to know that custody and visitation are not interchangeable terms, but are instead two legally different things.
Child visitation refers to parenting time. That is, the amount of time one parent spends with a child. When one speaks of a child visitation schedule or arrangement, they are referring to what days, times, and with what frequency a parent is going to spend with a child.
Child Custody can really be broken down into two different types: "legal" custody, and "physical" custody.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody:
Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make decisions regarding a child's health, education, and welfare. For example, decisions about what school a child will attend, what doctors/dentists/therapists/psychologists a child will see, what extracurricular activities a child will engage in, what religion a child will study and practice, etc.
Physical custody on the other hand refers to a parents right to have a child live with him or her.
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
Legal and physical custody can each further be broken down into two forms, either "sole," or "joint," custody. Some may have heard of terms like "primary custody" or "primary custodial parent." Terms like these are legal fallacies because they have no legal meaning or significance. Terms like these are usually used to make one parent feel better about not having "joint" legal, or "joint" physical, custody. However, in reality only "sole" or "joint" custody have any legal significance and therefore implications.
If one has "sole" legal custody, it means he or she can make unilateral decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare. If parents share "joint" legal custody, it means that they must confer with one another in making decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of a child.
If one has "sole" physical custody of a child, it means that parent has a right to have the child live with them, and, sometimes more importantly, it also means that parent has the presumptive right to move away with a child. In other words, if a parent has sole physical custody of a child and wants to move to a different county/city/state, it is the other parent that bears the burden of presenting evidence of why the Court should not allow the parent with sole physical custody to take the child when they move. If on the other hand, parents share "joint" physical custody, it usually means the child spends relatively equal amounts of time with both parents; and if one parent wants to move and take the child with them, the parent requesting the move would bear the burden of presenting evidence to the Court as to why they should be allowed to take the child with them when they move.
Any combination of the above custody arrangements is possible. That is, one parent could have sole physical custody of the child/ren, yet share joint legal custody, or vice versa. It is important that parents work together to create a custody arrangement, and a visitation schedule, that best suits the needs of their child/ren and their family.
7/2/2013 08:15:38 pm
Thanks for posting this difference. I thought Child visitation and Child Custody are the same. I am expecting the divorce settlement soon, this will come in handy. I am checking out most of the articles here. They are very useful. Regards!
7/22/2013 10:24:34 pm
Here you presented a clear concept of child support, Specially the rights. Besides that i wanna read more about Legal Custody and Physical Custody, So would you please suggest any way for that.
9/20/2013 05:02:04 pm
If one parent moves out and leaves the kids with the other parent, does it hurt the moving parent's chances of getting custody at a later date?
8/19/2017 04:43:18 pm
My wife has a child with her ex husband. She has full custody and he has reasonable access. However, one day he came and took him without us knowing. I need help please if we could use this to cancel his access to my son
4/25/2018 11:45:46 pm
Thanks for sharing this information. This article is very helpful for those people who are not able to understand the difference between child custody and child visitation. This article makes it a clear concept of legal custody, physical custody and their rights.
8/2/2019 07:50:40 am
It really helped when you explained physical custody means the parent has the right to keep the child. My wife and I are getting divorced and I want to keep my child. Thank you for the information. I hope this information will help me keep my child.
9/20/2019 11:41:19 am
I didn't know that there was a difference between legal and physical custody! It's really good to know because my little sister just got divorced and she has legal custody of her daughter. I'll have to ask her if she has physical custody as well.
8/17/2020 10:08:45 am
It was interesting when you explained that custody can be broken down into legal and physical components. My sister wants to meet with an attorney soon because she just got confirmation that her husband has been cheating for a few months. Since they have two kids, the info you shared here should be helpful as she starts the process of discussing custody options with an attorney soon.
2/24/2021 07:51:11 pm
According to family law, ‘custody’ refers to ‘decision-making.’ Having custody means the power of making a decision has been vested onto you. Suppose this custody is related to a child. In that case, the power to decide about the child’s education, health care, religious belief, involvement in extracurricular activities, immediate medical treatments, and other surrounding matters shall be decided by the parent in the custodial role. Custody can be sole or joint. In sole custody, one parent bears the entire responsibility of making significant decisions. Meanwhile, in joint custody, both the parents get to have equal time with their parents, know the rules about child custody after divorce. In this case, focusing on child support gets more privilege than the decision-making part. You can also check here for more details information about those in <a href = https://familylawyerofsaskatoon.com/shared-custody/> Shared Custody </a>
Thanks for helping me understand that legal child custody would mean that a certain parent would have the right to make decisions when it comes to the health, education, and welfare of a child. I will share this information with my sister because she would have to fight for this kind of right for her daughter. It's because her partner and her are separating, and she believes she is more eligible to take care of the kid due to her financial status.
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Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS