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Are legal and physical custody different?

There are two types of child custody recognized in California. The first is legal custody. This allows you to make decisions on your child's behalf. For example, you can decide where your child goes to school or where he or she goes to the doctor.

If you have physical custody, then that means that you are the parent your child lives with. You can have both legal and physical custody. You may share legal custody with the other parent in a joint custody arrangement, or you may have sole physical custody.

If you have only legal custody and visitation rights, you still have the right to make decisions about your child's health care and schooling. You can make decisions about your child's religion or religious activities. You have the option to choose your child's extracurricular activities and a say in where he or she can travel. In the case that you share legal custody with the other parent, you will both need to make decisions together regarding your child and his or her future. It may not always be easy to agree, but it is important to do what is in the best interests of your child.

If you have physical custody, it may be joint or primary. If you have primary, it means you're the parent your child lives with most of the time. In a joint custody situation, your child lives with you and the other parent on and off.

Your situation may vary, and you may have a different idea of the custody arrangements that would work best in your case. Your attorney can help you protect your right to see and care for your child.

Source: Judicial Branch Home, "Basics of Custody & Visitation Orders," accessed July 14, 2017

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