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Child Custody Laws: What is Physical Custody?

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By Jason Beahm on September 09, 2010 7:02 AM

Going through a divorce is rarely an easy thing for anyone involved. Many people have questions about how things will work going forward, especially when they have children. A term that comes up frequently is "physical custody." But how many people know what that really means in a legal context? This post is designed to answer the question: what is physical custody?

In the course of a divorce, child custody laws come into play.The court will determine various aspects of how the division of care for any children will be conducted. The parent who the court determines should have physical custody will be the parent that provides care for the child on a daily basis. That almost always means that the child will live with the parent that has physical custody.

Under child custody laws, the parent with physical custody is known as the "custodial parent." Typically, the other parent shares "legal custody" with the custodial parent by way of an arrangement for visitations. For example, the court gives the non custodial parent the right to visitation every other weekend, during certain holidays and for several weeks over the summer.

However, in some situations a parent is given both physical and sole custody. When a court gives a parent sole custody, which is rare, the parent is given exclusive physical and legal custody of the child.

Sole custody is typically only given when the other parent is found unfit or incapable of taking care of the child. Examples include abuse, drug addiction and criminal behavior. In the case of sole custody, the other parent may still be allowed some visitation, though it will be much more limited than in a shared legal custody / physical custody arrangement.

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