Understanding Child Custody: Physical vs Legal

In New Jersey, there are two different types of custody: physical custody and legal custody.

The residence of the parent in which the child lives, that parent has what is known as physical custody (sometimes referred to as residential custody).

A parent who has legal custody has the power to make decisions affecting various aspects of the child’s life such as health, education, safety, and welfare. Day to day activities are usually at the discretion of the parent who has physical custody but any major decision that involved religion, medical treatment and education will be made by the parent who has legal custody.

Shared Physical Custody

Shared physical custody refers to any child that spends around 2 overnights per week with each parent. One parent will have primary residence while the other parent has alternative residence. This is important when determining things like child support.

This is different than visitation time which is when a child has a parent that has sole physical custody and the other parent has “parenting time” or visitation with the child.

Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody means that both parents have the legal right to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Even if the child has one parent that has sole physical custody, both parents can have joint legal custody.

During the divorce process, deciding who has custody, whether it’s legal or physical custody, is always one of the most contentious parts. To make sure you get an agreement that is beneficial to you, hire an experienced child custody lawyer.