A Compassionate Advocate
For Arizona Families

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

On Behalf of | Sep 24, 2021 | Child Custody

Many parents think of custody arrangements as determining which parent a child lives with. However, Arizona law makes a distinction between legal custody and physical custody of children.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

What is legal custody?

Legal custody refers to which parent has the rights and responsibilities to make decisions for a child. When divorced parents have joint legal custody, they are usually required to make important decisions together and to make day-to-day choices that they believe are consistent with mutually agreed upon parenting practices.

A parent who has sole legal custody may make decisions without input from the other parent and the other parent must comply with those decisions. Joint custody is most common in Arizona.

What is physical custody?

Physical custody concerns the living arrangements of the child. Parents with joint physical custody usually share time living with children, though it is not common for each parent to have equal time. If one parent has sole physical custody, the other is usually granted visitation rights; however, that is not always the case. The court usually issues or approves a physical custody schedule that details when each parent has physical custody or visitation rights.

Legal and physical custody arrangements often mirror each other, but may not be exactly the same. For example, it is common for one parent to have the majority of physical custody time, while both parents equally share legal custody. The wishes of the parents and the best interests of the child play a role in the court’s decision for both types of custody.