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What is The Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?


Whether you are in the midst of a contentious and emotionally charged custody case or divorce or are considering divorce, you must understand the various types of custody to ensure that you end up with a parenting plan that’s in your child’s best interests.

When researching your child custody options in Texas, legally known as conservatorship, you will come across the terms legal custody and physical custody. Here’s what you should know about these child custody arrangements.

What Exactly is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to a parent’s obligations and rights to decide on various matters that will affect the child’s well-being and upbringing. These matters involve the child’s:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Medical procedures and treatments
  • Childcare providers, including counselors and pediatricians
  • Extracurricular activities
  • The operation or purchase of a vehicle
  • Sex and contraception education
  • Other vital matters linked to potential or actual litigation concerning the child

On the other hand, day-to-day matters that require decision-making, including what the child eats for the day, what hygiene products to use, or which hospital to go to in case the child gets hurt and needs emergency treatment, would be up to the parent who has parenting time or physical custody of the child at that time.

What Exactly is Physical Custody?

This refers to which parent has custody of the child, particularly which parent the child is living with that night or is taking care of them. In most cases, but not always, the parent who has physical child custody also has legal custody of the child. Physical custody tends to be difficult to negotiate since the parents must consider the child’s school schedule, everyone’s travel schedules, and the parents’ work schedules, among many others.

What About Sole and Joint Child Custody?

Within the physical and legal custody arrangements, parents can either have joint or sole legal custody and joint or sole physical custody.

  • Joint Legal Custody – In this arrangement, both parents make decisions for the child’s well-being and upbringing and make certain that their decisions will reflect the best interests of the child.
  • Sole Legal Custody – In this custody arrangement, only one parent has the authority to decide on the child’s education, health, and other welfare matters.
  • Joint Physical Custody – In a joint physical arrangement, both parents share close to equal or equal access or parenting time to their child.
  • Sole Physical Custody – With sole physical custody, one parent has all or most of the physical time with their child.

Connect With a Skilled San Antonio, TX, Child Custody Attorney Now

The compassionate and experienced San Antonio, TX, child custody attorneys of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC understand how overwhelming and contentious child custody issues can be. Discussing your case with one of our attorneys can help ease your worries and create a custody arrangement that will work for everyone involved.

If you have any questions about child custody or need guidance navigating your child custody case, set up a case consultation with our San Antonio, TX, child custody attorney today. Please call 210-222-9132 or reach us online for more details.