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Is legal custody different than child custody?

Whether you are going through a divorce or separation, or just contemplating a divorce or separation, if you have kids, a primary concern is those kids. And, as divorce is a legal process, you may wonder how the law defines and determines custody issues, like legal custody and child custody.

Legal versus physical custody

In Georgia, family law courts recognize both legal custody and physical custody. Legal refers to the right to make your child’s life decisions, like healthcare, schooling, etc. Physical custody, on the other hand, is simply where your child lives.

Essentially, this means that you could have physical custody, but your ex could have legal custody. This would mean that your child would live with you, but your ex would be responsible for making all your child’s major life decisions.

Joint versus sole custody

Now, this is not to say that legal and physical custody necessarily have to be vested into one parent individually or separately. Instead, both legal and physical custody can be awarded joint and sole.

As the name implies. Joint custody means that you would share responsibility with your ex, and this could be either legal or physical custody, or both. Alternatively, sole custody means that legal and/or physical custody is vested with only one parent.

The normal arrangement

In most cases, Georgia family law courts will award joint legal custody to both parents, but it is more common for primary physical custody to be awarded to one parent. This means that both parents must work together on making their child’s major life decisions, but the child will primarily live with one parent (the custodial parent), while the other parent maintains a visitation schedule (the non-custodial parent).

How does the court decide?

As in most states, our state uses the best interests of the child test. This means that the court makes decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. This gives family court judges broad discretion to make their own decisions, but they use various factors. These factors include any history of abuse, physical or mental health issues, the home environment, etc.

The key here is that child custody is incredibly complex, and it is a highly fact-specific case-by-case analysis done by the judge. This is why it is so important to prepare your case early, and to work on it throughout the divorce.