Legal custody is the right of a parent to make decisions for the minor children. This could be how or where they will be educated, medical treatment, even when they can begin driving or dating. Normally, this right accrues to a person by the mere fact that he or she is a parent of the minor child. In divorce or child custody proceedings, the vast majority of times a court orders that parents have joint legal custody over the children. This is saying that both parents are fit and able to make decisions in the best interests of the children. Joint legal custody is in regards to making decisions for the child, and not the physical time that is spent with them.

Physical custody, on the other hand, is the physical arrangement for how each parent will spend time with the kids. This usually plays out for both parents being involved frequently in the lives of their kids. Whether it is spending every other week with parents, every few days, or even just the weekends, such arrangements are up to the parents, or if they can’t agree, to the court. The parent who has the child for the majority of time is usually called the one with primary physical custody. But each parent (unless held to be unfit or for some other good cause) has a right to spend time with the children. Note: In Virginia, if one parent has the child for 90 or more (24 hour) days a year, that is referred to as shared physical custody. This gets more complicated, as it affects the calculation for child support. Consult with an attorney for more details.