Physical, legal and joint custody -- what's the difference?

Divorce brings with it many potential complications. No two divorce cases in Texas are exactly the same, and each divorcing spouse likely has unique goals that they wish to be carried out. Some divorces are fairly straightforward, with few issues that need to be resolved and everything mostly agreed upon between the spouses. Some are not so simple, and may involve heated conflicts and an extended legal battle in court.

And, of course, those divorce cases involving children can often present their own unique challenges. Sometimes, child support must be determined -- whether it is owed, and how much. It is also necessary to determine which parent the child will stay with primarily, and what the visitation rights will be. Of course, at the forefront of every divorce issue involving children, the child's best interests are the most important consideration.

Most situations involve physical custody being awarded to one parent. The child will stay with this one parent the majority of the time. This parent has what is known as physical custody, as is considered the custodial parent. However, the custodial parent will often share legal custody of the child. Legal custody refers to the right to make certain decisions about the child's health, education, care, religion and other important decisions.

In some situations, parents choose to pursue a joint child custody arrangement. A joint custody arrangement has the child spending a roughly equal amount of time with both parents. Some prefer this arrangement because each parent gets to spend the same amount of time with the child, but some criticize it because it removes the "home base" from the child's life.

Knowing which child custody arrangement isn't always easy. Attorneys are available to discuss options.

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