Coates & Davenport, P.C.

What is legal versus physical custody in Virginia?

Parents in Virginia who were very much in love when their child was born may find that as time marches on, while their love for their child grows, the relationship they have with one another has become untenable and they are best off divorcing. When this happens a child custody and parenting plan will need to be established. It is important that parents in Virginia who find themselves in such situations understand their child custody options, so they can make decisions that are in their child's best interests.

First there is legal custody. Legal custody is the authority a parent has to make major life decisions regarding the child, regardless of with which parent the child is living with. Such decisions may include where the child will go to school, what doctors the child will see and what religion the child will practice. Legal custody is most often joint, allowing each parent to share in these responsibilities. However, there may be time when one parent is awarded sole legal custody.

Second there is physical custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives on a daily basis and which parent has the ability to make the day-to-day decisions that come with raising a child, such as what the child will eat for dinner and when the child's bedtime will be. Like legal custody, both parents can share joint physical custody of the child. If this is not feasible or it is not in the child's best interests, then one parent will have sole physical custody and the other parent will have visitation periods.

In the end, all child custody decisions must be in the best interests of the child. Much will depend on the parents' and child's needs and circumstances. Parents who find themselves having to make child custody decisions will want to make sure they understand all their options, so they can decide what is best for them and their child.

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