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What is the difference between legal, physical custody?

For Minnesotans with children considering divorce, their first consideration likely will be their children. Which parent will have child custody? How often will each parent spend with the children? Who gets to make decisions regarding issues such as schooling or medical treatment?

Before heading into divorce, it is best for parents to learn terms common to custody cases to help them do what is best for their all concerned, especially the kids. Here are the two key terms to know:

*Physical custody:

This is where the child will live most of the time. A parent is considered to have primary residential custody if the child shares the parent's home usually 20 to 22 days each month for school-age children. The parent without custody usually will house the child every other weekend and one night a week for dinner.

Traditional judges prefer this custody order because it gives the children the most stability during the school week. Still, less traditional judges will lean more toward a 50/50 split of physical custody.

Some families have come up with alternate schedules, such as the parents moving in and out of their former home on a temporary basis and staying with relatives while the other parent stays with the child. That way, kids are never displaced or shuttled between houses.

*Legal custody:

The parent with legal custody is the parent who makes decisions about the child. A parent who has sole legal custody has the right to make all decisions for the child about things such as religion, schooling, extracurricular activities and health care. With joint custody, the parents must consult in making decisions. Sometimes a parent can have a decision over just one aspect, such as religion, which he or she feels most strongly about, while the other parent makes decisions in other circumstances.

Parents might not have seen eye to eye in their marriage, leading to the divorce, but it is imperative for them to work together to make the best possible decisions for their kids.

Source: Huffington Post, "Custody And Its Different Components," Eyal Talassazan, Oct. 16, 2012

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