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The difference between legal and physical custody of children

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | Child Custody

Parents typically want to spend as much time with their children as possible and have a lasting impact on their upbringing. Someone denied parental rights and responsibilities after a Tennessee divorce might become estranged from their children.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that adults who share children understand their rights under state law as they prepare for divorce or a breakup that requires custody negotiations. Parents in Tennessee often need to share both physical custody and legal custody of their children with one another. What differentiates these two types of custody?

Physical custody is about presence and bodily needs

Discussions about child custody matters often focus almost exclusively on physical custody. Parents worry about having enough time with their children, and that is what physical custody allows them to obtain. The courts usually divide physical custody between both adults based on what would be in the best interests of the children.

A judge considers factors ranging from the stability of someone’s living circumstances to the role they have previously played in the lives of the children when determining what would be in their best interests. Unless there have been major issues in the family related to crime, abuse, neglect, abandonment or substance abuse, there is a presumption that shared physical custody is the best option for the children.

A parent with physical custody not only has the privilege of spending time with the children but also has a responsibility to meet their basic needs. A parent with physical custody has to pick a sick child up from school and ensure that the children have meals.

Legal custody is about parental authority

Parents don’t just provide for their children’s basic needs. They also have a responsibility to guide them and make key decisions on their behalf. Children are notoriously short-sighted and cannot understand the long-term repercussions of their actions in many cases. Parents, therefore, have the authority to make decisions about the religious practices, educational pursuits and medical treatment of their children while they are still minors. Those parenting jointly share legal custody, and those co-parenting after a breakup or divorce usually also need to share legal custody.

Parents negotiating custody arrangements in Tennessee often need to think about not just their desire to have time with the children but also the need to influence major choices about their upbringing. Typically, parents can settle their custody disagreements amicably by working with one another, but they also have the option of litigating and asking a judge to divide legal and physical custody if they can’t reach their own arrangements.

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