The Difference Between Legal & Physical Custody
Think of custody like the trunk of a tree that splits in two—legal and physical.
Legal custody is the portion of custody that relates to important, potentially life-altering decisions that arise in the course of a child’s life. Decisions such as religious preference, public or private school, medical treatments, discipline, and travel, among others.
On the other hand, physical custody at its most elementary level is, with whom is the child spending the day or night? Primary, physical custody represents who has the child the majority of the time.
The number of additional days that a child spends with one parent over the other typically means that the parent with extra time will likely become eligible for more child support. Once one parent has less than 90 days or overnights per year, child support calculations increase for the other parent considerably.
Shared Custodial Arrangements are Increasingly Ordered in Virginia Courts
To generalize, shared custodial arrangements mean that dads are getting more time and paying less in child support than they were even ten years ago, adjusted for inflation.
This kind of arrangement is not guaranteed, of course, but with good legal representation and a clean behavioral background, shared custody is now on the table in most courts in Virginia.
If the idea of shared custody is impossible for you to fathom, and you are facing a resulting custody battle, choose counsel wisely.
To avoid a courtroom drama, you must have a spouse or co-parent who also wants to avoid an irrational battle. Actor Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock fame wrote a book on his own multi-year custody battle. In A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood & Divorce, he details his series of attorneys (until finding the right one), an overwhelmed system that couldn’t effectively process his complicated case with any expediency, and the ravages of parental alienation syndrome on his child.
Whenever possible, as we suggest in our divorce cases, it is best to attempt agreement out of court. In the midst of a divorce, this means additional provisions to outline child visitation, custody, and support within the Marital Settlement Agreement. After a divorce or where the parents never married, custody and visitation issues can be resolved outside of court through a Consent Agreement, that is ratified by the judge in court through a Consent Order.
Where settlement is not possible, an experienced trial attorney who focuses on family law cases is essential. And as in divorce, preparation is key.
- Gather and organize any and all medical and daycare related expenses.
- Keep a detailed journal noting both parents’ time with the child[ren].
- Record any outbursts or signs of aggression.
- Make a list of counselors, therapists or institutions visited by the child[ren] or parents.
- Gather a list of helpful witnesses that can support your case narrative.
- And above all, keep calm in front of the child[ren].
Our firm is in court nearly every week for complex custody cases. While we steer your case towards the goals outlined in that initial consultation, take special care to manage your emotions in front of the children, and ensure the children’s lives remain steady and consistent.