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What physical custody means in a divorce

Most individuals in Alaska are probably familiar with idea of child custody arrangements in a divorce, but they may not know what is meant by terms like legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time. It is becoming more common for a child to live primarily with one parent than to switch between households in a joint physical custody situation because it is considered less disruptive for the child.

The parent who does not have physical custody usually gets the child on some weekends and holidays and during the summer. In such a case, this parent is said to have visitation rights.

While parents may not share joint physical custody, shared legal custody is much more common. On occasion, however, one parent may be granted sole physical and legal custody. This is the case if there has been abuse or there are other circumstances that make the parent unfit to care for the child.

Child custody and visitation negotiations between parents will differ a great deal depending on individual family circumstances. For example, two parents may decide that one of them should have physical custody but that they will share legal custody. Sharing legal custody means both parents make decisions about issues such as the child's medical care, education and religion.

However, some divorces may be less amicable. Rather than coming to an agreement about custody, both parents might argue for physical custody. When this is the case, the court will attempt to weigh all the factors and make a decision that is in the child's best interests. For example, a judge may decide that it will be less disruptive for the child to remain with one parent in the family home rather than move to be with the other one.

Source: FindLaw, "Physical Custody," Accessed March 17, 2015

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