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What is the difference between physical and legal custody?

The issue of child custody is fraught with emotion. This is your child, after all. The decisions a court makes affect you on the most personal level possible.

In the past, judges made certain assumptions based on the idea that children are always better off with their mothers Today, a judge’s driving concern is what will be in the best interests of the child. Judges recognize that having both parents involved in their child’s future is in the child’s best interest. At the same time, Mississippi law recognizes that parents have certain rights with regard to their children.

In keeping with that idea, Mississippi law recognizes two main categories of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Understanding these terms can help parents understand their rights and responsibilities under the law.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is easy to understand – it refers to where the child lives. If the judge awards physical custody to the father, the child will live with him; if the judge awards physical custody to the mother, the child will live with her. The judge can also award joint physical custody, in which the child will live with each parent for significant periods of time.

Even if you are not given physical custody, you still have parental rights.

Legal Custody

Unless a judge decides it is not in the best interests of the child, both parents have legal custody of the child, regardless of who has primary physical custody. With legal custody, it is your right as a parent to make important decisions affecting the long-term well-being of your child. These can include decisions about medical health, education and general welfare.

When both parents have legal custody, they must make these decisions jointly. The parents must share information and confer prior to making important decisions about their child’s welfare.

Given the difficult nature of custody proceedings, it’s easy to become lost in your own emotions. Seek out a qualified and caring lawyer to help you navigate those proceedings. Doing so can only benefit you and your child.


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