Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

In a child custody case, there are several potential outcomes for the parents and their children. This makes it very difficult to predict the outcome of a dispute. In Oregon, the courts will always rule in favor of the children’s best interests in a custody case.

There are different types of custody that encompass far more than just where a child will live. Understanding what they are and how they work is important. If you are involved in a divorce or custody dispute, you need a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney to guide you through this stressful and complicated process. The family law team at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath is ready to help you protect your parental rights.

Types of Custody

The ultimate goal in any child custody case is for both parties to coparent and share responsibility for and time with their children. Obviously, this is not always possible. Legal custody refers to the authority to make important decisions for the children. Physical custody refers to where and with whom the children will live. Physical and legal custody can be shared by both or possessed by only one parent. Both must agree to share before joint legal or physical custody will be granted.

There are four different types of custody commonly awarded: sole legal custody, joint legal custody, sole physical custody and joint physical custody. After a judge looks at all the information provided in the case, they will grant some form of both legal and physical custody of the children to the parents if it is in the child’s best interests to do so. Sometimes, unusual circumstances may also warrant a judge to find another, more appropriate arrangement that will better suit the children.

• Sole Legal Custody: When one parent is given sole legal custody of the child, they will have the final say in making important decisions about their health, schooling, religion, residence and lifestyle. Ideally, both parents will make decisions even when not mandated to share this responsibility. Unless denied by the courts, each parent has the right to be informed about the child’s health and education whether they have legal custody or not.
• Joint Legal Custody: This is not used often in Oregon because it is a difficult arrangement to maintain. Joint legal custody requires parents make all major decisions regarding the child together.
• Sole Physical Custody: The parent that is granted sole physical custody is the one with whom the child primarily resides and is called the custodial parent. The other parent, the noncustodial parent, is given visitation with the child (also called parenting time).
• Joint Physical Custody: This is when the child is able to spend significant amounts of time at each of the homes of their parents.

The most common custody arrangement is sole legal and physical custody being awarded to one parent and scheduled parenting time given to the other. The amount of parenting time the noncustodial parent will receive is based on what is in the best interests of the children and logistical factors like distance and school.

Some families have visitation schedules that include every other weekend visits, midweek visits or summer and holiday visits. Whatever works for and is agreed upon by the parents and children will likely be accepted by a judge. If the parents can not reach an agreement though, a parenting time schedule will be created with the child’s best interests in mind.

Oregon Child Custody Lawyers Can Help

A custody dispute is rarely simple. As a parent, you have rights when it comes to your kids and they deserve to be protected. If you are involved in a divorce or custody battle, contact one of the knowledgeable child custody attorneys at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath.

To schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Oregon or SW Washington, call us now at 503.222.9116 or submit the contact form on our website at