Rhode Island parents who are involved in a custody dispute may be wondering what the difference is between having physical custody and legal custody. Child custody issues usually deal with one or both of these two categories.
Physical custody refers to where the child will live - a "parenting plan". In the past, a typical arrangement for a school-age child would be spending 20 to 22 days per month at the home of the parent with primary physical custody. The non-custodial parent would then spend eight to 10 days each month with the child at the non-custodial parent's home every other weekend and on some evenings. Often, parents know what is best for their children and may opt for a different plan, especially when they reasonably close to the child's school. The age of the child and the ability of the parents to communicate have a large impact on what will be best for the child and what will work.
Traditionally, judges followed this custody pattern because they believed it gave the children a good foundation while allowing for the children to maintain a relationship with the non-custodial parent. But custody arrangements are not a one-size-fits-all matter. They can be tailored and tweaked to fit each family's needs and preferences, but that is more likely to happen when parents determine custody by themselves outside of court.
Other custody arrangements are more unconventional. Some parents have agreed to share the children as well as the house. In this arrangement, the children reside in the former marital home on a full-time basis and the parents alternate living with them in the house. This will not work for every divorced couple, but some have tried it.
Legal custody involves decision-making authority. Sole legal custody means that one parent is the deciding authority in all matters regarding the children. Joint custody means that this responsibility is shared. Some parents have even taken to divvying up certain decisions between themselves. Under this structure, one parent may get to cover religious issues, while the other parent would deal with medical decisions.
Source: The Huffington Post, "Custody And Its Different Components," Eyal Talassazan, Oct. 18, 2012