As you work through a divorce, the topic of children and custody is bound to come up. It doesn’t help when two seemingly similar terms are brought up – legal custody and physical custody. 

Determining a custody agreement is one of the more critical aspects of a divorce, but it can also be the most challenging and draining. To reach an agreement, though, you must first understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody. It’s best to seek legal advice from a child custody lawyer to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Within both types, you can have sole or shared custody. Put simply, sole custody would grant a single parent specific rights, while shared custody can grant both parents the right.

Physical custody is what most people tend to think of. It is a parent’s right to have their child or children live in their home. Shared physical custody is possible and grants both parents the right to have equal time with their children. Typically, shared physical custody is only granted to parents that live near each other.

On the other hand, legal custody is the right to make major life decisions. This includes where a child will go to school, their medical treatments, and their upbringing. While legal custody can be shared, it can be difficult if a divorce is messy or filled with tension.

When legal custody is shared, both parents must collaborate to make a decision. If one parent decides on something without the second parent’s consent, the second parent can take the matter to court. 

Most legal custody violations aren’t resolved with criminal charges, but it’s best if both parents work out the disagreement without the court’s assistance.

Factors Determining Custody

As you go through the process of determining custody, several factors will come into play. Some factors are more common than others. In addition, depending on your unique situation, there may be additional factors involved.

When it comes to a custody agreement, here are some things the court may look at:

  • The profession of each parent
  • The income of each parent and what they’re able to provide
  • The relation each parent has with their child or children
  • If a parent has a criminal history
  • The mental and physical state of each parent

It is possible that only one parent is granted legal custody while both parents share physical custody. It is also possible that parents share both types of custody.

In extreme cases, one parent may be granted both sole physical custody and sole legal custody.

In determining custody, the judge will consider many different factors. Some may not be in your control, while others might be adjustable. To help sway the odds in your favor, though, you’ll want to find a good lawyer who is capable of representing you in the best manner possible.

Pros and Cons of Shared Custody Agreements

While courts may not issue a perfect 50/50 custody agreement, the idea of shared custody is that a child will have regular contact with each parent. When a divorce is amicable, this may be the best solution. However, there are both pros and cons of a shared custody agreement.

It’s clear why shared custody can be beneficial. Children will continue to have a relationship with both parents. 

However, with shared custody, children must be taken between both homes. This can result in lots of shuttling around, which takes up valuable time and can add to a sense of instability for the child. 

Additionally, if either parent has ill will or is unwilling to cooperate, the child can be negatively affected. Living between two homes can also be stressful for a child.


Custody cases can be stressful and emotionally draining. It’s essential to think of your child’s best interests at all times and keep them in mind throughout the whole process. You’ll also want to hire a good lawyer to represent you so that the custody agreement can be determined as smoothly as possible.

Emily A. Konicek

Emily A. Konicek

Emily A. Konicek brings 14 years of experience to your family law concerns. Emily excels at mediation, negotiation and litigation, and can help you pursue a course of action that helps you meet your goals for the future and for your family.