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How does legal custody differ from physical custody?

California parents often worry about their children. Even if their kids are well-adjusted, successful in school and thriving in their activities, their parents may have concerns about their health, happiness and well-being. It is natural for parents to want what is best for their children and to want to do whatever they can to provide love and support for their offspring.

During a divorce, though, a parent's focus may shift from the best interests of their kids to their own interests in ending their marriage. This is not to say that a parent will forget about their child. It is only to note that a parent's attention may be directed to the legal process of divorce rather than the minute details of their children's existence.

However, during and after a divorce, a parent must continue to support and care for their child. This is done through two forms of child custody -- legal and physical. Physical custody involves where a child will live and may be shared by their parents or assigned solely to one parent. Legal custody involves the ability of a parent to make decisions about the upbringing of the child, such as decisions about the children's religious involvement, medical treatments and educational opportunities.

Legal custody can also be shared by parents or be assigned to one parent during a divorce. When deciding how to manage the legal and physical custody of a child, a court must look at the child's best interests and determine what arrangement will provide them with the best post-divorce situation.

Legal custody is an important right that parents often want to preserve when their marriages end. Family law attorneys can help their clients advocate for their post-divorce parental right to make decisions about their children's futures.

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Nachlis & Fink
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