The difference between legal custody and physical placement

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2024 | Family Law |

Wisconsin custody orders contain numerous details established by a judge or agreed on by the parents subject to the order. Custody orders may include rules about both legal custody and physical placement. Once there is a final order approved by the courts, the parents must abide by the terms set within it. Otherwise, they could face enforcement actions or need to return to court for a modification.

The terms of a custody order can have a major impact on family relationships. People should seek out terms that work well given their circumstances and that can help them maintain a healthy relationship with their children. Doing so requires an understanding of the family law system in Wisconsin.

Parents preparing for custody negotiations or family court hearings often struggle to make sense of the jargon used by family law professionals. What is the difference between physical placement and legal custody?

Physical placement refers to direct daily responsibility

The parent who has physical placement of the children at any given moment is the one directly responsible for their care. If the child falls ill while at school, the parent with physical placement that day usually needs to arrange to pick them up from class early and take them to a doctor. Physical placement also means providing a place to live and other basic necessities, like food and clothing. Parents often share physical placement, although one parent may have slightly more time with the children overall.

Legal custody is parental authority

Although the term legal custody might make people think of time with the children granted by the courts, it actually refers to the right of parents to make decisions on behalf of children. Legal custody is what allows an adult to enroll a child in school or make decisions about medical care on their behalf. Like physical placements, legal custody is often split between the adults and the family. They may both have the authority to make decisions that require immediate answers during their parenting time and to have a say in decisions that have a big-picture impact on the children in the family.

Pursuing both physical placement and legal custody are often key priorities for parents facing divorce or legal separation in Wisconsin. Those who have questions about this process can seek personalized legal guidance at any time.


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