While researching childcare options following a divorce, many may appear to be confusing. 

However, the terms physical and legal custody both have distinct meanings, and choosing one or the other affects not only the child but also his or her parents. 

Physical custody 

The most commonly known form of this arrangement, physical custody refers to a parent being responsible for housing and other immediate care. Your child lives with you full time and is dependent on your help for day-to-day tasks. The form of care requires you to be present in his or her life and a source of stability for minor, as well as major, life issues. 

Legal custody 

Once you have legal custody, you legally have jurisdiction over major life decisions. These can range from medical issues to educational choices, or even religious practices. This situation commonly coincides with physical custody because it focuses more on big pictures issues rather than everyday living situations. 

Influences on sole or joint custody 

Sometimes, only one parent is legally allowed to visit or make decisions for the child. Sole custody often happens in situations where the other adult cannot fulfill parental duties for one reason or another. In this circumstance, the other parent may visit, but he or she is not responsible for taking care of the child for a long length of time. It is imperative to be aware that the child should not used as a “bargaining chip” for one spouse or another. 

In many cases, courts rule that two parents share joint physical custody. Your child may then go from your home to your ex-spouse’s home on a schedule. However, this usually happens in circumstances where the parents live in close proximity, in order to keep matters simple.