What is the difference between physical custody and legal custody?

When we talk about child custody during a separation or divorce here in Massachusetts, we’re actually talking about 2 separate types of custody – physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody is who the child lives with most of the time.  One parent can have sole physical custody or both parents can have joint physical custody.  If one parent has sole physical custody, then the other parent (noncustodial parent) gets visitation.

Legal custody is who gets to make the decisions that involves the child.  One parent can have sole legal custody or both parents can have joint legal custody.

The most common type of arrangement is when one parent has sole physical custody and both parents have joint legal custody.  The noncustodial parent get visitation and must pay child support to the parent with sole physical custody (the custodial parent).

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