Legal vs. Physical Custody in Florida

The question of child custody is one of the most sensitive issues that must be addressed during divorce proceedings. Did you know, however, that there are two primary types of custody in the state of Florida? The two classifications are legal and physical custody, and they refer to different aspects of a parent’s purview when it comes to caring for their children. This blog will lay out many important details concerning legal and physical custody, including the ways you might be granted either type. 

What is Legal Custody?

When you are granted legal custody of your children, the court has granted you a legal right to have a say in important decisions regarding their upbringing. Specifically, you can help decide on your children’s religious, moral, and educational upbringing. An example would be if your ex-spouse, who has sole physical custody of your children, wants to place them in a private religious school. Even though you do not have physical custody of your children, you would still have a say in whether or not you are comfortable with this happening. 

What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody refers to the living arrangements of children with divorced parents (or those who are otherwise not living together). It is usually what people think of when they hear the term “child custody.” As with legal custody, the courts look at the mental and physical capacity of each parent when determining physical custody, as well as the stability of each home environment and substance abuse to meet the child’s “best interests.” 

Sole vs. Joint Custody

Now that we have covered the differences between legal and physical custody of children, it is important to know how these two types of custody are executed: solely or jointly. With sole custody, one parent will generally be alone in a child’s upbringing. Joint custody means that both parents share the responsibility of raising their children. 

Sole custody is more common with physical custody than legal custody. This is often simply due to the logistics of having a child shift back and forth between both parents’ residences. For example, if one parent is otherwise fit to physically care for his or her children but lives three states away from the community where they grew up, then the other parent is likely to have sole physical custody (with visitation arrangements likely). On the other hand, sole legal custody is usually only determined to be best for children whose other parent is mentally unfit to make sound decisions, has a criminal record, or has issues with unlawful substances. 


Having access cut off to their children is heartbreaking for parents going through a divorce. Our firm is experienced in fighting for parents’ interests in divorce court, especially when it comes to issues of child custody. Give us a call today at 305-227-4030 to discuss your options with a caring and knowledgeable family law attorney.

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Law Office of Ray Garcia, P.A.

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