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June 13, 2024
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Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

When a couple divorces and there are children involved, issues relating to child custody need to be decided upon, whether it is by the parents or the courts. It is always best if the parents can decide things for themselves, but that is not always the case. If the parents cannot get along or one parent doesn’t want to compromise, then it can end up being a nasty battle. Then the courts would have to get involved.

Child custody in Tennessee has two parts. The state recognizes two basic types of child custody: physical and legal. And either of these can be sole or joint custody. Read on to learn more about these types of custody.

Physical Custody

When people think of child custody, physical custody is typically what comes to mind. Physical custody refers to the child’s day-to-day living arrangements. Does the child primarily live with one parent? When do they see the other parent?

Physical custody can be sole or joint. Sole custody means one parent has custody of the child (while the other parent may have visitation rights), and joint custody means that both parents have custody.

Joint custody is becoming more common and is preferred by the courts since it means that both parents have roughly equal custody of the children. If possible, the courts prefer that both parents be involved in the child’s life, as this is often more beneficial in the long run.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to who makes decisions regarding important matters in the child’s life. Important matters include the child’s health, education, and welfare. Religious upbringing may also be a factor.

Again, legal custody can be sole or joint. Typically, both parents will make decisions for the child, but one parent may have sole legal custody in certain situations.


While joint custody is the rule rather than the exception, these situations are looked at on a case-by-case basis. For example, the parents do not always live near each other. One parent may move to another state for work purposes or to be closer to family. If a parent is in the military, then they may be deployed for months at a time, making a joint custody situation next to impossible.

Employment is also an issue. A parent who works long hours or travels often may not be able to have custody of a child. What happens when the child is on school breaks? Which parent has the flexibility in their schedule to work from home or take time off? Often the term “custody” is not used at all in court documents and instead terms such as “primary residential parent” or “residential parenting time” are used.

Contact Us Today

Child custody is often a contentious issue, but keep in mind that Tennessee prefers parents to co-parent peacefully and put the best interests of the child in mind.

A Murfreesboro child custody lawyer from The Law Office of David L. Scott can help you navigate the complexities of Tennessee child custody laws. Schedule a consultation by calling (615) 896-7656 or filling out the online form.

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