Physical and Legal Custody

One of my hot-button issues is family law.

I’m not going to go into detail on why just this moment–suffice it to say that the majority of my time in the paralegal field was spent working divorces, particularly while volunteering for Legal Aid, and the look I got at the whole process was entirely too enlightening for my tastes, even given that I was already ill-disposed.

What’s got me going today, in any case, is a post on Facebook. And I can’t find it, more the pity, but the particular comment that pissed me off was an assertion that there is no preference for men in family law decisions, because in the state where this woman practices (she claimed to be a lawyer), men get joint custody almost every time just for asking.

Which is true, at least in my state. But it doesn’t mean half of what she’s implying, and is using imprecise words to bamboozle the public. And she knows it, she has to know it, which makes her a purveyor of bullshit.


Today, class, we discuss the difference between physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody is probably what you think of when you think of custody. It’s who the child actually lives with. Generally speaking, one parent will have primary physical custody and the other will have visitation. (The person with physical custody will also be the one receiving any child support.)
Almost always, the parent with physical custody is the mother.

Now, you’ll hear complaints about how men have too much power here: mainly that it is, in fact, difficult to cut them out of visitation entirely. While understanding that there are certain people who should never be able to set eyes on their children again–there are certain people who should never see sunlight again–I have limited sympathy for the idea that this should be a light burden to achieve. (Particularly given the existence of supervised visitation.)

But wait, Caitlin, you said that joint custody is almost always given. Doesn’t everything you’ve just said indicate that that’s not true?

Nope! Because there’s also Legal Custody.

Legal Custody means that you get to help make decisions. This is what is, at least in my state, given in almost every circumstance. The exceptions mostly include allegations that the other parent is abusive.

So anyway, theoretically, legal custody means that you get a say in whether the child goes to private or public school, what kind of medical treatment he receives, and things like that. Functionally, it means that, if the other parent is consistently going against your wishes in these areas, you can call a court date and the judge might or might not ask them to pretty please consider doing what you’re asking them to.

But on paper, you totally have the power.

Yep. This is completely and totally proof that the family law system isn’t biased against men. Totally.


Today’s sketch is a paladin and a fangirl.



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