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The difference between physical and legal custody rights

Child custody disputes are about much more than emotions; they are about important legal rights and, most importantly, the best interests of the child. Furthermore, whenever parents divorce an assignment of child custody rights must be included in the final decree. While we often refer to custody generally, it actually includes both legal custody and physical rights. The following is a brief look at child custody for Massachusetts couples considering divorce.

Many Massachusetts's residents are likely familiar with Rupert Sanders, if not as the director of the film "Snow White and the Huntsman," than as the man with whom Kristen Stewart cheated on her boyfriend Robert Pattinson. According to a recent report, the director's wife has now filed for divorce from Sanders. The couple was married for 10 years. In addition to the divorce, Ross has also allegedly asked for joint custody of the couple's young children.

In every divorce there are two types of custody rights that must be assigned. The first is physical custody, which refers to the custodial parents right to care for the child on a day-to-day basis. The second type of custody right is known as legal custody. Legal custody has nothing to do with where a child resides on a day-to-day basis. Rather, legal custody refers to the right to make decisions regarding a child's upbringing, including medical and educational choices.

While legal custody and physical custody can be assigned to both parents, physical custody is often assigned to one parent, also known as the custodial parent. Although joint custody is less common with physical custody, parents have the option to agree on a joint physical custody arrangement. Custody arrangements are an important aspect for parents to work out after a divorce and it's important to have the necessary advocacy to make the best possible custody determination for all involved.

Source: ABC News, "Liberty Ross Files for Divorce From Rupert Sanders," Luchina Fisher, Jan. 28, 2013

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