the difference between legal and physical custody of children in virginia

What’s the Difference between Legal and Physical Custody in Virginia?

There are two types of custody in Virginia, and in custody cases, both must be decided upon. This decision can be an agreement by the parents, and then approved by the Court, or can be solely decided by a judge. To ensure you achieve what is most important to you in your custody case, you should first know what custody means.

Legal custody refers to who can make important decisions about the child. No, this doesn’t include when the child can get a haircut, it’s more major decisions related to education, religion, medical procedures, etc. Most of the time in Virginia, both parents share joint legal custody of their child, meaning they both get a say in these decisions. Outside of real problems with a parent, the Courts are very interested in keeping both parents involved with their child or children.

Physical custody simply outlines where the child will spend his or her time. Although both parents may legally be able to make decisions about their child, the child will likely spend more time with one parent while having still having significant parenting time with the other. There are many ways to split physical custody: week-on/week off where the child spends one week with one parent and the next week with the other, a rotating weekend schedule with evening time during the week, a summer parenting plan – all of these are dependent on how close the child lives to both parents, the age of the child, the work schedule of the parents, etc., etc.

Any custody dispute is stressful and can be extremely emotional. If you find that you need advice about the custody of your child, feel free to give us a call and we would be happy to set you up with a consultation to discuss your unique situation with one of our attorneys. We can be reached at 757-656-1000 or by email at You don’t have to go through this alone – we are here to help!

To read more about custody, check out our blog posts on the topic here.