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What is the difference between custody and visitation?

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2023 | Child Custody |

Family law cases in Virginia that address child custody or support can be some of the most difficult cases to be involved in, both from an emotional perspective and from a legal one. Yes, there are guidelines provided by state law that can help parents in Virginia who are trying to navigate a tricky custody or support issue, but each case involves its own set of unique facts. It helps to be familiar with the legal terms you might hear in your case.

Custody versus visitation

“Custody” is a family law term that most of our readers have probably heard before, but what does it actually mean?

Virginia law recognizes two types of custody: legal and physical custody.

Legal custody involves the right of a parent to make important decisions about the life of the child, such as the child’s educational or healthcare needs, or even how the child participates in extracurricular activities. Oftentimes, family law courts in Virginia and throughout the country prefer that parents share “joint” legal custody, meaning they work together to make these important decisions.

Physical custody refers to where the child will actually live and spend time. Physical custody might also be joint, wherein the child will live with each parent at times. However, that type of arrangement may not work if the parents don’t live in close proximity – the logistics could be tough.

So, in some situations, one parent will have primary physical custody and a visitation schedule will be set so that the other parent has ample access to the child as well.

Visitation – which might be called “parenting time” in some situations – is the time that is set aside for the non-custodial parent to spend time with the child.

This might include overnight visits, summer vacations or holidays spent together, for example. The exact situation for custody and visitation will come down to the unique dynamics involved in any given case.

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