Child Custody and Child Visitation, Explaining the Difference

close up of child holding adult hands

Legal terms are often swapped or used together in conversation. People use one term when they mean the other.

Using terms this way can cause a lot of confusion for people unfamiliar with the legal system. Many people going through a divorce have no prior experience with lawyers, courtrooms, and the like. For them, going through a divorce is like entering a whole new world, and they can have a hard time keeping up with the language.

The words “child custody” and “child visitation” are terms that are frequently used together. It’s important to note that these are two different things, and they perform different functions.

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between custody and visitation, helping clarify the terms for you.

How Are Custody and Visitation the Same?

Essentially, both terms indicate the time you spend with your children. In either scenario, you can be alone with the kids and bring them back to the parent with primary custody.

Both follow strict schedules. Your parenting plan will indicate times for pick-ups and drop-offs and who is responsible for these. It will also outline modes of travel, responsibility for expenses, and so on. If either parent chronically misses appointments or changes the plan, they could suffer legal consequences.

How Are Custody and Visitation Different?

Length of Time

Visitation is exactly how it sounds: Time that you visit your children. It is typically brief, lasting a couple hours or so, depending on your parenting plan. You can take them out to the movies or mini-golf, or you can simply have them over to the house for a bit. You may also go visit them at their house. The possibilities are limited only by your family’s needs.

Physical custody is having the children for an extended period. During this time, you are the parent “taking care” of the kids. If you keep them for Spring Break or have them every other weekend, you have custody over them. Physical custody required a greater degree of responsibility and parental involvement.

Methods of Seeing the Children

Visitation doesn’t have to be in person. It can also be electronic such as a phone call, video chat, and so on. Electronic visits are just as important as in-person ones. If a parent blocks or impedes them, they can be held in contempt of court.

Levels of Custody

Typically, visitation is for parents who do not share custody. Perhaps they live in different states, or other circumstances make physical custody too difficult to manage. Visitation is, in this case, one of the few ways a parent without custody can spend time with their kids.

A parent with physical custody rights has “joint custody” with the other parent. Whether you are the primary or secondary custodian, the term still applies.

Types of Custody

Unlike visitation, custody comes in multiple forms.

Physical Custody

As we explained above, physical custody is time that you have the kids and act as their primary parent. It can last for long stretches or just a day.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to your decision-making power. Typically, legal custody is reserved for the child’s healthcare or education. You can have legal custody without physical custody and vice versa.

You can share legal custody in a variety of ways:

  • Parents can have equal say over a decision.
  • One parent can have the final say after consulting with the other.
  • One parent can have total authority over an issue.

Decision-making authority can also vary between the parents:

  • One parent can have control over both medical and educational concerns.
  • One parent can control medical decisions while the other manages education.
  • One parent can have partial authority over one or both matters.
  • Both parents can have partial authority over both issues.

Our firm is here to help with your child custody and visitation concerns. For a free consultation, call us today at (410) 593-0040 or reach out to us online.

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