Is there a difference between joint legal and physical child custody in Virginia?

By Carolyn Grimes
December 16, 2016

Yes. Joint legal custody in Virginia refers to the decision-making for the child. Parties here either have joint legal custody or one party has sole custody. With joint legal custody, parties are to share major decision-making regarding the child's health, education, and welfare. Now they can agree to a lot more structure than that, but that's the default under the law. Physical custody is the time that the child spends with each parent, and in Virginia, we have a child support concept called shared custody, where if the child spends at least 91 overnights with each parent, then they have what we call shared physical custody, and that affects the child support.

Physical and legal custody terms vary a lot state by state. Generally all states have visitation schedules; sometimes they call it custodial time, sometimes they call it timesharing. The terms vary state to state, but the concept of who has legal responsibility for decision-making, and where the child lives during the week, is in effect in all states. They just have slightly different terms.

Carolyn Grimes is a family lawyer at the law firm of Wade Grimes Friedman Sutter & Leischner PLLC in Alexandria, Virginia. To learn more about Grimes and her firm, visit

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December 16, 2016
Categories:  FAQs

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