If you’re like most Maryland parents going through a first-time divorce, there are many things you will not understand about the divorce process. In fact, some of the terms and legal concepts you encounter will seem downright foreign and illogical.

Since your children and child custody are probably the biggest concerns you have in your divorce, it’s vital that you don’t get blindsided because you didn’t fully understand the meanings of different terms and legal concepts pertaining to child custody. Let’s take look at the two kinds of child custody and what you need to know about them.

Physical child custody and legal child custody

Most parents who try to get shared child custody of their children are in luck. Maryland courts will largely support a parent who wants to divide parenting responsibilities with the other parent and live half the time with their kids. However, living half the time with your children is not as simple as having “shared custody.” That’s because there are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody.

A parent who shares joint legal custody, but doesn’t share physical custody, for example, will not be living with his or her children. This parent will probably only have visitation rights.

Physical custody refers to whom the child lives with. If one parent receives sole physical custody, the children will live with this parent full time and visit with the other parent — perhaps one day per week or every other weekend. The parent who has physical custody is called the “custodial parent.”

Legal custody refers to who has the authority to make decisions about the child’s life, education, activities, religion, medical care and other important concerns. In many cases, parents with joint custody merely share legal custody — and the other parent will have full physical custody. As such, it’s important to know the difference when you’re negotiating child custody with your soon-to-be ex.

Are you in the throes of a Maryland child custody dispute?

Courts in Maryland understand the emotional and psychological benefits of a child spending as much time as possible with both parents. Ultimately, no matter what your child custody disagreement happens to be about, as long as your goal in child custody is aligned with the best interests and needs of your child, and you’re able to successfully argue why, it’s likely that you will succeed in your child custody goals.