If you were to ask Atlanta residents who have not been through a divorce about the difference between physical and legal child custody, they would probably have no idea what you are talking about. Most people think of custody solely in terms of where the child is living, and while this is not technically incorrect, it is not the whole story.
As stated above, there are two forms of child custody: physical and legal. And although the specific family laws regarding both forms and how they are handled in court vary from state to state, the general format and guidelines of physical and legal custody are basically the same in Georgia and throughout the rest of the country.
Physical custody, in general, refers to where the child lives. Therefore, the child will probably spend the majority of his or her time at the home of the parent who is awarded primary physical custody. Under a standard joint physical custody agreement, the custodial parent will have the child during the school week and on two weekends per month. The noncustodial parent will have the child on the remaining two weekends and on breaks from school.
Legal custody, which is often referred to as "decision-making authority," refers to the right and responsibility of making decisions regarding the child's health care, child care, education and religion. Family court judges often prefer to award joint legal custody in order that both parents have a say in how their child is raised.
Parents are generally free to craft their own custody agreements, making them more unique to better fit the needs of their child and their family. In fact, many family law attorneys advise parents to do just that instead of leaving the decision up to the judge presiding over their case.
Source: Huffington Post, "Custody And Its Different Components," Eyal Talassazan, Oct. 16, 2012