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Katy Divorce and Family Lawyers

What Is the Difference Between Visitation Rights & Child Custody?

Negotiating child custody and visitation can be a stressful experience, especially if you aren’t certain what you’re agreeing to. Visitation rights, physical custody, and legal custody are all important terms to know and understand, because, while similar, they mean very different things. Our Katy family law attorneys are here to explain the differences, though.

Legal Custody

This type of custody refers to a parent’s legal authority to make decisions on behalf of their child. These decisions include choices such as where they will attend school, what religion they will be raised in, and non-emergency medical care decisions. Legal custody can be held by both parents, which is known as joint legal custody, or held by one parent, which is known as sole legal custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody, sometimes called residential custody, is control of where the child lives. This may be joint, where the parents share physical custody on a schedule and the child moves between the homes. It can also be sole, where one parent holds physical custody rights, and the other parent is awarded visitation rights with the child. Often, if one parent holds sole physical custody, the other will be awarded generous visitation rights, such as sleepovers. The third option is what is called “bird’s nest” custody, where the child remains in one home, and the parents rotate in and out of the child’s home according to schedule. This can be easier for the child, but may be an expensive custody solution.


Unlike custody, which gives you some form of control over the child, visitation is simply a parent's right to see their child on a regular basis. Visitation is often granted to one parent when the other parent has sole physical custody of the child.

There are several forms of visitation:

  • Unsupervised visitation – This is the most common type of visitation, and this allows the visiting parent to take their child to their own home or on an outing on their scheduled visitation time. There may be limitations that are specified in advance, such as places the child may not go, or that there can be no overnight visits on school nights.
  • Supervised visitation – In specific cases, the court may order supervised visitation, which means that another responsible adult must be present at all times during the visit. It I possible the court may allow the non-custodial parent to choose the supervisor, such as a grandparent, family friend, or other relative. Other custody orders may outline a specific location for visitations and a court-ordered designee or social worker will be on hand to supervise the visit.
  • Virtual visitation – Using video call technology, parents can still see their child and talk to them, even when distance or schedules don’t permit it. This isn’t an ideal solution, but can help parents remain connected to their children when circumstances are less-than-ideal.

Do you need help with your custody case? Our Katy child custody attorneys can help you get the resolution you’re looking for. Our experienced team at The Adams Law Firm is dedicated to helping families find the best answers to their family law needs. Schedule a consultation today to learn more about how we can assist you.

Contact our firm to learn more! Call (281) 764-6087.