Nic, No, there is a difference. We have four categories, pick one from the first two and one from the second two:
Sole physical custody. Joint physical custody.
Sole legal custody. Joint legal custody.
If that is not complex enough, joint physical custody does not necessarily mean 50 - 50. We can still have 40/60 and it can still be classified as "joint". What that means is anyone's guess.
Sole legal means one parent makes all the decisions. Unless it is spelled out otherwise, the parent with sole custody can do just about anything, even move away.
Joint legal means both parents have "equal" rights in all decisions. BUT, unless you have a parenting plan of some sort, the court can and usually does appoint one parent with the final say if there is not agreement and that is usually the mother. So we can have joint legal and physical custody in words while in effect the court can give the mom final decision authority and more time with the kids - effectively making things sole custody.
The policy of AL states that joint legal and physical custody is preferred but it goes on to say that the court only need "consider" it - the court can "award any form of custody which is determined to be in the best interest of the child".
As you can see the law leaves a lot of room for the court. That is good b/c there is hope for the dad but in reality the law is written one way but in practice it is executed in another.
It is bad b/c mothers enjoy a clear preference here. As a practical matter, a father wishing to establish custody over the objections of the mother almost has to prove she's done something wrong in her parenting.
My email to her: I will send some form of it. But you are correct to point out it will do little good. But telling her how I feel is never wrong as long as I don't attack her. If I attack - that will be down at her level. She does not have the guts to tell me how she feels - I get only her anger.
I hope you get out of your bad news period soon. We have to hit bottom many times before we can finally get clear of the pit.