Legal Custody versus Physical Custody
In North Carolina, a parent’s rights are divided into two categories of custody: physical custody and legal custody. When most people think of “custody”, they generally think of the right to possession of the children: Who gets to “have” the kids. This is referred to as physical custody, which involves each parent’s rights to possession, access, and visitation with the child.
In contrast, legal custody involves parents’ rights to make major decisions on behalf of the child. Some examples include:
- Educational decisions. Where will the child go to school? Will the child go to a private school? Are the child’s needs being met, requiring specialized education, accommodations, or tutoring? Should the child physically return to school this fall despite the COVID-19 concerns?
- Medical decisions. Does the child require a medical procedure necessitating a parent’s consent? Does the child need medication or mental health intervention? Does the child have medical needs and ongoing treatment?
- Moral/Religious/Spiritual Decisions. Under which religion will the child be raised? Will the child receive special religious instruction? What sort of values do you want to instill in your child?
- Legal decisions. Does the child have a personal injury claim or some sort of contract rights? A parent can make those choices to pursue and guide legal proceedings on behalf of the child.
Underlying the right to make decisions regarding a child is having the information necessary to make those decisions well. Therefore, legal custody also includes the right to receive information about the child. This may encompass:
- Access to medical records and the right to speak with medical professionals, as well as the right to know about medical appointments and procedures.
- Educational records and notice of school events, the child’s performances, and meetings.
Joint Legal Custody is Common
Absent a court order, both parents to a child have equal physical and legal custody rights. When a couple separates and seeks court orders, then courts must address how to delineate and award both physical and legal custody of the children between the parents.
Primary physical custody is often granted to one parent—who is the child’s primary caretaker—while the other parent has a visitation schedule. Even in these situations, courts may still award both parents joint legal custody of the children. Courts want parents to be involved in their children’s lives. Legal custody allows for joint decision-making and allows the parent without primary physical custody to still have their say and remain a key voice in how the children are brought up.
Contact New Direction Family Law
If you need help resolving a child custody dispute, you should speak with a family lawyer for guidance. The attorneys at New Direction Family Law are available now to help you address seeking child custody orders or modifying existing orders. We understand what children mean to our clients and the gravity of this moment in their lives. If you need help, call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit us online through our website.