Parenthood is among the great joys in the lives of those blessed with children. With the joy comes an incredible sense of duty and obligation to nurture them and raise them well. There are also legal rights and duties that are implicated with parenthood of which every parent should possess a basic awareness. These fundamental rights are grouped into two types of child custody: “legal” custody and “physical” custody.
Legal custody includes a parent’s rights to make significant decisions and direct the upbringing of their child. This includes medical decisions and authorizations, educational decisions, legal decisions, and religious decisions. These are critical rights that form the essence of what it means to raise, teach, protect, and impart values on a child.
In contrast, physical custody refers to a parent’s rights to direct where the child resides, to have the child in his or her care, and the rights to visitation and contact. Absent any agreement or court order, parents have an equal right to legal and physical custody of their children. In other words, there is nothing legally impeding either parent from exercising their decision-making authority or having physical possession of their children.
Rights Can Be Addressed by Agreement or Court Order
When parents separate or divorce, it is therefore critical for parents to seek an agreement with the other parent or court order that articulates each parent’s legal and physical custody rights. Sometimes, one parent will be awarded primary physical custody of a child—meaning the child will spend most nights out of a year with that parent. Unless the other parent is unfit, that parent will receive secondary visitation, also known as visitation rights. This is because courts presume it is in children’s best interests to have frequent visitation and access to both parents so that the parent-child bond can thrive.
Also, courts may award one parent sole legal custody of a child or can appoint both parents as possessing joint legal custody. The latter requires parents to confer with one another regarding significant decisions affecting the child. Parents’ inability to come to a consensus on these issues can require them to bring the matter before a court.
Duties of a Parent
Parental rights are subject to limitation if a parent engages in certain conduct that is emotionally or physically detrimental to a child. In other words, a court can restrict a parent’s access to a child if it believes a parent is unfit. In extreme situations, a parent’s rights to his or her child are subject to termination in extreme situations involving some form of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
As such, the law implicitly requires parents to provide a safe environment for their children, to be involved in their children’s lives, and to refrain from actions that harm the children’s emotional or physical well-being. Further, parents carry an explicit duty to financially support their children. When separated, this duty is exercised via court-ordered child support.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
If you are interested in exploring your child custody rights, or modifying an existing child custody agreement or order, contact New Direction Family Law. Our attorneys take a client-focused approach and provide thoughtful, compassionate legal representation. You have important legal rights as a parent and we want to help you preserve and exercise those rights. Our firm serves clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or visit us online at our website.