What's The Difference Between Legal Vs. Physical Custody?

Many parents engaged in custody disputes are understandably confused about all the different labels and terms involved in custody cases. Some of the most common questions we hear at Scott Law Group, PLLC, involve the differences between legal custody and physical custody.

To clear things up, we have put together a few brief points to help explain the distinction. Of course, every family is different, so make sure you speak with our team of lawyers to discuss your situation before drawing any conclusions on your own.

What Is Legal Custody?

The phrase legal custody refers to a parent's right to make decisions affecting the child's upbringing. In other words, a parent who is awarded legal custody has the right to make decisions involving:

  • The child's education
  • What types of medical treatment and health care the child should receive
  • The religious upbringing of the child

North Carolina courts can award a parent sole legal custody or joint legal custody. Sole legal custody means one parent has the right to make these decisions. Joint custody means both parents get to have inputs and must reach agreements on these decisions.

What Is Physical Custody?

Physical custody is the term describing which parent has the child in his or her care. Essentially, physical custody is about where the child lives and with which parent. As with legal custody, courts can award physical custody to both parents (joint custody) or one parent (primary/sole custody).

Visitation Rights

When a parent does not have primary physical custody, the time he or she gets to spend with the child is called visitation. Visitation arrangements are set by the judge and are designed to serve the best interests of the child. Schedules vary greatly according to the needs of the particular family. The amount of visitation awarded depends on a number of factors, which are discussed more on our Visitation Arrangements page. Unless there is a history of violence or substance abuse, the court will usually encourage visitation because children thrive when they have relationships with both parents.

Contact Us And Speak Directly With Our Attorneys

To arrange an initial consultation to learn how Scott Law Group, PLLC, in Kernersville can help you reach a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of your child, reach out to us today at 336-310-8569 or toll free at 800-566-2907. If you prefer to send us an email, take a moment to fill out our online contact form.