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The difference between legal and physical custody

In North Carolina, child custody is broken into two different types. The first is legal custody, and the second is physical custody.

Most parents want to have both kinds of custody. They want to physically see their child and to have the legal right to make decisions about them. It’s still important to know the differences between the two kinds of custody and the variations that might occur. 

Physical custody

Physical custody refers to where the child will live. A parent with legal custody may have joint legal custody or sole legal custody in some cases. Joint custody means your child will go between homes or be in the physical care of each parent at different times.

Legal custody

Legal custody is different than physical custody since it refers to the right to make decisions about their child’s care. With legal custody, a parent can decide on issues pertaining to medical care, education or religious upbringing. 

Do both parents usually share custody?

Sometimes, parents will share both legal and physical custody. Other times, they will not. Usually, the court starts out with the presumption that children should see both parents and that both parents should make decisions about their care. 

Later, depending on the circumstances, it may be decided that one parent is better suited to making decisions while the other can still have shared physical custody rights. In some cases, one parent will retain all of the legal and physical custody rights, and the other parent may have visitation or not. 

Custody can be confusing. Working with someone who understands the mechanics of the law can make this easier.