Physical and legal custody are two important aspects of raising children when parents are divorced. It is important that both parents involved understand what these terms are and how they as parents are bound by their custody agreement to their children.
Most people understand what physical custody means, i.e. where the child will physically live. However, many don't realize that physical custody is not the only kind of child custody arrangement available.
Legal custody covers major decision-making responsibilities affecting the children, including religious education, choice of schools, tutoring, cultural education, extracurricular activities, health care, and more.
What Is Legal Custody?
"Legal custody" gives a parent the right to make long-term decisions about the raising of a child, and key aspects of the child's welfare -- including the child's education, medical care, dental care, and religious instruction. In most child custody cases, legal custody is awarded to both parents (called "joint legal custody"), unless it is shown that one parent is somehow unfit, or is incapable of making decisions about the child's upbringing.
As we mentioned above, "legal custody" is different from "physical custody," which involves issues such as where the child will live.
What Is Sole Legal Custody?
If you have sole legal custody of your child you can make all decisions regarding such issues as schooling, religion, medical care and housing. With legal custody you do not have to take into consideration the wishes or opinions of the other parent regarding your child's upbringing. Keep in mind; most states prefer awarding joint legal custody based on the best interests of the child.
What Happens If I Leave the Other Parent Out of the Decision-Making Process?
If you have joint legal custody and leave the other parent out of the decision-making process you could be found in contempt of court.
What Are Some Examples Joint or Sole Legal Custody?
Joint Legal Custody Example: Mother and Father have divorced, and share legal custody of Child. This means that Mother and Father share equally in making important decisions concerning Child's upbringing and welfare.
Sole Legal Custody Example: Mother and Father have divorced, due in large part to Father's substance abuse and addiction. Mother seeks and is granted legal custody of Child. This means that Mother alone has legal authority to decide key issues related to Child's upbringing, and Father has no legal right to participate in the decision-making process.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Custody Arrangements?
Child custody laws are constantly changing. It is important to have a lawyer present for advice and counseling. A child custody lawyer can assist you in obtaining the right custody arrangement for your child or children. Child custody laws vary widely by state, and your attorney can help explain your state's rules to you. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact an experienced family attorney.