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What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

In North Carolina there are two different types of child custody that must be settled when parties divorce or separate and share children between them. This post will offer a brief discussion of these two forms of custody, known as legal custody and physical custody, but readers should speak to their own family law attorneys about their unique cases as this article does not provide legal advice.

The type of child custody that most people think of when they consider the sharing of children between parents is physical custody. Physical custody concerns where a child will live once their family home is separated into the two homes of their parents. Physical custody can be shared between the parents if that arrangement serves the best interests of the kids, or it may be granted solely to one parent. A parent who is denied physical custody rights may be able to secure visitation time with their child.

Legal custody does not have anything to do with where a child lives, but rather with whom the power to make decisions about their upbringing resides. A parent who has legal custody can have a say in the schools their child attends, the medical care they receive and the type of religion they practice, if any. Legal custody is often shared between parents but can also be given solely to one parent if necessary to protect the child's best interests.

It is important that parents recognize the impact separation and divorce may have on their kids. Getting a child custody plan right in terms of both legal custody and physical custody is a responsible action on the part of parents who want to do their best for their children.

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