There is a difference between legal child custody and physical child custody. Often this terminology is confused, which can lead to disputes when parents are trying to make major decisions affecting the child. Legal custody essentially means decision making. Physical custody, on the other hand, is where the child physically is – which parent they are spending the night with.
Most parents will share joint legal custody of their child. Thus, they will have equal input into decisions that are made for the child’s upbringing – what school they will attend, where they will go to the dentist, what church they will go to, and what sport they will play in the Fall. Sometimes, parents are not able to agree with each other on these types of issues. This is often the biggest area where disputes arise between parents after an order has been set in place. Some orders contain icebreaker language, which provides that the parents shall work together to make major decision, but that one parent will ultimately have the final decision making authority. Other orders will provide that the parents are each able to make decisions for different issues – dad, for example, may make all educational decisions, while mom makes all medical decisions. Another option is to force the parties to attend binding arbitration (sort of like a private trial) in the event they are unable to reach an agreement on a major decision.
So – what does it mean to have legal custody of my child? How does this impact my relationship with my child? Legal custody provides you with the opportunity to actively provide input and make decisions on how your child is to be raised. Unless one parent is not interested, not involved, or simply unfit to make decisions for the child, this is almost always shared jointly. Regardless of what and how parties feel about each other, it is almost always in the child’s best interest to work together to make joint decisions on their upbringing.
If you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney, please contact Adkins Law. Adkins Law is located in Huntersville and primarily serves Mecklenburg County and the Lake Norman area.