What’s the difference between legal custody and physical custody? - The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith
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What’s the difference between legal custody and physical custody?

In North Carolina, legal custody (when referring to child custody) has nothing to do with where the child lives or which parent the child resides. Legal custody, which a court usually awards jointly to both parties, is a decision making tool. Legal custody goes to decisions regarding the child’s education, medical, and dental needs. Also included in legal custody would be decision making regarding what types of extracurricular activities the child participates in, like sports or dance or martial arts. It also includes religious upbringing. As mentioned earlier, courts will usually award joint legal custody to both parents no matter which parent the child lives with most of the time. Joint is awarded frequently so that both parents can have an equal say in the upbringing of the child. If there is a major disagreement then usually the court will give the parent with primary physical custody the final say. Physical custody in child custody cases refers to where the child resides and with which parent. Joint physical custody is awarded on a shared basis sometimes on a week on, week off schedule if feasible. In some cases a Judge must award one parent primary custody and the other parent visitation. In the old days under the now defunct “tender years doctrine” the courts would award primary custody to the mother and leave the father with only visitation rights. This practice has pretty much gone the way of the dodo and replaced with the best interests of the child doctrine. Modern interpretation is that both parents should be involved in raising the child which leads many courts to allow for joint physical custody if it is appropriate.

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