Legal Custody and Physical Custody in the Family Court System

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 14.4 million parents with physical custody of their kids. The courts make these decisions based on what they believe will be in the best interests of the children. This is just one decision that the courts must make, but it may be the most important one.

What Is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make long-term decisions for their children. It includes matters such as where the child will go to school, their choice of religion, and medical and dental care.

In the majority of cases, both the mother and the father receive legal custody, and this is called “joint legal custody.”

Sole Legal Custody

A parent granted sole legal custody has the right to make the decisions for the child. This means that the parent with sole legal custody does not have to take into consideration the other parent’s wishes about the child’s schooling, education, or medical care.

An Example of Legal Custody

A mother and a father divorced because the father has a substance use disorder and is addicted. The court awards the mother legal custody of her child. This means that only the mother has the right to decide the important issues. The mother will not need to consult the father on where the child goes to school, where the child will live, or the child’s extracurricular activities.

An Example of Joint Legal Custody

A mother and a father are divorced, but both were awarded legal custody of the child. Both parents have the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.

What Is Physical Custody?

The parent granted physical custody has the duty to care for the child on a daily basis. In most cases, this means that the child will live with the parent granted physical custody.

Sometimes, the parent awarded physical custody of the child receives “sole custody.” When the court awards a parent sole custody of a child, the parent has both physical and legal custody. This often occurs when the child’s other parent is determined to be unfit to care for the child. For example, if a parent is addicted to drugs or has engaged in criminal activity, they often lose custody of their children to the other parent.

Rights to Visitation

In most cases where one parent receives physical custody, the other parent will receive joint legal custody and the right to visitation with the child. One example of this type of arrangement is the non-custodial parent’s right to have the child every other weekend. The non-custodial parent may also receive the right to have the child on alternating major holidays and several weeks during the summer.

The non-custodial parent may also receive visitation rights when the other parent is awarded sole physical custody. This arrangement may not be as extensive as the arrangement described above.

An Example of Physical Custody

A mother and father are divorced. The court awarded both parents legal custody of the children, but the mother has physical custody. When it comes time to make a major decision about the kids’ upbringing, the mother and the father make the decision together. Most of the time, the kids live at the mother’s home. The father was awarded visitation rights and has custody of his children every other weekend as well as on alternating holidays. During summer vacation, the father has his kids for four consecutive weeks.

The most contentious actions in the court system are related to custody issues. Laws governing custody and visitation take this issue very seriously, so it is imperative that both the mother and the father have a New Jersey family law attorney in the courtroom with them during the proceedings. Before you walk into court without representation, hire a New Jersey family law attorney today.

If you are divorcing your spouse and would like to establish a custody agreement, hire a New Jersey family law attorney from the law firm of Morgenstern & Rochester. Our office is located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Call us at (856) 489-6200 today for help with gaining custody of your child.