Legal vs. Physical Custody in North Carolina: Which is More Important?

One of the first things divorcing parents learn in North Carolina is that there are two different types of custody. These are “physical custody” and “legal custody.” Both are very important, and they affect the way in which you will raise your child going forward. Once you understand the difference between these two concepts, it becomes easier to move forward with confidence and approach your custody battle with efficiency. But which type of custody is more important in a North Carolina divorce?

What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody in North Carolina?

Legal custody concerns only the decision-making authority of each parent. Parents with legal custody have a say in how their children are raised. Parents without legal custody have no control over major child-raising decisions. These might include issues related to:

  • Religion
  • Education
  • Medical care
  • Dating
  • Vaccines
  • Gender identity

There are many other examples of major child-raising decisions that only parents with legal custody can control. A common outcome for many divorced parents is shared legal custody. In these situations, both parents have equal decision-making authority over major decisions involving their children. If they cannot agree, this often leads to legal disputes that must be resolved by family courts in North Carolina

On the other hand, physical custody concerns the amount of time that a child spends with each parent. In other words, a parent with physical custody gets to live with their child for a certain period of time. Children spend most of their time living at the residences of their parents with sole or primary physical custody. If parents share physical custody, the child may live with both parents in an approximately equal manner. If a parent has no physical custody, the child will not live with them at all – although they may still have the right to “visit” the child from time to time.

When a Parent Should Focus on Legal Custody

A parent should focus on legal custody if they lack the time to actually care for the children over an extended period of time. For example, a parent might have an extremely demanding, high-paying job. It might not make sense to become their primary custodial guardian if you are spending long hours at work. Childcare may become a pressing issue, and you might not have the patience to handle child-raising responsibilities and your career at the same time.

If you shift your focus toward legal custody, however, you can still exert considerable control over how your children are raised. For example, you might insist that your children receive a good education at a private school. You might also make sure that their religious education is in line with your own and that their medical care reaches a certain standard.

By targeting legal custody, you can also devote more resources toward legal custody disputes that may arise in the future. If you and your ex disagree on how your children should be raised, you can dispute the matter in court and pursue positive outcomes with help from your attorney. In contrast, your ex might have wasted their efforts on ensuring primary physical custody with few legal fees left over to address the question of legal custody.

When a Parent Should Focus on Physical Custody

If you believe that your spouse is utterly unfit to act as a parent, it might be worth fighting for physical custody. This is often the best course of action if your spouse has a history of violence, neglect, child abuse, substance abuse, or other similar concerns. In this situation, it is in the entire family’s best interest to prevent the spouse from spending much time with the child. You might need to work alongside your lawyer to establish exactly why your spouse is unfit to act as a parent with convincing evidence.

You might also focus on physical custody if you and your ex are on the same page regarding child-raising values. In this situation, there is little chance of a future dispute over legal custody. You can, therefore, accept the court’s “default” decision of shared legal custody and instead devote resources toward spending as much time with your child as possible after the divorce.

Find a Qualified Custody Attorney in North Carolina

If you have been searching for an experienced North Carolina custody attorney, look no further than Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Over the years, we have helped numerous divorcing spouses approach their custody battles with confidence and efficiency. While legal custody and physical custody are both important, parents may wish to prioritize one over the other based on their unique circumstances. Each divorce is slightly different, and parents have varying values when raising their children. Book a consultation today to discuss your unique priorities in more detail.