What’s the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

What’s the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

Custody refers to the physical control over another person. In family law, child custody grants a parent legal and physical control over a minor child. 

Custody issues often arise during divorce and separation. In South Carolina, the courts may grant sole, joint, or divided custody legal and/or physical custody.

What Is Physical Custody?

Physical custody gives a parent the right and obligation to care for a child’s daily needs. Physical custody also gives the parent the right to have the child reside with them. The child typically resides primarily with one parent, even in joint physical custody situations.

What Is Primary Physical Custody?

Judges in South Carolina prefer child custody arrangements that allow both parents equal access to their child. The goal is to allow a child to continue a loving, close relationship with a parent even though the parents no longer live in the same home with the child. 

However, the courts recognize the need for stability and continuity in a child’s life. Therefore, the courts typically appoint a parent to have primary physical custody, even in a joint or divided custody arrangement. The parent with primary physical custody is the custodial parent.

The child’s primary residence is with the custodial parent. The child visits with the non-custodial parent. Parents can agree on a visitation schedule that benefits their children, taking into consideration school, social engagements, and extra-curricular activities. 

Legal custody gives a parent the authority to make decisions for their child. Parents with legal custody can decide where their child attends school, their religious upbringing, health care decisions, and extra-curricular activities. 

Sole vs. Joint vs. Divided Custody in South Carolina 

South Carolina child custody laws recognize three types of custody. Rock Hill family courts can grant parents sole, joint, or divided custody.

A court may grant a parent sole legal and/or physical custody. The parent has the right to make all decisions for their child, the child lives with the parent, and the parent is solely responsible for the child’s daily care and needs.

Sole custody may be granted when a parent is unfit to have custody, or a judge finds it is in the best interest of a child to grant sole custody to one parent. 

The non-custodial parent may have visitation rights under the parenting plan or by court order. Many counties in South Carolina use a standard visitation schedule that includes visitation with a child one night each week, every other weekend, and alternating holidays. 

Joint custody splits the parenting duties between each parent. Both parents have the right to make decisions for their child, care for their child’s daily needs, and have the child live with them. They should consult each other when making major decisions regarding their child’s health, education, and religious upbringing.

When parents can work together to develop a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule, joint custody is a good arrangement. However, joint custody could cause more problems if parents cannot work together.

Split or divided custody refers to a judge granting sole custody of one or more children to one parent. The other parent is granted sole custody of the couple’s remaining children. This custody option is not used very often because splitting siblings between two homes is generally not in the children’s best interests. 

Absent a reason to declare a parent unfit or deny visitation with a child, the courts do not deny custody or visitation with a parent. The courts encourage parents to develop a parenting plan and visitation schedule that works best for the family and is in their child’s best interest. The goal is to give each parent a say in how their children are raised and remain active participants in their children’s lives. 

When parents cannot agree to custody terms, the court decides for them. Judges make custody decisions based on the best interest of the child. South Carolina custody laws require judges to consider factors to determine custody terms.

The factors a judge uses to decide what is in a child’s best interest include, but are not limited to:

  • The child’s reasonable preferences
  • The parent’s wishes for custody
  • A child’s developmental needs
  • A parent’s ability to care for and provide for the child’s basic needs
  • The stability of a child’s existing home and the proposed home
  • The physical and mental health of the parties
  • The current and past child-parent relationships for each parent
  • A parent’s actions and inclination to foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent

If you are facing a child custody battle, protect your parental rights and your child’s best interest by working with an experienced Rock Hill child custody lawyer. An attorney can help you fight to obtain the best possible custody arrangement for your children.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm Minor Law Divorce Lawyers in Rock Hill, SC at (803) 504-0971 or contact us online today.
You can also visit our law firm at 1273 Ebenezer Rd, Suite B, Rock Hill, SC 29732.

We serve throughout York County.