Child custody rights come in two main forms. First, there is physical custody or parenting time. This refers to which parent will be the caretaker for the child and where they will live.
Secondly, there is the decision-making power – legal custody – granted to these parents. This doesn’t have anything to do with where the child is going to live, so parents sometimes do not realize that it is part of the custody order. But those parents still have to make the decisions for their child that they would have worked together to make during their marriage, and this order grants them the legal ability to do so.
Focusing on major decisions
This does not mean that parents can’t make any choices for their child if they don’t have legal custody. It typically just focuses on major decisions. Examples of these include what religion the child will be a part of, what school they are going to attend and what medical treatment or care they will receive.
In some cases, legal custody can be given to just one parent. Regardless of where the child is living at the time, that parent makes all of the major decisions.
But there are many other cases in which legal custody will be divided between both parents, just like physical custody often is. This means that the parents will have to communicate and work together to make choices about healthcare, education, religion and much more. They cannot make these decisions on their own or they risk violating their ex’s rights.
All of this can make co-parenting after divorce quite complicated. Parents who are in this situation must understand all of their legal rights, their obligations and the steps they can take to adhere to the court order.