What Does Full Child Custody Mean?

When it comes to child custody, there are a lot of terms that can get thrown around. Often, it can be easy to misunderstand what exactly those terms mean. On the one hand, a term like “custody” has a literal meaning. If you have custody of something, it means that it is physically in your possession. However, few parents would speak about their child or their children as being a “possession” in the way that jewelry or a car might be a possession. Custody, as it relates to child custody, is a legal term, and carries with it very specific legal meanings and underpinnings that you have to be aware of to know what a phrase like “full child custody” means.

There are two specific areas that child custody refers to. The first area that child custody refers to is the area of legal responsibility and rights. Generally speaking, unless there is a compelling reason for the court to rule otherwise, parents will share joint legal custody of their children in a divorce. This means that parents both have the right and responsibility to make decisions for the child in important areas such as education, instruction in religion, and health care. When parents have shared or joint legal custody, both parents have the full authority to act on the child’s behalf in these areas. When only one parent has full legal custody, then only that parent has the right to make these sorts of decisions. Again, it is only in rare circumstances, such as when one parent has been convicted of child abuse or endangerment, that there would be sole legal custody.

The second area that child custody refers to is physical custody. Having full physical custody of a child means that the child lives with you a vast majority of the time. It does not mean that the non-custodial parent cannot see the child, or that the child cannot stay with the non-custodial parent. It just means that the child resides with you primarily. The non-custodial parent will still often retain joint legal custody even if you have full child custody in the physical area. In addition, the non-custodial parent may still also have specific visitation rights that you must, by law, comply with even if you have full physical child custody.

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