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Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody: What You Need to Know

parent holds the hand of a small child

There are two types of custody parents will encounter during a legal separation or divorce: legal custody and physical custody. Understanding the differences between the two can be critical in navigating the legal system and ensuring that your child’s best interests are protected.

If you are navigating a divorce in New Jersey, turn to the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro. Our legal professionals can help you understand your rights and options so that your child’s well-being is not adversely affected following a divorce.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding a child’s upbringing. These decisions can include but are not limited to:

  • Educational decisions
  • Medical care
  • Religion and spiritual practices
  • Extracurricular activities

In most cases, both parents will share legal custody, meaning they have joint decision-making authority. However, in certain circumstances, one parent may be granted sole legal custody, giving them the exclusive right to make these decisions.

Sole Legal Custody in New Jersey

When determining legal custody, a family court will take into consideration a variety of factors. These can include the parents’ ability to communicate and cooperate with one another, their willingness to nurture a positive relationship between the child and the other parent, and any history of abuse or neglect the child or other parent may have faced.

Physical Custody

As the name implies, physical custody refers to where a child lives on a day-to-day basis. A parent who has physical custody has a right and responsibility to provide a home for the child, as well as to make decisions regarding their daily care. This includes deciding what they eat, when they go to bed, and how they spend their free time.

Physical custody can be shared between the parents either equally or with one parent awarded primary residential custody. When one parent has sole legal custody, the non-custodial parent may still have parenting time, either supervised or unsupervised in the child’s best interests.

As with legal custody, a court will consider a variety of factors when determining which parent will have primary physical custody. These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • Examining each parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing home environment
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Special needs or preferences voiced by the child

What is a guardian ad litem?

During custody proceedings, your child will be represented by a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed attorney whose main job is to protect the best interest of your child via fact-finding and evaluations that investigate your child’s best interest. Through their guardian ad litem, your child can voice their concerns, preferences, or any other insights pertaining to the separation.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody: How They Interact

It’s important to note that legal custody and physical custody are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they often work together to form a comprehensive custody arrangement that meets the needs of the child and both parents.

For example, it’s common for parents to share legal custody but for one parent to have primary physical custody. Alternatively, parents may share physical custody equally but have one parent responsible for making major decisions.

By working in tandem, these custody agreements ensure that children of a divorce are in the best position possible during and after a separation.

It’s also worth noting that custody arrangements are not set in stone either. If circumstances change, such as a parent’s job relocation or a child’s changing needs, custody arrangements can be modified by the court to ensure that they continue to serve the best interests of the child.

Contact John B. D’Alessandro for Help With Custody Matters in NJ

Navigating the legal system can be challenging, especially when it comes to matters as important as child custody. At the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro, we understand the complexities of child custody proceedings, both when they go as planned and when they do not.

Reach out to our team today to schedule a consultation about your case. Get the answers you deserve and work with a team that will help you fight for a custody arrangement that is fair, workable, and, most importantly, in your child’s best interests.

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