What’s the Difference Between Custody and Visitation?

  1. Family Law
  2. Child Custody
  3. What’s the Difference Between Custody and Visitation?

The terms “custody” and “visitation” or sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Custody is a broader term and can refer to either legal or physical custody, while visitation refers to time actually spent with the child.

Legal and Physical Custody

Legal custody refers to the decision-making done when raising. Parents need to choose schools, churches, values, and healthcare treatments. Legal custody can be split between parents or given solely to one parent. 

Physical custody involves actual physical possession of the child or the parent with whom the child lives. Physical custody can also be given solely to one parent or split between the parents.

Joint custody can take many forms, and usually won’t involve a perfectly even split of time with the child. The child may live with one parent during the week and the other parent on weekends and holidays. A custody agreement can provide specific details about how time is split between the parents.


Visitation typically refers to the parenting time given to the noncustodial parent when the other parent has sole custody of the child. This often refers to the visitation schedule, which sets the specific dates, times, and locations of when the noncustodial parent sees the child.

Visitation is the more specific term. If the visitation schedule says you’ll see your child every other weekend, then both parents need to follow the schedule. Don’t depart from your visitation schedule without consent from the child’s other parent.

Supervised visitation can also be ordered. This is usually only done if one parent may post a threat to the child. A judge can order supervised visitation if he or she believes that it’s necessary for the child’s safety and well-being.

It’s possible to have many different combinations of physical and legal custody, as well as many different visitation schedules. If you are negotiating these issues, make sure you have a family law attorney representing your interests.

If your custody arrangements and visitation schedule or already in place, follow them. Failing to do so can result in serious consequences. If you want to change your child custody arrangements, contact an attorney to discuss how to request a child custody modification.

At King Law Offices, we understand the challenges involved in any family law matter. Our goal is to help guide you through this process and listen to your concerns. Come visit us at one of our multiple office locations throughout North and South Carolina.

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