Legally reviewed by:
King Law
June 10, 2022

Family law becomes exceedingly more complex when a child must be considered in the proceeding. The terms “custody” and “visitation” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Parents seeking to separate from their partners must understand the difference between them to ensure they are protecting their parental rights effectively. Custody is a broader term and can refer to either legal or physical custody, while visitation refers to time spent with the child.

What Are Legal and Physical Child Custody?

Child custody entails the ability to make significant life decisions for a child and the ability to keep the child in your care. Parents can fight for legal and physical custody of their child, which can be shared by both parents or held solely by one.

  • Legal custody: the authority to make major decisions about the child, such as schools, churches, values, and healthcare treatments. Legal custody can be split between parents or given solely to one parent.
  • Physical custody: the right to have the child in your physical possession. Physical custody can also be given solely to one parent or split between the parents.

With joint physical custody of a child, time is divided between the parents. Joint custody can take many forms and usually won’t involve a perfectly even split of time with the child. One parent may have primary physical custody, meaning the child spends most of their time with that parent. For example, the child may live with one parent during the week and the other parent on weekends and holidays.

In contrast, the other parent has secondary physical custody, meaning the child visits the other parent regularly. Alternatively, the child could spend equal time with both parents regularly.  A custody agreement can provide specific details about how time is split between the parents.

When one parent has sole physical custody, their child lives with them but may see the other parent if they are awarded visitation.

What Is the Difference Between Parenting Time and Custody?

Parenting time is another way to refer to visitation, which is a limited form of custody. Visitation is the more specific term and typically refers to the parenting time given to the noncustodial parent when the other parent has sole custody of the child. Both parents have the right to see their children, but the court may arrange visitation for the parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child, which may entail specific conditions.

These conditions often refer to the visitation schedule, which sets the specific dates, times, and locations of when the noncustodial parent sees the child. If the visitation schedule says you’ll see your child every other weekend, 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 pose a threat to the child. A judge can order supervised visitation if they believe 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.

Consult an Experienced Family Law Attorney from King Law

If you are negotiating these issues, make sure you have a family law attorney representing your interests. If your custody arrangements and visitation schedule are 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 family law matters. Our goal is to guide you through this process and listen to your concerns. Visit us at one of our multiple office locations throughout North and South Carolina. Schedule your appointment by calling (888) 748-KING or submitting a contact form.

Legally reviewed by:
King Law
Carolina Attorneys
June 10, 2022

This blog post has been reviewed and verified by legal experts at King Law. Our team is dedicated to providing premium legal services with compassion, innovation, trust, and advocacy. Serving Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, we offer flexible meeting options and strive to exceed client expectations with high-quality legal representation and exceptional client relationships.

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