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What Is Sole Legal Custody?

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What Is Sole Legal Custody?

In order to understand what the term "sole legal custody" means, it’s first necessary to understand what legal custody is. Legal custody refers to certain rights that a parent or guardian has over a child or minor. When a person has "legal custody" of a child, it means that they have authority to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child.

These include decisions regarding:

  • The child’s enrollment in school (i.e., which school, whether a child should advance to a next grade, etc.)
  • Methods for disciplining the child
  • The child’s involvement in religious groups
  • Medical care and different treatment procedures

So, "sole legal custody" means that only one parent has the authority to make such decisions. This can occur in instances where the other parent is unavailable or isn’t capable of making such decisions. Child custody laws regarding legal custody may vary by state.

What Is Physical Custody?

Besides legal custody, an adult can also have physical custody of a child. This is when the parent assumes control of the child in terms of where they stay, live, sleep, etc. Thus, physical custody can often change depending on many factors.

For instance, a parent may have "majority physical custody", meaning that child stays with them most of the time. If the other parent is granted partial custody or visitation rights, physical custody shifts when that parent picks up the child for their time period.

In many cases, the parent with legal custody of the child also has full or majority physical custody of the child as well.

Can Sole Legal Custody Change between Adults?

Yes, legal custody of a child can often change depending on the needs of the child as well as the status of the parent/guardian. For instance, legal custody can:

  • Shift to the other biological parent
  • Be shared between parents or guardians
  • Be transferred to an entirely different party, such as a grandparent or close relative who assumes sole custody of the child

These types of changes generally require a modification to the child custody order. Violation of legal custody rights can lead to legal consequences (for instance, if one parent attempts to make unauthorized decisions for the child).

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Legal Custody Issues?

Legal and physical custody issues can often be confusing to understand. You may need to hire a qualified family law attorney if you need help with the child custody laws in your county. An experienced lawyer can help explain your custody rights under the current laws in your area. Also, if you need to go to court or make an appearance, your lawyer can provide representation and guidance during those meeting times.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-21-2014 12:21 PM PDT

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