One of the most difficult things divorcing parents have to bear is the fact that they usually have to split physical custody of their children with their co-parent. Ideally, each parent should end up with roughly the same amount of parenting time as the other – but life is often less than ideal.
Maybe your work schedule takes you away from home pretty regularly, or maybe there’s another reason it simply makes more sense for your children to spend most of their time in your ex-spouse’s care – but what does that mean for the rest of your parental rights? Does less parenting time mean you have less say in your children’s upbringing?
Physical custody and legal custody are two different things
“Physical custody” refers to where a child resides on a day-to-day basis and which parent has physical responsibility for the child at any given moment. This is often referred to as “parenting time.”
“Legal custody,” in comparison, refers to the rights and responsibilities of a parent to make important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing. It includes decisions about a child’s education, their medical care, any religious instruction or participation and other significant matters. Sole legal custody grants one parent the exclusive right to make these major decisions for a child without the need for any agreement (or even a consultation with) the other parent, while joint legal custody means both parents are supposed to have equal input on all major decisions about the child’s life.
Generally speaking, the amount of parenting time or physical custody a parent has does not directly affect their legal parental rights. This means that even if you have limited physical custody or visitation time, you may still have joint legal custody rights and responsibilities with your ex, depending on the agreement between you and your co-parent or the court’s orders.
When a dispute over something important happens, look to your rights
Naturally, if your co-parent has primary physical custody of your children, they may feel justified in making some or all of those important decisions without you – but you can assert your rights. If you feel that it’s time to step in and take a more active role in your child’s upbringing but your co-parent is blocking you at every turn, it may be time to get some experienced legal guidance.