A Real Life Example of The Importance of Legal Custody

child-on-swingWhen parents are in a custody dispute over a child, the parents are actually in dispute over two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody.

Definition of Physical Custody

Physical custody is which parent actually physically has the child on a day to day basis, or in other words, where does the child lay his or her head at night.

Definition of Legal Custody

Legal custody is the ability to have a say in major life decisions for the child, such as religious upbringing, medical decisions, and academic decisions. Often parties overlook legal custody and focus solely on physical custody- which can be a serious mistake.

A Real Life Example

Two year old Thaiya Spruill-Smith (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/nyregion/in-death-girl-2-is-caught-in-fight-over-organs.html) has recently made national news because her parents cannot agree on whether or not to donate her organs following her passing from abuse at the hands of her step-father. Her mother claims she has sole legal custody, meaning her father has no legal say in what to do with Thaiya’s remains. Her father however, claims he had pending court petitions asking for joint legal custody. The court must rule on the issue of legal custody before Thaiya can be allowed to rest in peace.

Thaiya’s story should be a cautionary tale to all parents in conflict over custody matters- while physical custody is important and often becomes the main focus of a court case, parents should not discount legal custody and should be extremely wary of signing away joint legal custody rights.

If you need to speak with a custody attorney, please contact Winslow & McCurry PLLC at 804.423.1382.