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Someone Help Me Understand Legal Custody!

Someone Help Me Understand Legal Custody!

Whether it be from personal experience or a movie you saw on television, most of us have some understanding of the concept of custody. However, when people think of custody, most of the time they are only thinking of physical custody. But, physical custody is just one part of child custody as a whole. Who makes decisions about school? Religion? Medical? Do these decisions have to be agreed upon? What if we cannot agree or have differing views on the subjects. These are questions that many don’t think about until a custody proceeding begins, and it can be confusing to anticipate future disagreements. In this blog, we provide a brief overview of the different components of legal custody.

First, custody is made up of two distinct aspects, namely physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody means the physical care and supervision of the child.1 So, if you are awarded physical custody, then the child would physically be in your care most of the time and the other parent would obtain Indiana Parenting Time Guideline time. Legal custody, on the other hand, gives an individual the authority to make “the major decisions concerning the child's upbringing, including the child's education, health care, and religious training.”2 Think of legal custody as the decision-making power on the fundamentals of life. It’s important to note that these are two distinct parts of custody, and the court will look to different factors in determining each. Therefore, just because a court awards one parent physical custody does not mean that the court will award the other parent legal custody in divorce or paternity proceedings.

With legal custody, there are two main variations: joint legal custody or sole legal custody. As you may have guessed, under sole legal custody, one of the parties will be given the sole authority to make all major decisions concerning the child relating to health, education, and religion. Conversely, joint legal custody means both parties have to agree on all major decisions. However, courts have the discretion to deviate from total joint legal custody. For example, a court could award joint legal custody on medical, and apportion sole religious decision-making to one parent and sole medical to another. The over-arching consideration in awarding joint legal custody is if the parents can work together in the child’s best interests. If so, and the evidence establishes such, an award of joint legal custody is probable. If not, the court may give one parent sole legal in all decision-making or divvy it up if it meets the child’s best interests.

Child custody proceedings are extremely fact-sensitive, leading to confusion among many litigants. In addition, these are very personal and emotional matters for people. If you find yourself in a child custody proceeding or are thinking about initiating one, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of an attorney to help navigate through the process. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys’ practice throughout the State of Indiana and understand the importance of custody proceedings and how to argue for your position and present evidence of the same. This blog post is written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates and is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.


  1. Ind. Code section 31-21-2-16.
  2. Ind. Code section 31-9-2-67
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Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Ciyou & Dixon will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. In addition, this practice focus is augmented by the firm's other three core areas, namely appellate advocacy, civil practice, and firearms law. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counselSM.

Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. of Indianapolis, Indiana, offers legal services for Indianapolis, Zionsville, Noblesville, Carmel, Avon, Anderson, Danville, Greenwood, Brownsburg, Geist, Fortville, McCordsville, Muncie, Greenfield, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Fishers, Bloomington, Lafayette, Marion County, Hamilton County, Hendricks County, Allen County, Delaware County, Morgan County, Hendricks County, Boone County, Vigo County, Johnson County, Hancock County, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.