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Defining child custody terms

The odds are that when most in Charlotte hear of a child custody dispute, they group the possible outcomes to that dispute under two terms: joint or sole custody. The obvious association is that joint custody means that divorcing parents share custody of their children, while parents given sole custody keep their children full-time. While these are assumptions are correct in a very broad sense, there are many other ways that custody is defined.

In legal terms, physical custody refers to where the children live, while legal custody defines who has the power to make decisions for them. Sole custody refers to when one parent is given both physical and legal custody of the children. In that instance, the non-custodial parent can be granted visitation rights, yet he or she is not legally allowed to make decisions for the children. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 report on Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support shows that currently 14.4 million American parents currently have some form of child custody agreement. 

When defining joint custody, one has to understand that two types of custody exist: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. When joint physical custody has been granted, children split time between both parents. Joint legal custody means that parents both have decision-making power when it comes to the children. In cases where parents cannot agree on decision, it’s left to the court to make them.

According to the American Bar Association’s 2013 Winter Family Law Quarterly, North Carolina family courts do not operate in presumption in favor of joint custody. Rather than placing itself in the position to impose decisions on divorced parents, the court typically favors granting sole custody to one, who’s given “tiebreaker” power when a divorced couple is at a roadblock in agreeing upon parenting decisions. 

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