Sole Custody, Joint Custody, or Shared Custody: Which Is Best for You?
When parents separate, the subject of child custody is often fraught with confusion, fear, and disagreements. Where will my child live? Will I be able to see my child? Who will make all the important decisions? How will my child adapt? Will my child be OK?
North Carolina judges are required to determine custody based on what is in a child’s best interests. Our goal, as your attorney, is to show how your child’s best interests regarding custody are aligned with your goals. In order to do that, you need to know what kinds of custody can be awarded, and how you and your co-parent can create a parenting plan that works best for your child and you.
First, a quick note: Child custody is the term that refers to the parents’ rights and obligations regarding the care of their shared child. Visitation refers to the right of a parent to have limited time or visitation with their child. There are two “types” of custody recognized in North Carolina: legal and physical.
What is legal custody?
Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make important decisions for their child. Decisions include, but are not limited to education, medical, and religious decisions. Under the umbrella of legal custody, there is sole legal custody and joint legal custody.
What is sole legal custody?
Sole legal custody means that one parent is granted power by the court to make all decisions about how the child is raised. This can include choices regarding education, healthcare, and more. The parent with sole legal custody is not required by law to consult with his or her co-parent before making these decisions.
Possible advantages of sole legal custody include:
- Consistency and structure for the child, who will not be subjected to differing decisions
- Safety from an unfit parent’s actions and decisions
Possible disadvantages of sole legal custody include:
- Stress for the single parent making all the decisions
- Resentment and withdrawal from the parent who has no decision power
- Spite or retaliation from the parent without legal custody
What is joint legal custody?
Joint legal custody is when two parents make all decisions together. If parents in a joint legal custody situation cannot agree, a court will decide.
Possible advantages of joint legal custody include:
- Both parents have a say regarding important decisions.
- Both parents share the work, alleviating the stress of being a single parent.
- The child benefits when parents work together to make important decisions.
- Communication between the child and each parent is continuous. A child feels loved and valued by each parent .
- Positive interaction and decision making between parents has a positive impact on a child.
Possible disadvantages of joint legal custody include:
- Tension between parents makes it difficult to make the best decisions for a child.
- Parental disagreements regarding decisions may negatively impact a child.
- Parents may need to sacrifice their own needs due to joint legal custody (for example, moving to be closer to a child’s school or other family members).
What is physical custody?
Physical custody, also called residential custody, refers to the actual physical location or residence of the child, and the small day-to-day decisions parents make.
What is sole physical custody?
Sole physical custody means that a child lives only with one parent but may have limited time or visitation with another parent. It is usually reserved for situations when one parent is clearly not capable of being responsible for a child. Some counties in North Carolina have supervised visitation centers for these situations.
Possible advantages of sole physical custody include:
- Making things simple for the custodial parent
- Keeping a child safe from an abusive or neglectful parent
- Ensuring the child’s routine will not be disrupted
Possible disadvantages of sole physical custody include:
- The child will not see one parent as much as the other, which may cause resentment
- One parent is responsible for all the caretaking, which can be overwhelming.
What is joint physical custody?
Joint physical custody means that the child shares substantial time with both parents, and lives with both parents. There are numerous scenarios for joint physical custody. Sometimes custody alternates each week, or one parent has a child all week, then the other has the child for the weekend.
Possible advantages of joint physical custody include:
- Children have substantial time with both parents.
- Parents share the work of parenting.
- Parents must cooperate and this can have a positive impact on the child.
Possible disadvantages of joint physical custody include:
- Children must constantly travel between parents’ homes and must continually adjust.
- Two homes must be maintained for the child, and this can be expensive.
- Travel expenses can be costly if parents do not live close together.
- Parents may have difficulties cooperating with each other and this can have a negative impact on the child.
What is shared custody and how does it fit in?
“Shared custody” and “joint custody” are often used interchangeably, but it is important to know that they do have different meanings. Joint custody usually refers to parents having equal control over decisions and splitting the time that a child lives with them. However, the actual time spent with each parent does not need to be equal. Shared custody has more to do with how much time a child spends with each parent and refers to equal amounts of time. Shared custody often means a 50/50 split of time with each parent.
Our lawyers are skilled at helping parents understand the language and specifications regarding custody. They help parents reach agreements about child custody and determine who has legal and physical custody of a child. Our lawyers also negotiate parenting plans, which address many issues including the exact nature and time of custody and visitation, transportation of the child between parents, holiday time, health insurance and medical decisions, education, college, religion, the terms of communication when your child is with the co-parent, and many other concerns.
When you have questions about child custody, you can turn to the experienced Charlotte family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group. Call our office at 704-321-0031, or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today. We have offices in Charlotte, Weddington, Concord, and Boone.
Steven B. Ockerman is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Washington University School of Law. He has practiced law for over 25 years, concentrating on family law matters for over 16 years, and is a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law since 2009.
Find out more about Steven B. Ockerman