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What is "sole" and "joint" child custody in North Carolina?

Perhaps the hardest part of a divorce or non-marital paternity case is determining how to divide the time parents can spend with their children. When two separate households are involved, it is often the case that some compromises will have to be made and that no one party will be given everything he or she wishes for. However, the more parents can work together to find common ground, the better the chances of both being satisfied with the child custody arrangements.

Many residents of North Carolina may be familiar with the terms 'joint' and 'sole' custody. They are often used by people in an informal way to describe the living arrangements they have with their children and an ex-partner. However, the terms have a legal meaning which may or may not correspond to the way the words are used conventionally.

As mentioned previously in this space, there is usually a distinction between physical and legal custody. While both could be either joint or sole, when people speak of having joint custody, they are usually talking about joint legal custody. This is a situation in which each parent shares in the important decision-making with regard to the child. Healthcare, educational, and activity decisions may be some examples of choices about which the parties may have to consult each other in a joint legal custody situation.

It is important to understand that having joint legal custody does not mean splitting time with the child, though it may be aligned with that goal. Having joint custody in this sense does not mean each parent will have the child half the time. The parties will usually agree on a residential schedule, or the court will impose one based upon what it finds to be in the best interests of the child. Those with questions about child custody and how it can be awarded may wish to consider contacting an experienced North Carolina family law attorney.

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