What Is The Difference Between Full Custody and Joint Custody in North Carolina?

Full custody and joint custody may mean different things to different people and both may be right. The terms used in North Carolina for custody arrangements can be confusing.

When most people use the term “full custody”, they are actually referring to a custody arrangement where one parent has primary physical and legal custody of a child. This means that the child primarily resides with and is under the care of one parent, who has the authority to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing with some input from the other parent. The other parent also has some visitation with the child. However, most lawyers and judges in North Carolina would refer to this arrangement as a party having “primary” physical custody and “joint” legal custody.

“Primary physical custody” is generally understood to mean that a child spends more overnights with one parent each year than the other. On the other hand, if the parents have an equal amount of overnights with a child, then they have “equal” physical custody which may also be called “shared” custody.

North Carolina law does not contain a definition or distinguish between “joint physical custody” and “joint legal custody”, but in general these refer to an order where both parties have some physical custody of a minor child and input into decisions made about the child’s life. An order might state that the parties have “joint custody” of a minor child with one party having primary physical custody and the parties having joint legal custody, or perhaps both parents will have an equal number of overnights with a child while sharing decision-making authority.

What About Legal Custody?

“Joint legal custody” usually refers to a situation where the primary custodian makes the normal day to day decisions for the child, but both parties have legal authority to make major decisions and have access to education and medical records. In North Carolina, the court considers various factors to determine custody arrangements that are in the best interests of the child.

However, some people may use the term “full custody” to refer to a situation where one parent has sole physical custody of a child and is the sole decision maker for the child. This type of court order is rare because a judge must find that a parent is unfit or incapable of exercising any type of physical or legal custody. A complete denial of even visitation requires a high burden of proof and evidence and is rare.

Sometimes, a parent may be capable of having visitation, but has a poor history of making decisions about a particular issue. One parent may be better at making education decisions while the other may be better at making medical decisions. A judge may assign the sole decision-making authority over a particular issue to one parent.

In summary, “full custody” in practice usually refers to a situation where both parents have time overnight periods with a minor child and have input and access to educational and medical information and decisions. It is actually a form of joint custody. In contrast, “sole custody” is a rare situation where a child lives with one parent all of the time and that parent makes all of the decisions for the child. It is important to remember that the labels used are not really what matters, but instead it is the schedules and authority awarded to each parent that describe the rights of the parties.

The Spagnola Law Firm has over 25 years of experience in custody cases in North Carolina. He is a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law by the North Carolina Board of Legal Specialization.

Call Now!