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What’s the Difference Between Joint Custody and Shared Custody?

In divorces where children are involved, the custody arrangement can be one of the hardest matters to settle. If both parents want to remain involved in a child’s life and the court has no important reasons to keep either parent away, then you can expect that your custody arrangement will involve joint physical and legal custody.

But what about shared custody? Many people use the terms joint custody and shared custody without knowing exactly what these terms mean. If you’re facing a custody decision in a North Carolina divorce and you want to make the best possible arrangement for your child, then you’ll need to understand the differences.

Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody

In any discussion about child custody, it’s important to remember that there are actually two different types of custody.

Physical custody involves looking after a child. This type of custody deals with the child’s physical location and who they are with at the given moment. A party who has physical custody can make minor day-to-day decisions for the child.

Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make long-term decisions for a child’s well-being. North Carolina statutes don’t define the term “legal custody,” so a judge or the parties involved in an arrangement can define what it means and what may be in a child’s best interests. The rights covered by legal custody can include the right to make important decisions about education, health care, and activities outside school, like sports and clubs.

RELATED: 7 Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Child Custody Case

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What Is Joint Custody?

When people say “joint custody,” they usually mean joint legal custody. A joint legal custody arrangement is based around shared parenting, which means both parents share equal decision-making responsibilities. One parent can’t make major changes or important life decisions for the child unless the other parent says it’s okay. Both parents must agree on important matters like education, health care, and activities outside school.

To make a joint custody arrangement work, both you and your ex will have to be ready to compromise and cooperate. Each parent in a joint custody arrangement should be able to trust that the other parent won’t make one-sided decisions.

Judges Usually Won’t Grant Joint Custody in Contested Hearings

Judges must consider the best interests of the child when creating a child custody order. For most judges, this means (among other things) not bringing the child back to court any more than is necessary.

In a contested custody case, the judge already knows the parents can’t work together and compromise on a child custody agreement — if they could, they wouldn’t be going through a trial and asking the judge to decide. So, to reduce the need for further hearings, the judge in a contested hearing may order that one parent has final decision-making authority on all decisions. Or, the judge can give authority to one parent for some issues and the other parent for other issues.

What About Shared Custody?

When people say “shared custody” they’re usually talking about joint physical custody. In a joint physical custody arrangement, both parents get to spend time with the child. The alternative is sole physical custody, which involves the child being with one parent almost all the time while the other parent gets very little time. When one parent has sole custody, the other parent may have to make child support payments.

Most people think of joint physical custody as equal time or something close to equal, but it doesn’t have to be. In a lot of cases, the child will mostly live with one parent (the “custodial parent”) while the other parent has visitation rights. However, it’s becoming more common for courts to create true “shared” custody arrangements where the child lives with both parents equally.

In a joint physical custody arrangement, parents must work out the custody schedule based on their housing and jobs as well as the child’s needs and the location of the child’s school. Because joint physical custody requires a lot of travel and communication from both parents, this type of custody works best when both parents live and work in the same area.

Legal custody and physical custody are separate issues, so both parents can share physical custody while only one parent has legal custody. If one parent has sole legal custody of the child, then that parent will make final decisions about education, healthcare, and activities outside of school.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About North Carolina Child Support

Myers Law Firm: Experienced Family Law Attorneys for Clients in Mecklenburg County

If you’re fighting for custody in the Charlotte area or just trying to understand your rights and options so you can do what’s best for your child, contact Myers Law Firm for help today. An experienced family law attorney from our team will meet with you to answer your questions, help you understand your options, and create a plan for what comes next.

To schedule your first consultation today, please call 1-888-376-ATTY (2889) or fill out our quick online contact form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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