Physical vs. Legal Custody and Shared Custody

We will guide you through the difference between physical and legal custody and between sole, shared or joint custody. In North Carolina, physical custody refers to the act of having the actual physical care, custody and control of the child while legal custody refers to the parental right to make major decisions regarding the child’s welfare, such as those related to health, education and religion. When one parent has primary physical custody of the child, the other parent has the right to have visitation or secondary physical custody with such child. When parents have joint legal custody, they share in major decisions about their child,

There are a wide variety and range of custodial arrangements. For example, parents may share joint legal and equal physical custody of a child, or they may have joint legal custody with one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having secondary physical custody or visitation. Another example involves one parent having sole legal custody and primary physical custody of a child and the other parent having secondary physical custody of or visitation rights with the child. Shared physical custodial schedules may range from arrangements where the parent with secondary physical custody has the child every other weekend during the school year and on alternating holidays and for two weeks during the summer vacation, to arrangements where the parents share 50/50 physical custody of the child by alternating weeks.

The best arrangement for you will depend on a large number of factors specific to your case, which would include (but not be limited to) both parents’ work schedules, the age of the child, the child’s schedule, the location of the child’s school or daycare, the child’s preference, the housing situation of each parent, and the role of each parent in the child’s life. As there is not a best “one-size-fits-all” custody schedule, experienced legal counsel is required to ensure you get the most appropriate custodial arrangement for your particular situation. Regardless of the custodial schedule used, successful custody arrangements are possible when parents are able to communicate effectively and cooperate in parenting their child together.