In North Carolina there are two types of custody. The first type of custody is legal custody. Legal custody is not defined in the North Carolina General Statues. Legal custody generally refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions with import and long-term implications for a child’s best interest and welfare. Hall v. Hall, 188 N.C. App. 527, 655 S.E.2d 901 (2008); Diehl v. Diehl, 177 N.C. App. 642, 630 S.E.2d 25 (2006). If a court makes an award of joint legal custody, the parties equally share the right to make major decisions affecting the child’s life. On the other hand, if the court makes an award of sole legal custody, one parent makes all of the major decisions in the child’s life.
The second type of custody is physical custody. Physical custody is defined by North Carolina General Statue § 50A-102(14). Physical custody means the physical care and supervision of a child. The court may award joint physical custody. Joint physical custody does not always mean that a child must live half of the time one parent and the other half of the time with the other parent. Joint physical custody can be shared in a way that will ensure the child has continuing and frequent contact with each parent. Generally, the court will specify which parent the child will be primarily residing with. Visitation is a term often used to refer when one parent has less custodial time. Generally, the court spells out a specific visitation schedule for the child to spend time with the parent who has visitation.
Parents have a constitutionally protected right to the care, custody and control of their child. As such parents are first in line to be granted custody. However, if parents are found to be unfit, custody can be awarded to a third person, agency, or organization. Custody cases require more than knowledge of the terminology. It is important that you navigate the difficult and complicated process of a custody case with the help of a lawyer.