Charlotte Child Custody Attorneys
While it is not unheard of for two parents to co-parent a child (or children) without the formality of a written document, it is more often the case that two parents will co-parent with the assistance of a private agreement or a court order. Whether you are guided by a private agreement or a court order, when we talk about child custody it is extremely important that we begin with defining what we mean by "legal custody," and what we mean by "physical custody."
When we speak of "legal custody," we are really referring to how parents make decisions in the best interest of their child. To this point, it is most often the case that parents share legal custody or they share "joint legal custody." When there is a joint legal custody arrangement, the parents are required to seek the advice, input, and recommendations of the other parent prior to formalizing a decision which involves the health, education, religion, or extracurricular activities for the minor child. In the event that the parents disagree, it is usually the case that the private agreement or court order will specify that they must seek the advice of a mediator prior to seeking the assistance of the Court.
On the other hand, and certainly less often, there could be an arrangement whereby one parent has "primary legal custody.” In the case of a situation whereby one parent has primary legal custody, that parent must only inquire as to the other parent's thoughts prior to making a decision for the minor child. With that said, and as a general rule, it is most often the case that parents will share "joint legal custody" unless there is some valid reason why one parent is unfit to share in this obligation.
When we speak of "physical custody," we are speaking of where the child resides on a week-to-week basis. To this point, it is becoming more and more common that parents share "joint physical custody." In this case, a child will generally live with each parent for a roughly equal amount of time with the number of overnights which are allotted to each party being the determining factor (as opposed to mere daytime visitation).
However, there is a unique circumstance in North Carolina law which merits some explaining. Specifically, a parent need not have an equal number of overnights in order to have "joint physical custody" of their child. Rather, if a parent has at least one hundred and twenty-three (123) overnights with their child per year, then that parent can say he or she has "joint physical custody."
On the other hand, there certainly still exist situations whereby one parent has "primary physical custody." This occurs when one of the parents has less than one hundred and twenty-three (123) overnights with their child per year. However, this custodial arrangement is becoming less and less common as time goes on, partially due to the abolishment of the maternal preference rule along with a shifting in societal norms and standards.
The Impact of Custody on Child Support
Of course, the number of overnights which a parent has with their child will also impact child support. This topic is discussed in more detail on our page outlining child support. However, suffice to say that a parent who has less than one hundred and twenty-three (123) overnights with their child per year will usually pay more child support to the other parent than if that parent enjoyed more than one hundred and twenty-three (123) overnights with their child on a yearly basis.
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