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What is joint custody?

Many residents of Statesville, North Carolina, especially if they are single parents, have probably heard the phrase joint custody or split custody used in conversation.

While they might figure that, as the name implies, joint custody involves a child's parents sharing some authority over and responsibility for their child, they might not know exactly what that looks like on a practical level.

In order to fully understand what joint custody is, one has to distinguish between the two types of child custody available in North Carolina.

The first type, legal custody, has to do with the authority parents have to decide the most fundamental questions about the way their minor child lives, including questions of religion, education, healthcare and the like. When parents live together with their child, they presumably make such decisions together.

When parents live apart but have joint legal custody, then they must continue to make these sorts of decisions with each other's consent, unless, of course, their custody order specifically says otherwise. On the other hand, if only one parent has legal custody, then the other parent may have the right to give input, but the parent who has legal custody is the ultimate decision-maker.

Joint physical custody, on the other hand, is when both parents have, in theory, full access to their children and similar rights with respect to contact with their children. While this does not mean that the child must literally live 50 percent of the time with each parent, it is distinct from a situation in which one parent has custody but the other parent has more limited rights to visitation.

As one can see, there are many situations in which a parent would want to fight for joint custody, be it physical or legal custody. In other cases, however, there may be good reason to award custody to one parent or the other.

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