In the United States today, approximately fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. This increasing number of failing marriages gives rise to the need for divorcing parties to deal with a number of extremely sensitive, difficult and emotional issues, one of the biggest issues being rights to the child or children. In North Carolina, custody is based upon what a Judge finds to be in the “best interests” of the minor children. The “best interests of the children” standard is described by North Carolina courts as the “polar star” for determining custody.
In North Carolina, custody is comprised of two concepts: physical custody and legal custody. It is important for separating parents to understand the differences between these two types of custody and how they might impact a party’s parental rights:
- The term “physical custody” describes the actual amount of custodial time that a parent spends with his/her children. Physical custody may be shared equally or divided between the parties. Often one parent will be awarded “primary custody” of the children, meaning that parent has the children in his or her custody greater than fifty percent of the time, and the other parent is awarded “secondary custody” of the children, meaning that parent has custody of the children less than fifty percent of the time. In rare instances, a Court may award sole physical custody to one parent and strictly limit and/or prohibit the other parent’s visitation rights with the minor children.
- The term “legal custody” describes the decision-making ability parents have regarding their children. Like physical custody, legal custody may be shared equally between the parties or one party may have sole decision-making authority. Legal custody addresses the ability of parents to make important life decisions for their children. These types of decisions include but are not limited to those regarding health/medical, education and religion. Most often legal custody is shared equally between parents. This means that neither parent may unilaterally make major decisions for a child without first discussing and reaching a mutual agreement with the other parent. Although shared legal custody is typical in most cases, there are instances where a Court may find that it is in a child’s best interest for one party to have sole legal custody. A parent who has been awarded sole legal custody is entitled to make the major decisions for a minor child without involvement from the other parent.
If you are thinking about or are currently involved in a dispute involving the custody of minor children, it is important that you seek the advice of a family law attorney who can more fully explain the intricacies of North Carolina law and how your case may be affected.
About Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs PLLC
Founded in 1994, Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs PLLC is one of North Carolina’s most accomplished firms practicing exclusively in the area of family law and domestic relations litigation.