Legal Information: North Carolina


February 14, 2022

What is sole custody?

Sole custody or exclusive custody means that one parent makes all of the major decisions in the child’s life. The parent with sole custody is referred to as the “custodial parent” and the other parent is referred to as the “non-custodial parent.” Generally, the court will order that the non-custodial parent will have continuing contact with the child through visitation. It is even possible for the court to order that the non-custodial parent can see the child as often as a parent who has joint custody would see his/her child.

What is joint custody?

Joint custody or shared custody means that both parents jointly (together) make the major decisions in the child’s life. To make these joint decisions, the parents have to be able to communicate and negotiate with each other to come up with a decision that they both agree on. For this reason, joint custody often is not a good option in relationships where there is domestic violence. Minor day-to-day decisions such as bedtime or what the child will wear are up to the parent who is with the child at the time.

Joint custody does not mean that a child must live half of the time with one parent and the other half of the time with the other parent. It means that physical custody will be shared in such a way to ensure that the child has continuing contact with each parent. Usually, the court will specify with which parent the child will be primarily residing (living).1

1 NCGS § 50-13.2(b)

What is visitation?

Visitation is a term that will likely be included in any custody order. Visitation gives the non-custodial parent the right to see the children. The court usually likes to set a specific visitation schedule for the child to spend time with the non-custodial parent. The amount and type of visitation granted can depend on the ages of the children, how far apart the parents live from each other, and other specific factors relating your child. A visitation schedule can include weekly sleepovers, weekends, weekday evenings, shared holidays, school vacations, summers, etc.

A judge may order supervised visitation if the safety of the child is an issue. If there has been domestic violence between the parents, a judge may also order that the exchange of the child take place in a supervised setting or in a public place.1

1 NCGS § 50-13.2(b)

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