What Are the 3 Types of Child Custody?

If your marriage or relationship is ending and you have children in common, you need to know about child custody, visitation, and many other things. A North Carolina family law attorney can answer your questions and advocate for you in your divorce or child custody case.

The word “custody” gets used in several different situations and can mean different things. There are multiple types of child custody. Let’s address the question, what are the three types of child custody?

Physical and Legal Custody

Physical custody means where the children live. They might live with one parent part of the time and the other parent the rest of the time. Physical custody does not necessarily mean that the child only lives with one parent and not the other.

Legal custody refers to decision-making about significant topics, like education, medical care, and religious upbringing. The day-to-day decisions are usually left up to the parent the child is with at that time. If the parents have joint or shared legal custody, they are supposed to talk to each other and try to reach an agreement about the major issues, like where the child will go to school and who will be the pediatrician. 

If one parent has sole legal custody, the parents are usually supposed to at least discuss the substantial issues and try to reach an agreement. Typically, when they cannot reach an agreement on a legal custody issue, the parent with sole legal custody can make the decision after conferring with the other parent.

Sole or Primary Physical Custody vs. Joint or Shared Physical Custody

In most situations, the parents share physical custody of the children. Shared or joint physical custody does not mean precisely half of the time to one parent and half of the time to the other. Typically, the courts encourage parents to be flexible and cooperative about the schedule in the best interest of the children. When the parents cannot agree, the parenting plan or visitation schedule will delineate when the child will be with each parent.

Sometimes, one parent has sole or primary physical custody of the children. The other parent will have a visitation schedule.

Three Types of Child Custody Orders in North Carolina

North Carolina courts can issue three types of child custody orders: emergency orders, temporary orders, and permanent orders. Sometimes, a non-parent will file for custody of the children if they think the parents are not fit to care for the children. 

  • Emergency custody orders should only be filed when one has sufficient evidence to convince the court that there is an immediate danger to the child or likelihood of abduction. The court can quickly hold a brief hearing to rule on the emergency issue, with a second hearing to follow that gives the parents an opportunity to participate.
  • Temporary custody orders are not emergency situations, but they are also not permanent custody orders. For example, when two parents split up and are going through a divorce or a custody case, the court might issue temporary orders for the duration of the current lawsuit.
  • At the end of the case, the court will issue a permanent custody order that will be in effect until the court issues a new order. Courts can modify custody orders based on a change in circumstances.

With so much at stake when dealing with custody issues, you will want to consult a North Carolina family law attorney to advocate for you. Get in touch with the law office of Greene Wilson Crow & Smith for a free consultation.