What is the Difference Between Joint and Sole Child Custody?

5-1What is the Difference Between Joint and Sole Child Custody?

When parents’ divorce, they still have the responsibility of raising their children. Divorce can make parenting more challenging. Both parents are still part of their children’s lives and must still provide for them. Both parents generally have legal custody of their children. Legal custody means that you are allowed to make decisions on behalf of your child, such as those regarding education, religion, and medical needs. Parents may have joint or sole physical custody of their child.


Physical Child Custody

Physical custody refers to the residence where a child lives. There are various ways that parents may divide the time they spend with their children. Joint physical custody is also called shared custody. In this arrangement, the children spend about the same amount of time with each parent. This may be accomplished by the children living half the time with one parent and the other half at the other parent’s residence. Another option is for the children to remain in one residence while the parents each spend time at home with the kids.


Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “Can any attorney help me with my family law needs in North Carolina?”


Sole Child Custody

Sole child custody is also called primary physical custody. It means that a child resides with one parent all the time and visits with the other. The non-custodial parent generally has visitation with the child on a regular basis. Typically, the default is for a child to spend every other weekend with the non-custodial parent, although this arrangement depends on the specifics of each case. Even though a parent has sole physical custody, both parents usually still share legal custody so they can both make important decisions for their child.



Bird-nesting is a term that is used to describe a situation where children reside in one home all the time, and the parents come and go. In this arrangement, each parent will have another residence where they live when they are not the on-duty parent. The children remain in the same home all the time, thus creating a more stable living arrangement. Kids do not ever need to leave for visitation with a parent. Instead, one parent spends a week at home, and the next week, the other parent spends the week. Parents may choose the schedule that best meets their needs.


How Do We Decide Child Custody?

When you and your spouse seek a divorce, the judge encourages you to come to an agreement regarding child custody. Parents must determine where their children will reside and how parents will handle visitation. A parenting plan is a document that is useful in guiding custody and visitation matters. When parents cannot come to an agreement about child custody, the judge may request that they enter into mediation. A mediator is an unbiased third party who is trained to facilitate dispute resolution. A judge will determine child custody in situations where extensive efforts have not resolved the matter.


The judge will agree, or sign off, on a custody arrangement when both parents agree to it and when it is in the best interest of the child. To learn more about child custody and visitation, contact our legal team at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 to schedule a consultation or find additional resources here.






The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.



bird-nesting | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)

child custody | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)


Image Credit:



See Our Related Video from our YouTube channel:



See Our Related Blog Posts:

Can You Move Your Child Out of North Carolina After Divorce?


What is an Emergency Child Custody Order?

Contact Information