Custody Definitions

I would say that you need to contact your lawyer. Having “joint legal custody” means that you are entitled to have a say in ALL major decisions in your child’s life. Don’t get too caught up in the wording though. The terms; sole custody, joint custody, physical and legal custody can often times mean whatever the court want them to mean and you would likely do better to go back to your court order for reference.

Very impressive stepmom! Stepmom is absolutley right. You can probably charge her with contempt but you may just be beating a dead horse. As far as her objections to your “lady friend”, I went through the same thing. She has to have solid evidence that your child can be harmed before she could deny the visitation. Even then, she would have to probably get a judge to modify your visitation before she could deny you of visitiation time. I’m not 100% certain, but I believe in N.C. and most other states, that visitation cannot be denied even if you are not paying child support. If she continues on this path, advise her of the time you will come to pick up your son. Even if she refuses, advise her I will pick my son up at this time on this date. Before you arrive contact the local police or sheriff and ask them to follow you to her home to pick up your son. Tell them you just want to make sure there won’t be any trouble and want a witness. If she still denies you visitation, ask the officer to file a report. I had to do this once, and it was never a problem again.

In North Carolina, there is no formal definition of “joint custody,” “joint legal custody,” or “joint physical custody.” As stepmother shows, NCGS Ch. 50 refers to “joint custody” but does not define it.

jaysdad, do you have a court order awarding you joint legal custody of your son, or do you merely have an “unincorporated” (i.e. not part of any court proceeding) separation agreement?

If you have a court order, the order should spell out exactly what “joint legal custody” you have of your son. If your ex is in violation of any of the terms of the order, you could try to get the court to force compliance via contempt proceedings against her.

If, on the other hand, all you have is an unincorporated separation agreement that specifies you are to have “joint legal custody” of your son, you’re basically SOL. These agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on with regard to custody provisions. These agreements cannot be enforced via contempt proceedings. Nor is the court bound by the agreement’s terms when setting child custody in a later order. Also, note that NC appellate courts have consistently held that "visitation privileges are but a lesser degree of custody.

Yes I do have a court order for joint legal custody. She has primary physical custody and the problem is that she believes that this overrides any of my rights. The terms of joint legal custody are not spelled out clearly in the agreement, beyond specifiying the visitation schedule.

I found this searching the web. It’s not necessarily for North Carolina but it may clarify things a little for you:

Types of Custody
Learn the difference between legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and joint custody.

Legal Custody
Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.

If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won’t get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you – which may harm the children. What’s more, if you’re represented by an attorney, it’s sure to be expensive.

If you think you have circumstances that make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won’t communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for a change in custody so that you have sole legal custody. But, in many states, you will have to overcome a presumption that joint legal custody is preferable.

Physical Custody
Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody to both parents when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have sole physical custody, with visitation to the other parent. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.
Sole Custody
How can I keep custody of my daughter when her father has a criminal record?

One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. In most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role a divorced father plays in his children’s lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody , the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In that situation, the parents would make joint decisions about the child’s upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights.

Courts generally won’t hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit – for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect.

It’s understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse. But it’s best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may simply allow supervised visitation, while still ordering joint legal custody.

Joint Custody
Parents who don’t live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:

joint legal custody
joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent), or
joint legal and physical custody.
It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, but not necessarily the other way around.

When parents share joint custody, usually they work out a schedule according to their work requirements and housing arrangements and the children’s needs. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent’s house or apartment. Other joint physical custody arrangements include:

alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or
spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other.
Joint custody has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents. And it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent. There are, of course, disadvantages:

Children must be shuttled around.
Parental noncooperation or ill will can have seriously negative effects on children.
Maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.
If you do have a joint custody arrangement, maintain detailed and organized financial records of your expenses. Keep receipts for groceries, school and after-school activities, clothing, and medical care. At some point your ex may claim she or he has spent more money on the kids than you have, and a judge will appreciate your detailed records.

Bird’s Nest Custody
Bird’s nest custody is a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, spending their out time in separate housing of their own.

I’m still certain that you should contact legal counsel and do it before she moves with your son. The visitations can not be withheld legally because she doesn’t agree with who you share your life with. If you lived in a “crack house” and had a prostitute girlfriend I could understand her concern and even applaud her efforts to keep your son away from you. Barring that, there’s no legal reason. If you have visitation days, let her know you are coming to pick him up. If she refuses, get out your court order, call the local law enforcement and ask that someone escort you to pick up your son. You will have witnesses of her refusal to comply with the court order and just maybe that won’t happen again. Contact legal counsel to get something done about her not informing you of other decisions that ARE your concern and you DO have an interest in. I’m not sure how sharing joint legal custody works with moving to another city but I’m pretty sure that you should at least be advised prior to the decision being made for him to move.

According to Diehl v. Diehl (2006, NC COA), legal custody refers to the right to make decisions regarding, among other things, the child’s education. See … 0416-1.htm. You have joint legal custody. Therefore, you have the right to be an active participant in all decisions regarding your son’s education.

If your son’s mother is not abiding by the terms of the visitation schedule, she’d better have a pretty darn good reason for not doing so. The presence of your lady friend is not such a reason.

Inform your son’s mother that her actions are unacceptable to you. Tell her she needs to respect your custodial periods with your son. If your son’s new school is unsatisfactory to you, try to work out an agreement with his mother. If you are unable to resolve the education and visitation issues with her in a timely manner, you’ll need to go the show cause/contempt route and have a judge rule on these matters.

Hello All,

I would like some input as to the definition of ‘joint legal custody’ and how to enforce this.

My ex-wife is apparently of the opinion that she is not obligated to inform me of decisions she makes regarding our son. I learned recently, through my son, that his mother got a job in another city and that they will be moving soon. She has been unwilling to respond to questions about this. Last night I learned that our son has been enrolled in a school in the new city, to begin today, and she felt no need to inform me ahead of time.

She also feels entitled to refuse visitation when my lady friend of two years is involved, asserting that I need to spend the time with him alone. I am quite certain that he does not resent her presence and that our relationship is quite strong.