Joint Physical Custody vs. Joint Legal Custody

Written by Jonathan Breeden

September 21, 2016

One of Hollywood’s most famous power couples has announced its demise. Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, aka “Brangelina,” have decided to end their decade-long relationship. Throughout their relationship, the couple has made headlines with their blended family. Pitt legally adopted the two children Jolie adopted before the duo became a couple, and they had four of their own children. In her divorce complaint, Jolie asked for sole physical custody of all six children and for Pitt to be awarded joint legal custody and visitation.

Because of Jolie’s child custody requests, the seemingly blissful life the couple appeared to have may entirely dissolve into a long and ugly custody battle. Allegations have surfaced that Jolie cited Pitt’s anger issues and substance abuse in her divorce filings. It has also been said that she believes his personal problems pose a danger to their children.

Different Types of Custody

As is evidenced by Jolie’s requests for custody, there are different types of child custody that may be ordered by the court. Each type refers to responsibilities of parents towards the children and their well-being. Each type of custody may be allocated to a single parent (“sole custody”) or responsibilities may be shared equally (“joint custody” or “shared custody”).

  • Physical Custody – This type of custody refers to the actual location where children reside. When sole physical custody (sometimes referred to as “primary custody”) is awarded to one custodial parent, the other, non-custodial, parent is typically given visitation rights (sometimes referred to as “secondary custody”) unless the children would be harmed in doing so. Parents may also share joint physical custody if children spend equal time residing with both parents.
  • Legal Custody – This type of custody refers to the important decisions made regarding children, including health care, education, and welfare. Parents often share joint legal custody so that both the custodial and non-custodial parents make decisions about the well-being of children together. If there is a compelling reason that one parent should not make such decisions, the court may award sole legal custody to one parent.

In North Carolina, it is assumed that both parents have the right to participate equally in the lives of their children unless the parents or a judge decides differently. No matter what a parent requests, the court will consider what is best for the health and well-being of the children involved in the case.

The Custody Issues Brangelina Faces

Sources say Angelina Jolie asked for sole physical custody because she is concerned that Brad Pitt’s excessive use of alcohol and marijuana, coupled with his anger problems, will put the children in a dangerous situation. Courts often grant primary physical custody to one parent, but award visitation with the non-custodial parent in order to ensure both parents are actively involved in their lives. If children are threatened by a parent’s substance abuse or mental health issues, a court will make a decision based on keeping them safe.

Although joint physical custody is possible, courts sometimes avoid it in order to maintain consistency of residency to avoid disruption of school and other activities. When awarding custody, judges in North Carolina often consider evidence of substance abuse, mental health issues, and issues of anger management as well as what the status quo of custody has been prior to the case coming to hearing before a judge. In Jolie and Pitt’s case, the judge will look for evidence that supports Jolie’s claims of her husband’s substance abuse and anger problems.

A judge will consider all of the following when making decisions regarding custody and visitation:

  • History of domestic violence
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • The ages and developmental levels of the children
  • The financial situations of both parents
  • The environment of both parents’ homes
  • The wishes of the children, if they have the mental capacity to understand the significance of the decision

Contact a North Carolina Custody Attorney for Help

Despite their fame and fortune, Brangelina is likely in for a long, bitter fight that could permanently damage any good feelings they may have had toward each other. A child custody case is one of the most stressful and emotional situations parents can go through, especially if they are unwilling to agree to the same terms.

If you think your custody case is heading down the same road, you need a compassionate custody attorney on your side. Attorney Jonathan Breeden of Breeden Law Offices has spent over 20 years skillfully navigating tricky custody issues while keeping his client’s best interests in mind. He can help you keep a clear head so that you obtain an outcome that benefits your children. Call Jonathan Breeden today at (919) 661-4970.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden