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Child Custody Laws in North Carolina

Child Custody Laws in North Carolina

Child custody refers to the set of rights and responsibilities that divorced parents share regarding the general welfare, medical care, education, and religious training of their children.

Physical custody refers to the living arrangement of children. Many North Carolina divorces resolve the issue of physical custody with one parent assuming primary custody of the children and the other parent receiving visitation rights. Visitation is also considered a form of custody.

Legal custody refers to the power to make decisions about children’s lives. In North Carolina, divorced parents might have joint legal custody, or one parent has sole legal custody.

North Carolina courts award child custody to the person they deem the most fit to care for and protect the best interests of the children. North Carolina does not favor the mother. Both parents will be considered equally; the decision of custody is done on a case-by-case basis.

Can Parents Agree to a Child Custody Arrangement Out of Court?

North Carolina courts favor parents working out custody arrangements themselves whenever possible. If parents can agree on child custody arrangements out of court, the resulting parenting agreement or consent order must then be approved by a court. The agreement needs to be thorough, with clearly outlined provisions for each parent.

When custody is disputed between parents, one parent will typically file a complaint with the court. Mediation is required before a court will schedule a trial. Arbitration may also be utilized before a case can go to court.

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution in which a mediator acts as a neutral third party and works with the parents to find areas of agreement and create terms for parenting that are amenable to both.

Mediation hopes to avoid the stress, time, and expense involved in having the court decide custody issues.

Arbitration is a sort of trial without a jury. A neutral third party called an arbitrator decides the contested issues.

In both court trials and arbitration, evidence can be presented by both parents. The court’s determining factors will always be what the court perceives to be in the best interest of the children.

What Makes for a Good Parenting Agreement?

When negotiating a parenting agreement, it is important to outline an agreement that is practical, allowing both parents to maintain meaningful and consistent contact and relations with their children. Each arrangement is unique and needs to address both existing and future circumstances that may arise. The more specific the arrangement can be, the more likely it will reduce the risks of disagreements and disputes in the future.

An experienced family law lawyer can help you create and negotiate a strong parenting agreement.

What Happens When Parents Cannot Come to Agreement on Custody Arrangements?

If parents cannot agree on custody arrangements even with a mediator, a court will make the determination based on what it deems is in the best interest and welfare of the child. An experienced family lawyer at Wilson, Reives, and Silverman can represent you in a contested child custody case in a courtroom.

Your lawyer can also assist you if a custody evaluation has been ordered by a court to assess the physical and emotional living situation of one or both parents. We can help you demonstrate to a judge that you will protect, provide for, and ensure the best interests of your child or children.

North Carolina family law does not give preference to gender in child custody decisions. A father is just as likely to receive physical custody as a mother. Unwed fathers are often eligible for visitation rights.

Your lawyer has the experience and expertise to gather and present evidence that will address the variables a court will analyze to determine custody outcomes

These factors include:

  • A parent’s economic situation and earning potential
  • A parent’s physical, mental, emotional well-being
  • A parent’s availability to the child
  • A parent’s caretaking skills
  • The child’s preferences
  • The child’s level of bonding with other siblings

Your lawyer can help you seek sole physical and legal custody or joint physical and legal custody depending on your situation. If you are denied physical custody, your lawyer can work to secure visitation rights that allow you to have quality parenting time with your children.

North Carolina is a No-Fault Divorce State

North Carolina is a No-Fault Divorce State

Can Child Custody Agreements be Modified?

It is important to note that no child custody arrangement is permanent. Child custody is always open to being modified. If you are not satisfied with your current arrangement, you can work with a family lawyer to seek modifications if your circumstances have changed since the agreement was enforced.

If your parenting agreement was reached with your ex-spouse outside of the court, the focus in a child custody modification will be to determine what new arrangement will serve the best interest of the child. However, if the child’s custody resulted from a court order, the parent seeking a modification will need to show “changed circumstances” that have adversely affected the child to warrant a modification. A judge who agrees that the changes are substantial may modify the existing child support agreement.

If ever a child is in danger of being physically or psychologically harmed, your lawyer will work quickly to obtain an emergency custody order.

Can Grandparents in NC seek Child Custody and Visitation Rights?

In North Carolina, grandparents may be granted custody and visitation rights. To have standing to sue a child’s parents for custody, the grandparent must prove the unfitness of the child’s parents or show neglect of the children.

Grandparents can also be granted visitation rights if they can demonstrate that the children’s parents are in an ongoing child custody dispute and having visitation rights would be beneficial to the children.

How is Visitation Determined?

There are no set rules regarding how much visitation time a parent without primary custody can have or when visitations should occur. Visitation cases depend on a number of variables, including:

  • Distance between the parents’ homes
  • Ages of the children
  • Schedules of the children
  • Work schedules of the parents

Can I Move out of the Area or State with my Children?

There are often travel and relocation restrictions placed on the divorced parent who has legal custody of the children. The parent with legal custody might be forbidden from moving outside of a certain geographic area, including moving out of state.

One could, however, seek court approval for a move if you are able to prove that the move will be in the children’s best interest.

How does a Criminal Record Affect Child Custody?

While a criminal conviction is not necessarily a disqualifier for custody, it will be a significant factor in custody cases. Some convictions carry greater weight than others depending on:

  • The nature of the crime
  • The victim of the crime
  • The sentence ordered and served
  • Length of time since the conviction
  • Criminal history

A domestic violence conviction, in particular, could weigh heavily against a parent as might illegal drug offenses or drunk driving convictions.

Contact an Experienced Family Law Lawyer for Child Custody Cases

Our family law lawyers at Wilson, Reives, Silverman & Doran know the rights and protections that are part of North Carolina’s child custody laws. We are committed to securing the best custody arrangements for our clients that meet the needs of parents and their children.

Call us today or use our online form to connect with our team of lawyers for a confidential consultation.

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