How Is Child Custody Determined in North Carolina?

Parents in North Carolina are allowed to reach an agreement about custody of their children in a divorce, separation, or paternity action. A judge will have to approve of the arrangement and find that the terms are in the best interest and welfare of the child.

When the parents do not agree about a custody arrangement, a judge will have to make a decision about those terms. North Carolina family law attorneys can advocate for you in this situation and answer your questions about how child custody is determined in North Carolina.

Judges are supposed to evaluate all relevant factors when making decisions about child custody. Here are some of those issues:

Safety Issues

Domestic violence is, unfortunately, common in troubled relationships. The judge should consider any history of domestic violence that has happened between the parties, whether between the parents or between a parent and child. The child custody arrangement should provide measures to protect the safety of the child and parent from violence by the abusive parent.

The Child’s Age

A newborn will need different custody and visitation terms than a teenager. It would be inappropriate to use “cookie-cutter” custody and visitation forms without tailoring them to any specific age-related issues.

The Child’s Unique Needs

When a child has circumstances, like special needs or disabilities, that require attention from the parents, the judge should include that issue in the custody scheme. For example, some disabled children have to drop out of their ongoing therapy sessions because the custody schedule does not address the issue of each parent’s ability to transport the child to the appointments. 

The Conflict Between Money and Time

Two additional factors the judge should evaluate are:

  • The amount of time each parent has available to spend with the child, and 
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child.

When a parent works, for example, three jobs to make ends meet with the income of the other parent, that parent will have less free time to do things with the child. On the flip side, a parent who might be underemployed will likely have a lower standard of living than a fully employed parent. Our legal system does not want children to get neglected by unavailable parents or to live in poverty.

Home Life

Judges should take a look at both households to determine questions about custody and visitation. Here are some examples of concerns for judges:

  • Who else lives in the household. Do others in the home pose a risk to the healthy life and development of the child because of things like a criminal record or drug use?
  • Will the child have to sleep on a sofa, or will he have a room of his own?
  • Which parent is likely to make sure the child goes to school, does his homework, stays out of trouble, eats nutritious meals, gets appropriate medical attention, and lives in a reasonably clean home? 

These are but a few of the many factors judges can use to support their custody determinations.

Additional Factors in Custody Disputes

Anything relevant to the best interest and welfare of the child is fair game for the judge to evaluate. The judge might ask questions like these:

  • Do the parents have more than one child? Courts generally do not like to split up children, but in blended families that include half-siblings, judges tend to be more open to different arrangements.
  • What does the child want? Depending on the age of the child, the judge can give some weight to the child’s wishes. 
  • Which parent is likely to support a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent? When there are credible allegations of parental alienation, the judge could transfer custody to the other parent.

Depending on your situation, you might need to address other topics as well during the custody phase of your case. North Carolina family law attorneys can represent you and work hard to get you the best outcome possible under the circumstances. Contact our office today to set up a consultation.