How Is Child Custody Determined in North Carolina?
If you’re thinking about or possibly in the middle of a divorce, you may find yourself wondering, “How is child custody determined in North Carolina?” There are several factors that go into establishing child custody during the divorce process, whether you’re coming to an agreement with your spouse regarding child custody or having a judge establish a custody agreement.
How is Child Custody Determined in North Carolina? Look at These 7 Key Factors
When determining child custody, a judge will take several vital factors into consideration.
1. What do the parents want?
If the parents can lay out a reasonable child custody arrangement that works for both parties, then you can enter a Consent Order for Child Custody. An amicable agreement reached before you go to court means you can avoid a custody trial and have a custody arrangement that actually works for both parties.
2. What does the child want?
In cases where the parents cannot reach an agreement, if the child has a clear preference, the judge will sometimes take those desires into account. The child’s preferences will not outweigh the Court’s positon of what custody schedule is in the child’s best interest. The child’s age may have an impact on how much the judge considers the child’s preferences or if the child is old enough to testify at all. Many judges prefer that children not be witnesses in custody cases and do not like having them testify. Consider having a child’s advocate or therapist for the child instead of putting your child in the witness box.
3. Who has been the primary caregiver of the child up to the point of separation?
Often, the court will take a look at which parent takes primary care of a child to get a better idea of what will work in the best interests of the child following a separation. If one parent has always been the primary caregiver, taking the child away from that parent, or significantly reducing that parent’s parenting time, may not be in the best interest of the child. However, if the other parent shows that they can also manage the day-to-day activities with the child and simply haven’t done as much of that during the marriage due to various reasons, a Judge may find that the child will benefit from having frequent contact with both parents.
4. What does the child’s relationship look like with each parent?
In some cases, a child may have a much stronger relationship with one parent than the other. If a child has a much closer relationship with one parent than the other because that parent has been the constant in the child’s life, the courts may award that parent primary custody of the child.
5. Is the parent healthy enough to care for the child?
In some cases, the courts may take a look at the parent’s mental and physical health in determining whether the parent can reasonably be expected to provide care for the child. While the court will usually not discriminate directly against a disabled parent, if a parent has poorly-managed health conditions, including addiction, that would leave them struggling to care for a child, the court may award custody to the other parent. The court may also carefully consider a parent’s physical capability before giving that parent full-time custody of a child.
6. How much of an adjustment will the living arrangements create for the child?
When assigning custody, the court aims to create an arrangement which is in the best interests of a child. This means an arrangement that will help the child adjust most easily to the new circumstances. If one parent has future plans that will likely uproot the child’s life, the court may award primary custody to the other parent, particularly if that fits with the wishes of both the other parent and the child. For example, a parent moving across the country could struggle more to obtain full custody than a parent who plans to remain in the area where the child goes to school and has friends and family.
7. Is each parent able to provide reasonable living arrangements for the child?
Financially, a child can be provided for through child support. In some cases, spousal support may also help support the family during the transition. However, if one parent clearly cannot provide for the child or cannot provide reasonable living arrangements, the court may award custody to the other parent, particularly during the transitional period. Reasonable living arrangements may include whether the home has room for the child, if the home is in a safe neighborhood, and whether the parent is able to maintain the property in a way that is suitable for a child.
How to Handle Child Custody in North Carolina
We always recommend clients try to reach an agreement with the other parent so that you can avoid having a complete stranger (a Judge) determine custody of your child. However, if you find yourself in a contentious custody battle in North Carolina, you need to work with an attorney to help you fight for your rights, including your right to child support, custody, or visitation. Triangle Smart Divorce is here to help. Contact an experienced child custody lawyer in North Carolina to learn more.