North Carolina Child Custody Laws

Custody decisions are some of the most challenging decisions parents can make. The process can be smooth, involving consensus via a separation agreement, or chaotic with many unilateral choices that affect the other parent and child. Here’s what you should know about child custody laws in North Carolina.

An Overview of Child Custody Laws in North Carolina

North Carolina child custody laws provide a limited framework of how the child custody system works, but they can offer helpful information. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) addresses jurisdictional issues in child custody disputes. The Interstate Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act is a federal law that also addresses custody jurisdictional issues in NC.

Child Custody in North Carolina

Parents settle most NC custody disputes through consensus, but a few reach courts for determination. Parents that decide custody and visitation through private agreements are not required to submit the agreement to the judge unless they wish to have their agreement made a part of the court order.

Before settling or getting a court ruling on custody, each parent has co-equal custodial rights. Unless there’s a written document outlining visitation and custodial rights, either parent can change the custodial arrangements at a whim.

North Carolina Courts and Custody

The few custodial disputes that parents don’t resolve can be settled in court..

A judge can rule on custody based on several principles. First, the court prioritizes the child’s best interest when considering where the child will reside. NC Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2 (2020) outlines the considerations the judge can have when examining which parent suits the child’s best interest, including:

  • each parent’s living situation
  • each parent’s custodial wishes
  • each parent’s ability to promote and protect the child’s mental and physical health
  • each parent’s willingness to support a relationship between the other parent and the child
  • the child’s health, age, and overall needs
  • each parent’s domestic violence history, if any
  • each parent’s mental and physical fitness
  • the child’s adjustment to school, home, and community
  • the child’s preference (if they have reached the appropriate maturity and age)

The trial judge has broad discretion in their determination. Appellate review is restricted with this litigation, as courts of appeal rarely want to substitute their judgment for the trial judge that handled the proceedings. An attorney focusing in NC custody cases can help you get a favorable initial decision.

One parent’s cheating scandal wouldn’t affect a custody ruling unless the parent’s acts harmed the child’s wellbeing. A parent with a domestic violence history can have limited visitation and custody rights. A judge might not award them physical custody unless the judge is convinced the child is safe in the parent’s care. An abusive parent can get visitation rights, but a designated agency or third party may be required to supervise the visits.

Laws on Child Custody

Case law, NC General Statutes Sections 50-13.1 to 50-13.9, and Chapter 50A of UCCJEA provide the parameters for custodial judicial actions. Any relative, parent, or other people, organization, agency, or institution claiming a minor’s custody can bring a court action if they meet the qualifications for standing to pursue a custody claim. Filing a counterclaim, complaint, and motion in the cause in a pending action are typical ways of getting a custody issue before the court.

1. The Child’s Welfare

The judge often awards custody to the individual or institution that best protects and promotes the child’s welfare and interest. A judge has enormous discretion over the factors to consider when assessing what’s in the child’s best interest. The judge can view the amount of time the child will spend with each parent, preferring the parent with the most period with the minor instead of leaving them with a babysitter or daycare. The judge may also consider the child’s bond with the parent and sibling.

The court can hear the child’s preference for either parent in open court or chambers, but the child’s choices aren’t binding. The child must have sufficient comprehension and mental capacity to give a reasoned view about where they want to live.

2. A Parent’s Custody Rights

Each parent has substantial custodial rights that may only be interfered with if it’s in the child’s best interest. The natural parents often get the child’s custody in an initial custody proceeding, absent a determination of unfitness. A judge can give custody to a non-parent if the arrangement best promotes the child’s welfare. Such decisions are rare in disputes between a third party and a natural parent.

North Carolina courts can award joint custody if the judge finds that to be in the child’s best interests. Or the court can give one parent primary physical custody with the other parent having secondary time with the child. A judge can direct a family friend, or relative to supervise a parent’s visit if they feel unsupervised visits can endanger the child.

Remington & Dixon, PLLC can represent you in custody disputes in Charlotte. We are an experienced, affordable, and reliable law firm. Our attorneys prioritize our clients’ custodial issues and work hard to resolve them, relieving their stress and letting them return to their lives. Contact us today to get top-notch representation.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Happens When a Minor Turns 18?

At age 18, the child’s no longer a minor, and NC courts have no authority over their custody and visitation.

2. What’s an Emergency Custody Order?

An emergency custody order, or an “ex parte” order, is an immediate, short-term custody ruling that a judge can grant in limited emergency instances without hearing from one parent or party.

3. What’s the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

Legal custody involves the right to decide for the child, while physical custody is the right to have the minor in your physical care, either part-time or full-time. Parents can share custody or hold them individually.


Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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