Going through a divorce is a tremendously taxing burden on a couple, both psychologically and legally. When children are involved, the issue is much more complex. Each child suffers as an unwilling party to the divorce, and sometimes the only party who believes they are at fault for the divorce. Therefore, it is important for divorcing parents to reassure their children that they are not to blame for a divorce.
With regard to child custody, it is critical that both parents provide stability by playing a role in the upbringing of their children. Although the formerly stable home provided by a child’s biological parents is no longer possible after a divorce, stability can be achieved when both parents maintain a close relationship with each child. Therefore, both parents should encourage a child’s relationship with the other parent. This will sometimes require self-sacrifice on the part of parents who have animosity towards each other.
North Carolina courts recognize and promote the important role each biological parent plays in raising a child. When parents are unable to reach an amicable agreement with regard to children, a court will step in and establish an agreement that reflects this reality. This post will give an overview on North Carolina child custody laws, which courts in this state will follow in setting the custody arrangement.
North Carolina courts determine who will be given custody of a child by assessing the best interests of the child. This does not mean that the child gets to pick who they will live with. Rather, the courts will look at a number of factors to make an objective determination. Some of the factors considered include the safety of the child and the child’s current living situation. Judges are not given a restrictive list of factors, however, so anything can be taken into consideration.
Moreover, the courts do not assume that a mother is better suited for the role of custodial parent than a father—both parents are considered equally suitable at the outset. There is a presumption that natural parents are better suited to raise their children than third parties, like grandparents or relatives, but this presumption can be overcome if the parent has done something that violates the best interests of the child.
Types of Custody and Visitation
There are two types of custody under North Carolina law: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody determines who has the responsibility to make major decisions about the child, such as decisions regarding education, healthcare, and religious activities. This decision-making right and authority can be shared equally, or jointly, between the parents; or the court can award sole legal custody to one parent. However, joint legal custody does not necessarily mean that parents have equal physical custody of the child; and sole legal custody does not necessarily mean that one parent will be given sole physical custody of the child.
Physical custody governs with whom the child lives and how much time they spend with each parent. Often times, parents may share equal physical custody of the child or one parent may be granted primary custody of the child. In the event that primary custody is granted to one parent, the non-custodial parent has the right to visit with their child. The law does not define an amount of time a parent must be given with their child, and North Carolina courts have wide discretion and flexibility to set a custodial schedule that it feels is in the best interest of the particular child after considering a number of factors.
Dispute Resolution Options
Divorcing parents have the ability to mutually agree on a child custody agreement. The terms of such an agreement can be established in a Separation Agreement or a Parenting Agreement. Where the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the courts will get involved, and each parent will have to litigate to convince the state of the best interests of the child. Such litigation is contentious, and makes separation a more traumatic experience for the child. In addition, it allows a judge, rather than a parent, to make a critical decision regarding a child’s upbringing. Therefore, it is better for parents to establish a child custody agreement together. The family law attorneys Remington & Dixon are available to counsel you through this difficult negotiation. Our compassionate attorneys can help mediate the situation to achieve the best results for you and your family. Call today for a consultation: 704-817-9050
Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.