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A Brief Q&A on North Carolina Child Custody Laws

If you are going through a breakup in North Carolina or need to rethink the custody of your children due to new circumstances, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the state’s child custody laws. Like most states, North Carolina has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), making laws fairly universal across the country. So, how do these laws work? Easterling Law, PLLC, answers your questions in this brief Q&A.

How Is Custody Determined?
Family courts in North Carolina determine child custody issues based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child. The court uses several factors to make this decision, including:

  • Whether each parent can give the child a stable home
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child
  • The relationship the child has with each parent
  • The child’s current living arrangements
  • The overall safety of the child
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • The mental health of the parents, and how/if it affects their ability to parent

What Types of Custody Are Available?
Child custody in North Carolina has two basic types, Physical and Legal, which each come in two different forms, joint and sole.

  • Physical Custody – When a child lives with a parent, that parent has physical custody. Once a common arrangement, one parent would receive physical custody, while the other parent has visitation rights. These days it’s more common for joint physical custody, where both parents spend significant if not equal time with the child.
  • Legal Custody – A parent who has the right to make important decisions in their child’s life has legal custody. These decisions include medical decisions, religious instruction, and education.
  • Joint and Sole Custody – When parents share a form of custody of their children, it is called joint custody. When a single parent has a form of custody, they have sole custody. It is possible for the parents to have joint legal custody, while the one parent has sole physical custody and the other has visitation rights.

What Is Supervised Visitation?
If the family court believes that harm may come to a child if left alone with a parent, the judge can order supervised visitation. This type of visitation is usually supervised by a friend, relative, or social worker. Sometimes visitation is only required to be supervised for a set number of months, but in other cases, the court may require that it be supervised until something significant changes.

Does My Child Get a Say in Who He/She Lives With?
The weight the court gives to a child’s opinion is different in every state. In North Carolina, the child’s opinion is only given substantial weight if the child has sufficient mental capacity and comprehension to make an informed decision on where he or she wants to live. This determination is different in every case and with every child.

We try to use every other avenue possible, but they’re very limited instances that a child can testify in open court. Most judges would rather not see a child testify in that manner, so the court often requests an interview with the child in the judge’s chambers instead, if it’s agreeable to both parties. Doing the interview in private can foster better communication between the child and the judge. The judge may then use the child’s opinion to help determine their best interest, but they are never required to adhere to that opinion.

Navigating a child custody case is always emotionally draining, so it’s best to have the steady guidance of an experienced North Carolina family law attorney. For answers to your questions and concerns about your custody case, contact Lindsey A. Easterling, at Easterling Law, PLLC.