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How Do Courts Decide Custody in North Carolina?

Whether you and your child’s co-parent are in the midst of a friendly or adversarial divorce, the issue of custody can be nerve-wracking. For many divorcing couples, it is the most emotionally charged topic during discussions and negotiations. However, the custody process and standards in North Carolina are straightforward and similar to those used in other states, allowing parents to think about what’s best for their child and come to an agreement.

Encouraging Cooperation and Negotiation
Custody proceedings in North Carolina are part of General Statutes 50-13.01. The court implements policies that encourage parents to negotiate custody issues while keeping the child’s best interest in mind. In doing so, the court tries to avoid unnecessary litigation. Whenever possible, the court aims to have parents work out custody arrangements without a judge’s order. This may involve the use of a mediator.

A Goal of Equitable Sharing
As is the case in many states, North Carolina tries to create an environment in which both parents get to spend meaningful and consistent time with their children. Ideally, both parents should have an equal share of quality parenting time and parental responsibility. This helps the child create and maintain strong bonds with both parents.

There are exceptions to this goal, of course. If the case involves substance abuse, child neglect, or abuse, the court may limit time with one parent.

The Child’s Best Interest
Ultimately, the goal of the North Carolina court system is to act in the child’s best interest. While they do try to act in fairness to both parents, their primary concern is what is best for the child in question. This question is complex, but you can expect the judge to ask the same questions that any caretaker would ask when trying to keep a child safe. Some factors they look at include:

  • Each parent’s home environment
  • The child’s age and specific needs
  • Each caretaker’s ability to parent
  • Each parent’s ability to meet the child’s financial needs
  • Both parents’ work schedules and other obligations
  • Child’s relationship with both parents and with siblings living in either parent’s home

In situations where a child has two loving, capable parents, this type of deliberation often leads to a shared custody situation that supports the child’s relationship with each parent. In some situations, the judge may speak to the child directly about their preferences. They typically only do this if the child is of an appropriate age and maturity level.

If you’re facing a current or potential custody dispute, it’s essential to work with an attorney who knows how North Carolina custody proceedings work. Your attorney can help you consider different options that meet your child’s needs and prepare for court proceedings. Contact our team now to discuss your options and get started.