Child custody laws are generally consistent across most states in the country because they have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Act. North Carolina is one of these states. However, North Carolina has a unique approach to child custody cases, emphasizing the importance of parents reaching a voluntary agreement rather than going to court. In this state, parents who want to pursue legal action regarding child custody must first participate in mediation. Mediation is an alternative method of resolving disputes that has proven to be more peaceful and cost-effective for parents. As a result of the high success rate of mediation settlements, only a small number of child custody disputes in North Carolina end up in court.
Parents who participate in mediation may find that reaching a settlement is not possible and may decide to pursue child custody matters in court. In situations involving an abusive spouse, concerns with child protective services, or a parent struggling with substance abuse and addiction, it may be more appropriate for the courts to handle these issues. Determining the most suitable custody arrangement for children following a divorce or separation can be challenging, particularly when both parents have differing perspectives. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the court to identify a resolution that prioritizes the child's best interests, even in cases where there is animosity between the parents.
Determining the optimal child custody arrangement is a vital and emotionally charged element of family law. If you anticipate the need to attend court for the resolution of child custody matters, it is imperative that you comprehend the state of North Carolina's approach and decision-making process.
Determining Child Custody in North Carolina
Child custody in North Carolina is determined by courts according to N.C.G.S. § 50-13.2, which prioritizes the best interests and well-being of the child. To ensure an effective evaluation, the statutory law requires the courts to consider various relevant factors related to the child's life. While the state doesn't provide an exhaustive list, it does offer examples, including the child's safety and any instances of domestic violence. Other commonly considered factors include:
1. The child's current living arrangement.
2. Each parent's physical, emotional, and psychological ability to care for the child.
3. The child's relationship with each parent.
4. Each parent's ability to provide a stable home environment.
5. The child's wishes.
6. Religious and cultural considerations.
7. Adjustment to school and community.
8. The presence of excessive discipline or emotional abuse from either parent.
9. Evidence of drug, alcohol, or sex abuse by either parent.
Some parents express concern about courts favoring one parent based on stereotypes or gender. However, North Carolina law explicitly forbids arbitrary factors from influencing custody decisions. The state, along with many others, has abolished the "tender years" doctrine, which presumed that a mother was better suited to care for a child in their early years. North Carolina law now prohibits the courts from presuming that either a mother or father is preferred for the child's best interest. This rule also extends to adoptive parents, as the law prohibits assuming that a biological parent is automatically better for the child's well-being. It is crucial to consider all of these factors thoroughly when making custody decisions.
Types of Child Custody Arrangements
Upon reaching a final verdict, the court will determine the most suitable custody agreement for the child, utilizing its extensive flexibility. Provided below are some options that North Carolina courts have awarded to parents:
Physical Custody: This custody arrangement pertains to the child's primary place of residence. When a judge grants a parent primary physical custody, it means that parent will consistently be responsible for caring for the child. Typically, in cases where one parent is granted primary custody, the other parent, referred to as the non-custodial parent, is given visitation rights that allow them to spend time with the child as well. Alternatively, the court may award joint physical custody, also known as shared custody, to both parents. In such cases, both parents are equally responsible for providing care for the child, and they both have the right to spend significant amounts of time with him or her.
Legal Custody: When a court determines that a parent has legal custody of a child, it means that the parent is responsible for making important decisions regarding the child's upbringing. These decisions may include choosing the child's school, deciding whether or not to participate in religious practices, and making choices about medical care. Legal custody can be awarded to one parent alone or to both parents jointly, but courts typically prefer to grant joint legal custody.
The Burden of Proof
Custody cases are resolved based on each parent's burden of proof. Therefore, in these cases, parents should try to demonstrate to the court that the behaviors and skills they demonstrate are more likely to benefit the child's overall development than those of the other parent. Generally, the parent who has proof of prior involvement in a child's life and care will be favored by a judge.
Experienced North Carolina Family Law Attorneys
Determining who gets custody of a child can be one of the most emotional and stressful aspects of a divorce or separation. With the help of a legal professional, you will be able to receive useful advice to help you understand what to expect and help the process go more smoothly. After all, the goal is to come to an agreement that best reflects the best interest of a child. Contact Webster & Back Law today for a consultation.