Child Custody Decisions in North Carolina

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 What is Child Custody?

Child custody includes the right to make major life decisions about a child and the right to have the child in your care. Visitation is considered a secondary form of custody, which encompasses the right to visit with a child at times specified in a court order, sometimes under specific circumstances. “Visitation” is usually used to refer to a person’s parenting time when it is relatively limited.

Furthermore, legal custody is the right to make major decisions about the child. Physical custody means the right to have the child in your physical care, either all the time or part of the time. Both legal and physical custody can be either shared by the parents or held solely by one parent.

What Do Sole Custody and Joint Custody Mean?

A parent who has sole legal custody can make major decisions about the child’s life without concurring with the other parent. If parents have joint legal custody, then they must consult one another and jointly make major decisions, such as where the child will attend school or whether the child will have a major medical procedure. If the parents cannot agree, a court may have to make the decision.

Sole physical custody means that the child resides with one parent only, though the child may visit with the other parent. Joint physical custody is defined as the child’s time being split between the parents. There are many possibilities for joint physical custody.

For example, One parent may have primary physical custody. This translates to the child living with that parent most of the time, while the other parent only has secondary physical custody for, every other weekend, or regularly scheduled dinner visits. Alternatively, there may be an equal split in which the child alternates between the parents regularly.

Are You Required To Obtain a Custody Order?

The North Carolina Courts state that parents who are no longer together are not required to obtain a custody order, but may choose to do so in case they do not agree about the child’s care. Non-parents do not need a custody order to provide temporary care for a child as long as the parents agree that the child will reside with or be cared for by the non-parent.

However, schools, medical providers, or other third parties may require a custody order before permitting a non-parent to make decisions for a child.

What Will the Judge Consider in Deciding My Case?

The North Carolina Legal Assistance shares that judges decide child custody based on the best interests of the child. This decision can include many factors, such as the parents’ living arrangements, each parent’s ability to care for the child, the child’s relationship with each parent, and any other factors impacting the welfare of the child. While fairness to the parents is critical, this is secondary to the child’s welfare.

Moreover, a person’s shortcomings as a spouse or relationship partner will usually only carry substantial weight if they also impact the person’s parenting abilities. An attorney can advise you on the most relevant factors in your specific case.

Additionally, there are various situations in which a parent may bring a child to testify in court, and the requirements are a bit different. There is no age limit preventing parents from bringing young children to testify, but this can affect the judge’s view of the parent’s judgment, varying on the age of the child and other circumstances.

Furthermore, children can testify as witnesses to specific situations. Before taking testimony from a child, the judge must determine that the child comprehends the importance of speaking the truth. children can speak to the judge about their preferences. In this case, the judge must determine that the child understands the importance of telling the truth and that the child has reached the “age of discretion,” meaning that they possess sufficient maturity and good judgment.

Also, the judges often consider teenagers’ preferences about where they want to reside but are not required to order what the teenager desires. Many judges prefer to have children wait outside the courtroom rather than observe the trial. Some judges will speak to children “in chambers,” meaning in a separate room without the parents present, rather than having the child testify in the courtroom.

They typically examine who has primarily taken care of the child during the marriage (washing, feeding, and clothing the child, for instance, or helping the child with homework), who has the best approach to discipline, who has cared for the child since separation (if the couple has already been separated). Additionally, what work schedules do either or both parents have, and how each parent can provide for the physical, emotional, educational, religious, and social needs of the child.

How will North Carolina Child Custody Laws Determine Your Custody Arrangement?

If co-parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement and want to fight for certain custody rights over their child they must notify the court of the claim. North Carolina child custody laws and courts also mandate that both co-parents have participated in mediation to determine if an agreement can be reached before bringing the case to trial. It is important to note that North Carolina child custody laws and courts do not recognize joint custody as most other states do.

Instead, in a situation where joint custody would regularly be granted a judge will award primary custody to one co-parent and secondary custody to the other. This means that the child will spend most of their time at the primary custodial co-parent’s home. North Carolina child custody laws utilize the term secondary custody, but it is just another way of saying visitation rights. Legal custody, which deals with the important decision-making for the child, can be granted to either co-parent or both co-parents in this case.

North Carolina child custody laws and courts follow the consensus that co-parents have the right to custody of their child over any relative or third-party individual. They also do not initially favor one co-parent over another. Only after examining and evaluating the co-parents in court will a custody arrangement be given in favor of one or the other.

Like many other states, North Carolina child custody laws enforced what was known as the tender year’s doctrine. This doctrine heavily favored the mother of the child to be granted primary custody over the father. The courts have shifted away from this doctrine but there are still many judges and professionals who may still follow this legal notion, especially in cases with younger children. It is critical to consider this when looking at your child custody case.

What are the Effects of Joint Legal Custody?

Just as the definitions of joint custody differ, so do the effects of a joint custody arrangement. Joint legal custody will mandate both parents to discuss the child’s needs more frequently than with a sole custody arrangement.

Joint legal custody means that both parents will need to cooperate and reach agreements in regard to the child but this can be challenging. If you and your spouse have been able in the past to set aside your other differences and discuss matters concerning the child, joint legal custody can be an acceptable solution. However, if your disagreements include issues relating to the child, the arguments and disagreements will continue well beyond your divorce and will frustrate any attempt at true joint legal custody.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you reside in the state of North Carolina and are dealing with child custody issues, do not hesitate to reach out to a North Carolina child custody attorney to assist you with the process. An attorney in your area can guide you through the process and represent you in the event of a legal dispute.

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