How Can Parents Successfully Navigate Child Custody Disputes in North Carolina?

How Can Parents Successfully Navigate Child Custody Disputes in North Carolina?

How is Child Custody Defined?

According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch, there are several distinct classifications of child custody:

  • Sole legal custody: This allows the custodial parent the ability to make all of the major decisions that affect the child without consulting the other parent.
  • Joint legal custody: This allows each parent an equal say in off of the decisions that affect the child and requires consultation between the parents before decisions are made.
  • Physical Custody: This identifies the parent with whom the child will live and may be sole, joint, or a variation of the two.

To simplify, legal custody refers to the parent or parents who will decide how the child is raised, such as the child’s education, medical care, and religion. Physical custody is the parent with whom the child will reside.

Other types of physical child custody include:

  • Primary custody: The parent with whom the child will reside on a full-time basis.
  • Secondary custody: The parent not awarded primary custody may be awarded secondary custody in the form of visitation rights.
  • Joint custody: A judge may choose to split the time a child lives with each parent equally, meaning the child will spend the same number of nights with each parent.
  • Temporary custody: This type of custody is typically awarded after an initial hearing and will expire after a specified amount of time. It is not prejudicial to either parent.
  • Permanent custody: This is the court’s final custodial decision and will remain in effect unless a new order is requested.

What is the Process of Obtaining Child Custody?

Petitioning the court for child custody begins with filing a complaint in the county where the child resides. The complaint serves as a formal request for the court to grant custody. Once the complaint is filed, the other parent will be served notice that custody has been requested. At this step, family courts will usually recommend a Custody Mediation Program to help both parents reach an agreement without involving a judge. A family law attorney at Kreider Attorneys at Law can help during this process. If an amicable agreement cannot be reached, then a judge will intervene.

What is Mediation?

The purpose of mediation is to resolve disputes centered around the custody of the child. An objective third party, or mediator, is used to discuss the issues and attempt to reach an amicable resolution. The purpose of mediation is:

  • To reduce contempt or ill will between the parents
  • To offer both parents informed options regarding custody and visitation
  • To reach an agreement that is in the best interest of the child
  • To provide a confidential environment and facilitate cooperation

Any agreement reached during mediation will be submitted to the court in writing and sent to a judge for approval.

Is Mediation Required?

The mediation requirement can be waived by either parent or, in some cases, the judge may waive it. Reasons to waive mediation may include:

  • Unreasonable hardship on either parent, such as living 50 miles or more from the court
  • Allegations of child abuse or neglect
  • Allegations of substance or alcohol abuse
  • Allegations of substantial psychological or emotional issues
  • A domestic violence protective order from one parent against the other

How is Child Custody Determined?

Family courts operate with the primary concern of upholding the best interest of the child and ensuring his or her safety. The following factors are considered:

  • The age of the child
  • The parent who has assumed primary responsibility during the child’s life
  • The work schedule of each parent
  • The wishes of the child in appropriate cases
  • The parent’s housing situations
  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • The relationship of the child to each parent
  • Special needs of the child
  • Allegations of child abuse
  • Allegations of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or alcohol abuse
  • Each parent’s financial situation
  • Prior custody issues

What are the Rights of the Parents?

Biological parents have a protected right to spend an appropriate amount of custodial time with a minor child. That right may be revoked if a parent acts in a manner that is inconsistent with their protected parental status, such as:

  • Abuse of the child
  • Abandoning the child
  • Allowing others to act in the role of parenting the child
  • Acting in any other way that a parent should not or is not in the best interest of the child

Can a Child Custody Order be Modified?

To modify an existing child custody order, there must be a substantial change in the child’s life, such as:

  • A parent relocating
  • A change in the child’s health or educational needs
  • Changes in a parent’s lifestyle that may affect the child

Once a significant change has been established, a motion must be filed with the court that issued the original court order. This motion will serve as a formal request to review and attempt to change the custody arrangement. Then, the court will review the information and decide if the change in circumstance warrants a change in the custodial agreement.

It is important to remember that the goal of the court is not to punish a parent but to uphold the best interest of the child.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Custodial disputes are emotional and lengthy processes. Having a family law attorney to help fight for your parental rights can benefit you in a myriad of ways, such as:

  • Providing an assessment of both homes
  • Documenting financial and psychological status
  • Speaking with all parties on your behalf
  • Handling relevant filings, motions, and hearings

Call Kreider Attorneys at Law today at 336-550-1210 or fill out a contact form for a consultation.