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North Carolina Child Custody
Child Custody in North Carolina

North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-13.2, provide that in contested custody cases, the courts consider all relevant factors in determining the best interests of the child, with either parent having the option of requesting joint custody. North Carolina child custody laws protect the child. Under child custody laws, the family courts have jurisdiction over custody cases and award custody based on the best interests of the child.

Divorcing parents usually write a parenting plan that stipulates how they plan to raise their child after divorce. This cooperation shows their willingness and ability to care and support the child while living separately. However, the court intervenes to resolve issues when the parents cannot do it themselves.

In a custody dispute between parents, North Carolina requires that they try to mediate their differences with a court-appointed third party. North Carolina subscribes to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act that provides that a parent's rights cannot be terminated or changed without notice and the opportunity to appear in court whether they live in the state or not.

The court determines if joint custody or sole custody is appropriate. The court cannot favor one parent over the other based on gender or financial status without considering the overall best interests of the child and other relevant facts abut the parent-child relationship. The court may grant joint custody provided the child's welfare is secure.

Under child custody laws in North Carolina, the court weighs many factors to determine the best custody arrangement for the child. Some of these factors include:

  • the child's wishes or preferences provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims;
  • the child's safety, education plan, religious training, and other needs and the parents' ability to provide such needs;
  • the child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings, and other family members;
  • the nature of the relationship between the parents;
  • the parents' work schedules, availability, distance, parenting skills, and financial capability;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse;
  • the safety of the other parent in situations involving domestic violence;
  • the mental or physical health of the parties involved in the proceedings.

Mandatory Parenting Class

North Carolina courts have the right to require divorcing parents with minor children to complete a parenting class before granting a divorce. It is the Judge's discretion, so he or she may require you to take a parenting class. Whether or not you are required to do so, we highly recommend taking the Children In Between parenting class for the benefit of your child(ren).


Child custody arrangements in North Carolina dictate the terms of physical and legal custody of children. Physical custody refers to the parent the child lives with daily. This person has the authority to make decisions involving the child's daily care. Legal custody refers to the person who has the right to make all of the major decisions involving the child. Major decisions include those involving education, health care, and religion.

Depending on the arrangement, a parent can have both legal and physical custody of a child or can have physical custody without legal.

Parents in North Carolina can petition the court for sole, or exclusive, custody. Under this arrangement, the custodial parent makes all the major decisions involving the child. The custodial parent has complete legal and physical custody of the child at all times. However, the court can order that the non-custodial parent have continued contact with the child through visitation.

Joint custody, also referred to as shared custody, means that parents make the major decisions in the child's life. Each parent has legal custody of the child and must come to an agreement with the other parent on any decisions.

Joint consensus is only required where decisions are major, such as choice of school or medical care. Day to day decisions such as bedtime or meals are at the discretion of the parent who has physical custody of the child at the time. In a joint custody arrangement, the child does not have to live half the time with each parent. Instead, arrangements often are made so the child has continuous contact with each parent but lives primarily with one parent. Under this arrangement, while only one parent has physical custody, both maintain legal custody at all times.

North Carolina does not require a judge to consider the child's preference when deciding custody, but courts do have that option and many will use it. While some states set a given age after which a child can testify on his own behalf, North Carolina courts make this determination on an individual basis after considering the maturity of the child. Rarely is the child put through the stress of being placed on the witness stand. He or she will be interviewed on camera, meaning that his or her testimony is taken in a more relaxed setting in the judge's chambers and by the judge rather than the opposing attorney.

Preferential Treatment Towards Mothers

North Carolina has abandoned what was once called the "tender years doctrine," which heavily favored mothers in custody issues. Many judges, however, still lean toward the mother for primary physical custody in the case of infants and toddlers.

Joint Custody Preference

Courts consider joint custody favorably because it promotes the continuing relationship between the parents and the child, and both parents have joint rights and responsibilities in childrearing. However, this shall not be granted if the child's well-being is at risk with one of the parents. Joint custody is not prevalent in North Carolina. As a rule, one parent receives primary physical custody, meaning that the child lives the majority of the time in that parent's home.

Secondary custody is North Carolina's term for visitation rights.

The judge may also vest sole power to make major decisions on the child's behalf with the parent who has primary physical custody. This sort of arrangement is commonly referred to as sole custody. The term joint custody does have child support implications, however. If the parent with secondary custody has visitation 123 nights a year or more (more than two nights a week) a joint custody worksheet is used to calculate child support.

Third Party Custody

In some cases, a third party, or someone other than a child's biological parents, will try to gain custody of a child, but a parent's right to have custody of his or her child over a relative or non-relation is nearly absolute in this state. According to North Carolina General Statutes Sections 50:13. - 50:13-9, any person or agency may petition the court to decide issues of custody.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.

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