Child Custody

How Does The Law In NC Look At Custody?

Generally, the parents of a child are the first group a Court considers in granting custody. If, however, the parents are unfit, custody may be Ordered to a person other than the parent (a grandparent, relative, or other individual with a strong bond or connection with the child) or agency, organization or institution that will look after and protect the best interest and welfare of the child.

In considering whom to place a child with, a Court looks at the following:

  • Sole custody to one parent or individual
  • Joint custody to the parents;
  • Custody to an agency, organization, or institution; or
  • Custody to a third party such as a grandparent or other individual.

In making the consideration of whom a child is to be placed with the Court considers:

  • Custody is based on what the judge believes is in the best interest of the child Joint custody to the parents;
  • Special needs of the child; or
  • The child's educational performance
  • The child's physical and emotional state
  • The age and wishes of the child
  • The criminal and employment history of the parties
  • Substance abuse or domestic violence or a domestic violence protective order
  • Sexual and dating relationships of the parties
  • Other factors special to unusual situations

In North Carolina, in order for a nonparent relative to be granted custody of a child, he or she must prove that the parents of the child are unfit or are a danger in raising the child or that both parents have neglected the child.

Custody as defined by North Carolina law is the physical placement, care and supervision of a child (under 18 years of age). Physical custody is used to describe the person with whom the child lives with on a day-to-day basis, but more importantly, where the child stays overnight. A person who has Legal custody will make major decisions concerning the child, including but not limited to decisions about the child's education, health care, and religious training.

In North Carolina, visitation and custody are considered the same in the eyes of the Court.

Parents need to be careful in developing patterns of visitation.

Be careful allowing a schedule to be set in place that you don't like or is not in the best interest of your child. If a court determines a schedule has been established, it may be difficult to modify it after a certain amount of time has passed by.

What are different types of custody arrangements?

The Courts consider two primary types of custody for minor children:

  • Joint/Shared custody
  • Sole/Exclusive custody

Joint custody means that two parties make the major decisions in the child's life unless otherwise ordered by the Court. Minor day-to-day decisions such as bedtime, haircuts or what the child will wear or eat are up to the parent who is with the child at the time placement occurs. Joint custody does not mean 50/50 equal, split time or that a child must live half of the time with one parent and the other half with the other parent. It means that physical custody will be divided in some way so as to allow continued physical contact with each party. It is up to the Court as to how much detail goes into custody or visitation or how open-ended visitation might be for a child. The Court takes into account how the parties work, communicate and act together.

Sole custody or exclusive custody means one party has exclusive decision-making authority concerning most if not all of the decisions in the child's life. The child most often lives with this party most if not all of the time. Often times, unless there is a safety issue involved, the Court may allow the non-custodial party to have some form of contact with the child. It is also possible for the Court may not allow contact or visitation based on issues involving specific cases.

In cases where there is or may have been Domestic violence, a judge may order that the exchange or visitation of a child take place in a supervised setting or in a public place.

Who can get custody of a child?

Custody can be awarded to the person, agency, organization or institution that will best promote the interest and welfare of the child. An order for custody of a minor child may grant:

  • Joint custody to the parents
  • Exclusive custody to one person, agency, organization, or institution
  • Custody to two or more persons, agencies, organizations, or institutions

In North Carolina, for a nonparent relative or other person to be granted custody of a child, there are several complicated legal issues that need to be shown to the Court. The paperwork may be difficult and technical in nature.