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November 25, 2020 Blog

How Do North Carolina Courts Determine Child Custody?

Divorce rates have been spiking due to the coronavirus pandemic. Shut down orders related to COVID-19 have caused many spouses to reevaluate whether they would like to stay married or not. Financial stresses due to layoffs or limited work hours put pressure on marriages that may have already been on the brink. Couples who both work from home are now with their spouses nearly around the clock, and many parents have had to navigate their children’s schooling, as well.  

If you are a parent considering divorce during the coronavirus pandemic, you likely have concerns about child custody issues. Many of our new clients who are parents are understandably worried about the possibility of losing custody of their children. If you are considering divorce and want to understand the child custody process in North Carolina, we can help. Contact our experienced North Carolina divorce law firm today to schedule an appointment. 

 

North Carolina Child Custody Laws

When our clients consider separation or divorce, they often ask us how judges decide child custody matters in North Carolina when they go to court. North Carolina child custody laws encourage judges to promote parental relationships when they are in the children’s best interest. Judges cannot presume that a mother or a father should have full custody. Instead, judges must weigh several different factors in determining the type of custody arrangement in the child’s best interest. Specifically, North Carolina child custody laws encourage the following:

These guiding principles should govern all North Carolina court decisions related to child custody matters. The overarching principle for deciding child custody matters is to promote the best interests and well-being of the child.

 

Judges Have Significant Discretion in Deciding Child Custody Matters

During a challenging divorce, it can be difficult for parents to cope with the uncertainty of how a judge will decide on their child custody matter. Part of the uncertainty comes from the wide discretion that judges have when determining child custody matters. As mentioned above, judges should enter a child custody issue with a clean slate, not favoring one parent or the other, until they hear evidence from both sides. The statutory law regarding child custody clarifies that judges must consider all relevant factors when making child custody determinations. 

The statue does not elevate one factor or the other or tell the judge how, exactly, to weigh all of the factors. As a result, judges have significant discretion when it comes to child custody matters. We cannot predict how a judge will rule in a child custody case. While all judges must apply the child custody laws, the laws are broad enough to allow individual judges to mark how they interpret custody matters. Judges cannot simply snap their fingers and make a quick decision, however. North Carolina law requires them to write findings of fact in the child custody decision that demonstrates that the judges considered all relevant factors. In other words, judges must use facts to support their decision to show they carefully weighed the options before making a decision.

When one parent requests joint custody in North Carolina, a family court judge must consider the parent’s request. Family courts have the legal authority to order exclusive or sole custody to one parent or order joint custody between both parents. Custody orders also include other terms such as a visitation schedule and conditions that the judge thinks will encourage the child’s well-being. For example, if a child is thriving in an after-school club, the judge may require that both parents continue to help the child participate.

 

Child Custody Factors

North Carolina judges consider multiple factors when they make child custody decisions. All of these factors relate to the child’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, such as:

 

The Role of Your Divorce Lawyer

The North Carolina child custody process is complicated, and if you are a parent considering separation or divorce, you should expect to face child custody issues. An experienced divorce lawyer will present evidence to support your child custody position. Navigating the child custody process yourself can be disastrous, and you could jeopardize your child’s interest in your rights. Many people assume that if the judge does not provide a child custody ruling in their favor, they will get it changed through an appeal immediately. It is possible to petition the court to modify a child custody agreement, but it is not always easy. You will need to show that there has been a substantial change in your circumstances that warrants making a change. 

It is better to carefully represent your case upfront and hire an experienced lawyer who can provide the court with evidence that supports your petition. Your lawyer will gather a list of character witnesses who can testify about your relationship with your child and your child’s needs. Contact the experienced divorce lawyers at Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can represent your interests.

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