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How is custody determined in North Carolina?

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2023 | Child Custody

While it can be healthy or even necessary at times for parents to spend some time apart from their child, that does not mean they do not miss their child while they are gone. So, if a parent is facing divorce, they will have to accept that they will spend some time apart from their child, while their child is in the other parent’s care.

Most parents want to maximize how much time they spend with their children, especially after a divorce. They want any child custody arrangements to be fair to them. But the courts will deem that the ultimate basis on which any child custody decision should be made is not the best interests of the parents, but the best interests of the child.

The best interests of the child

First, courts will not base a child custody decision solely on the parent’s gender. North Carolina does not recognize the mother as the de facto custodial parent. Both fathers and mothers have an equal right to time with their children.

Instead, courts will base child custody decisions on the best interests of the child. When determining the best interests of the child, courts in North Carolina will consider several factors. The court will consider:

  • Whether domestic violence is an issue
  • Whether the child is safe with the parent
  • Whether the parents have asked to share joint custody
  • Whether a parent is, was or will be in the military and how this will impact the child
  • Each parent’s living arrangements
  • Each parent’s capacity to be able to provide the child with proper care
  • The relationship the child has with each parent

There are other factors that may be considered as well. These factors are codified in N.C.G.S.A. section 50-13.2.

What about what is fair to the parents?

While each parent may have an opinion on what is fair to them when it comes to child custody, this comes second to the best interests of the child. And, even if a parent was not a great partner, this will only be considered if it substantially impacts their ability to parent appropriately.

What about the child’s wishes?

Children might have a preference about which parent they will live with. The judge might consider these wishes, but the judge is not required to follow them.

The judge will consider whether the child understands what being truthful means and whether they are mature enough and have the judgment necessary to make a good decision about which parent they would prefer to live with. This is called reaching the “age of discretion” and it can be a different age for any child.

Child custody is a journey

Going through the child custody process can be an emotional journey for parents. But what is most important is that the child is cared for in a manner that is healthy and helps them thrive. This is why courts prioritize the child’s best interests when making a child custody decision.