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What You Need To Know About Child Custody

When a couple separates, decisions must be made regarding the care and welfare of the couple’s children. In North Carolina, child custody is settled either through a separation agreement or by a court order and with the help of an experienced child custody lawyer. If the parties voluntarily execute a separation agreement, then they will determine the outcome regarding the ultimate custody and visitation arrangement. This allows the parties to retain control over the custody and visitation decisions and avoid having a judge dictate the results.

A separation agreement may address all aspects of custody and visitation, such as which parent has primary physical custody, whether the parties have joint or sole legal custody, the visitation schedule, and custody or visitation during holidays.

What Is Legal Custody?

Joint legal custody refers to an arrangement in which both parents collaborate in making decisions regarding a child’s welfare, such as the child’s medical care and education. Sole legal custody means that one parent has the authority to make such decisions regarding the child’s welfare. A court may grant legal custody to one or both parents.

What Is Physical Custody?

Physical custody refers to the spouse with whom the child resides. A court may order physical custody primarily with one parent or with both parents. Often, a court will order one parent to have primary physical custody and the other parent to have secondary physical custody or visitation.

Don’t go through a child custody dispute alone. Contact Daphne Edwards Divorce & Family Law to get the compassionate representation you deserve in Wake County. Give us a call today at 919-891-8552.

How Courts Determine Who Gets Custody

As outlined in the law, parents have the option to obtain sole or joint custody, grandparents may file for visitation rights and children may state their parental preferences. Parents who arrive at an agreement may set up their own child custody arrangements.

However, when an accord isn’t reached, mediation is scheduled. When mediation doesn’t resolve the issues, the court schedules a child custody hearing after the divorce trial has concluded. Our Raleigh child custody lawyer can assist parents in their cases and explain how child custody is determined by a judge.

Factors judges consider include the following:

  • Any history of domestic violence: The child custody arrangements must present the most suitable living environment for the child. A parent who has a criminal history of domestic violence is less likely to acquire custody due to an elevated risk to the child. If the child was involved in the crime, the opposing parent could acquire sole custody.
  • The safety of the child: The lifestyle of each parent is reviewed. Any circumstances that place the child at risk are determining factors in the case. Alcoholism, drug addiction and criminal activities substantiated during the hearing could tip the scales. Any allegations of a risk to the child are investigated by child protective services, and the findings are reported to the judge.
  • The current living environment: The child’s current living environment is evaluated, too. The court reviews how well the child has adjusted to their current living conditions and whether the conditions are suitable. The purpose of the child custody arrangement is to provide the child with the most stable home life possible. However, this doesn’t indicate that the parent who has possession of the child prior to the hearing is guaranteed primary custody of the child.
  • The child’s relationship with each parent: As studies show, children are often closer to one parent. In a custody arrangement, each party should have the opportunity to have a relationship with the child. However, if either parent creates instability for the child, then the judge may consider assigning primary custody to the parent who has the closer relationship with the child if they are more suitable.
  • Each parent’s ability to provide care for the child: The parents’ incomes and earning capacities are assessed to establish each parent’s ability to provide care for the child. Each parent must have the capacity to provide financial and emotional support for the child. The same calculations are applied to determining child support payments. However, in terms of custody, the parent must maintain a stable work history and have access to child care while they are working. All basic needs of the child must be met according to child custody laws.

What If Mediation Doesn’t Work?

If the parties are unable to resolve custody and visitation through a separation agreement, then those matters will be decided in court by a judge. Courts in North Carolina determine custody based on what is in the “best interests of the child.” When a custody action is filed, the parties are required to participate in a state-sponsored mediation unless certain exceptions apply.

If the parties are unable to resolve custody and visitation in mediation, then the case goes to trial. There are many factors that a judge will consider in determining what custody and visitation arrangement is in the best interests of the child. Such factors include:

  • Who has been the child’s primary caregiver
  • Each parent’s role in caretaking
  • The age of the child
  • Each parent’s work schedule
  • The bond that the child has with each parent
  • The presence of siblings
  • Misconduct by either parent (such as abuse, neglect or domestic violence)

At What Age Can A Child Choose Which Parent To Live With In North Carolina?

In North Carolina, there is no set age at which a child can decide which parent to live with. The judge will consider the child’s preference, but it is not the only aspect to consider. The judge will also consider the child’s age, maturity and the wishes of both parents.

The court will generally prefer that children live with their parents until they are 18 years old. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if a parent is abusive or neglectful, then the court may order the child to live with the other parent.

If you are going through a custody battle in Wake County and you are concerned about where your child will live, reach out to us to speak with our attorney.

Talk To Our Lawyer Today To Get Help

Our Wake County child custody attorney can help you understand your options and protect your child’s interests. Please call us at 919-891-8552 or complete our online contact form to start discussing your case.