In years past, North Carolina law contained a “tender years” doctrine that provided that a mother had a superior right to custody of her young children. The tender years doctrine has been abrogated and there is no longer a presumption that one parent should be favored over the other for purposes of determining child custody. When both parents are fit and proper persons to have custody of their child, most judges favor an award of equal or nearly equal child custody. However, there are situations where both parents are fit and proper to have custody of their child, but it is not practical to make an award of equal or nearly equal physical custody. There are numerous reasons why equal or nearly equal child custody may not be possible, but one of the common reasons is that the child is enrolled in school and the parents live too far apart to share custody equally. How then, do the parties agree, or does the court determined, which parent should have primary physical custody of the child?
In determining awards of child custody, a judge is guided by the best interests of the child. Thus, if both parties are equally fit to have custody of the child and both parents are seeking primary physical custody of the child, the law does not specify a single factor that would tip the scales in favor of one parent over the other. However, there are a number of factors that can be presented to the court to illustrate parenting skills or help persuade the judge that one parent is more suitable than the other.
The factors listed below are examples of evidence that may be presented to a court to demonstrate a parent’s parenting skills or reflect their ability to provide for the needs of the child:
- the child’s relationship with each parent – whether the child has a stronger bond with one or the other parent;
- each parent’s respective ability to provide the child with a safe, secure, and stable home environment;
- the age, health, and lifestyle of each parent;
- a parent’s involvement in preparing meals for the child;
- a parent’s involvement in taking the child to medical and dental appointments;
- a parent’s involvement in attending the child’s school and extracurricular activities;
- a parent’s involvement in helping the child with homework;
- the extent to which a parent nurtures the child’s interest with family and friends;
- the child’s relationship with any stepsiblings or half siblings in either household;
- educational and extracurricular opportunities that either parent may be able to provide to the child.
Trial judges are vested with a great deal of latitude when it comes to making decisions in family law cases. As such, you will benefit from having an experienced and competent lawyer advocating on your behalf and presenting relevant evidence to the court in a persuasive and effective manner. When your child’s future is at stake, you need a knowledgeable lawyer who is committed to effectively presenting your case to the court to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome.