North Carolina law does not either parent over the other in a custody dispute. The judge must decide what arrangement is in the child’s best interests. The judge will consider everything that affects the child’s life, including school, living arrangements, any special needs, or other factors related to that child’s welfare. In certain cases, the judge may also hear from the child and will consider his or her wishes. However, minor children are not allowed to decide custody or visitation for themselves.
Child custody is typically considered in two parts: decision making and time with each parent. “Legal custody” or decision making can be granted to the two parents jointly or solely to one parent. “Physical custody” determines where the child will reside and when the child will visit with the other parent. True joint custody would involve the two parents jointly making decisions and sharing equal time with the child.
Either party can seek a modification of custody. However, to have the court modify an existing custody order, the moving party must show a “substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child.” Upon such a showing, the court will make a new determination of what is in the child’s best interests and modify any prior custody order accordingly.
When parents “fight” over custody, the children often suffer. Children are more aware than we realize. They see, hear and sense things you probably do not want them to know. We encourage our clients to put aside their differences when it comes to caring for the children. Do not involve your children in the disputes you have with the other parent.
There are certainly times when custody disputes must wind up in front of a judge. However, we encourage our clients to exhaust all other options before that. One option for resolving custody disputes is Mediation. If a parent seeks to have the court determine custody, in the vast majority of those cases, the parties must participate in court-ordered custody mediation. If there is a custody order already in place, a judge may appoint a Parenting Coordinator. David Irvine is a certified North Carolina Parenting Coordinator.
If parents can agree on these issues without involving the Court, let Irvine Law Firm help you create your own Parenting Plan. Custody is probably the most emotionally difficult part of our family practice, but it also the most important. Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy your children while you can, instead of fighting with the other parent? Take the next step toward resolving your custody issues. Let us help.