Understanding North Carolina child custody laws

In an ideal world, divorcing parents would be able to put aside their differences and work together amicably for the well-being of their children. Sadly, however, this is not an ideal world, meaning disputes related to child custody are all too common during divorce proceedings.

In North Carolina, when issues related to child custody arise, and parents are not able to come to a mutual agreement, the resolution of the matter is typically left in the hands of the court, which, obviously, must adhere to state law when making its child custody determinations.

Considerations of North Carolina courts when deciding child custody

Essentially, North Carolina law states that custody of a child must be awarded in such a way that promotes his or her best interests and welfare. In most cases, the trial judge is given broad discretion to consider "all relevant factors" when determining what is in the best interests of the child. In fact, statutory law in North Carolina expressly states that these relevant factors include such considerations as the safety of the child and any acts of domestic violence among the parties.

However, any relevant evidence of what is in the best interests of the child may be useful to the court when making child custody determinations. Indeed, North Carolina courts have considered various factors in the past when deciding issues of custody, including:

  • The reasons that a parent is seeking custody, including whether he or she is motivated by love and affection or simply retaliation
  • Whether one parent is attempting to alienate the affections of a child from the other parent
  • The child's attachment to his or her particular school, neighborhood or home, and the impact that uprooting the child may have on his or her emotional well-being
  • Any special needs of the child, including any physical conditions or issues of mental health
  • The frequency and type of discipline employed by the parents

It is important to note, though, that these are merely a few factors that a court may consider. For instance, a court may also seek to learn what a child's preferences are in regards to which parent he or she want to live with, although this is only applicable once the child reaches the "age of discretion." And, while a specific age has not been designated as the age of discretion, it has been defined by the courts as the age the child has the capacity to form an intelligent or rational opinion as to his or her custody.

As this article illustrates, the law regarding child custody can be quite complex in North Carolina, which is why it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney if you are considering divorce and believe child custody will be a disputed issue. A skilled attorney can review the circumstances of your divorce and help fully explain your rights and options.