North Carolina Child Custody FAQ

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What is the most common child custody arrangement in North Carolina?

Child custody arrangements vary from family to family and state to state. There are several arrangements that are more popular than others, including legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, joint legal custody, and sole legal custody. Of these, joint legal custody is the most common custody arrangement. This is where both parents are involved in the decisions regarding how their child is raised. 

If we were never married, do I still need a custody order in North Carolina?

The answer to this question depends on your end goal. If you are seeking to establish any rights to the child, including custody, visitation, or child support, paternity does need to be confirmed. Most states hold that when a child is born out of wedlock, the mother has sole custody unless a court has held otherwise in an order. 

How is child custody determined in North Carolina?

In most states and most situations, when the parents of a child are able to agree on a child custody arrangement, the court will issue an order that confirms the terms of the agreement. When the parties are unable to reach an agreement on their own, they may have to attend mediation or arbitration to see if that helps. When all else fails, the court will hear the matter and issue an order the parties must abide by. The court will consider testimony, the report of a court-appointed guardian that is looking out for the best interest of the child, and other evidence when deciding child custody. The best interest of the child is always the criteria the court uses in these decisions. 

What's the difference between legal and physical custody?

When a parent has physical custody, they actually have the physical child placed with them. This is the parent that lives with the child and takes care of their everyday needs. One parent may have primary physical custody while the other has secondary physical custody.

A parent who has legal custody is the one allowed to make important decisions about the child, including decisions regarding the child's medical care, education, and religious upbringing. Joint legal custody may be awarded to both parents so that they both have input in making these important decisions for their child.  

Does custody primarily go to one parent in North Carolina?

This is an incorrect assumption many people make. The answer is “no.” The truth is that courts often award other types of custody arrangements, such as joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or a combination of both. Some states do require a primary custodian, though, but that does not mean one parent gets full custody.

The courts always consider the evidence and the best interest of the child to be of paramount concern. 

Do I even need a Custody Order?

Not always. If you and your co-parent are in agreement about the kids and have a friendly, no-conflict relationship, then you do not need a custody order. However, this is not always the case between separating parents, and when there is tension and disagreement, it actually creates more calm and stability once you have everything spelled out and in an Order. An Order is different from a separation agreement, because it is enforceable by the contempt powers of the court, so the stakes are higher if one or both of you is not complying by its terms.

Does the Court favor moms over dads or vice versa?

No. Both parents have equal Constitutional rights to be parents, and while there is a misconception that the court leans one way or the other based on gender roles, this is not true. A preference for young children being with their moms over dads (called the "Tender Years Doctrine") originated in the 19th century, and was overruled by the NC legislature in 1977 in favor of the "best interests" doctrine.

She put me on child support but she won't let me see my kids. Do I still have to pay? 

Child support is not a punishment to either parent, it is a duty owed by each parent, whether being paid daily by the primary custodial parent (in food, diapers, transport etc.) or by the non-custodial parent to help pay for the child's expenses. It is based on income of both parties, how much time the child spends with each parent. It is the child's right to be supported by both of you, so helping your child through your other parent is a good thing. However, child support and custody are completely different court actions, and a parent is not permitted to withhold visitations for non-payment of child support, or vice versa.

How hard will it be for me to get sole custody?

Sole custody is a complicated concept, and the answer depends on a variety of different factors. As stated above, both parents have equal parental rights in their child/children, and in order to curtail, limit or remove those rights, the other parent must have behaved in ways that are inconsistent with his or her rights. This can take shape in a multitude of ways, but it is important to start from the understanding that you BOTH made this child, and will be in each other's lives forever now, even if not as a couple, so hoping that you can simply "get" sole custody because it would make life easier for you is not a great starting place.

How soon can I talk to the Judge?

Most likely, never. Family law cases, especially custody, are not meant to be litigated, as lawmakers state clearly that fighting over children in court is against public policy. This is why you are ordered to attend mediation first, in the hopes that you won't go to Court. The framework of the process is designed to help you get to a resolution that is best for your children, with a Judge and a hearing available as a fallback if you are not able to agree.

Do I need a child custody lawyer in Guilford County?

It's really up to you if you want a child custody lawyer. As for needing one, that depends on what is meant by that. Child custody laws are nuanced yet stringent. Mistakes are not affordable because the custody of your child is at stake. 

In many cases, parents mutually agree on child custody arrangements, and so that makes the matter easier. In some of those cases, though, a parent may have felt compelled to agree, and so having a family law attorney advise you on what's fair (or not) is beneficial. In contentious situations, a child custody lawyer is highly recommended. It takes skills, knowledge, and a lot of perseverance to make sure the child custody arrangement approved or ordered by the court is fair and just and reflects what you had anticipated.

Contact a Child Custody Lawyer in North Carolina Today

If you need help with a child custody case, contact Camino Law. Our child custody attorney in Greensboro, North Carolina will advise you of your rights and guide you through the process. 

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