In North Carolina, the law encourages parents who are divorcing to agree on a child custody arrangement. If you and your children’s other parent cannot come to an agreement that suits you both, the court may decide on your behalf during your divorce proceedings.

The standard is for the child to spend significant time with both parents unless it damages his or her best interests. These are the answers to the common questions divorcing parents have about North Carolina custody.

What is legal custody?

Legal custody does not describe where the child lives but who has the right to make decisions that affect the child’s growth and development. Examples include medical care, religious instruction and education. In general, North Carolina law provides for shared legal custody whenever possible. Physical custody, or where the child lives, can be shared by both parents or held solely by one parent while the other parent has visitation where appropriate.

How does the judge decide who gets custody?

The law requires that the custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest, with the wishes of the parents as secondary. The judge may consider the following:

  • The relationship the child has with each parent
  • The child’s health and safety at each parent’s home
  • Whether either parent has a history of neglect or abuse
  • Where the child currently lives and with whom
  • Each parent’s ability to provide support and stability

What should I do if we cannot agree on custody?

Either parent may file a custody complaint in the county where the child lives most of the time. You must submit a proposed parenting plan, and the other parent receives an opportunity to submit his or her own plan. The court schedules a hearing where the judge hears this evidence and uses it to create a legally binding custody order.

Facing a divorce is often stressful and painful, especially when you and your former spouse have children. Keep in mind that maintaining a friendly co-parenting relationship may help support your child’s healthy and happy development.