What Factors are Considered in a North Carolina Child Custody Case?
Parents who find themselves dealing with any type of child custody dispute, or anticipate having to go through a custody dispute, often find themselves asking what factors a judge considers when making a custody and visitation determination. Most parents can come to an understanding on custody, but when agreements are not possible, it becomes necessary for a court to make the necessary custody decisions. In these situations, it is more critical than ever to know what factors a judge will consider.
The Court’s Guiding Principles in Child Custody Matters
To understand the factors considered by a judge, it is first important to know what the court’s guiding principles are in a child custody case. North Carolina General Statute § 50-13.01 (https://www.ncleg.gov/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_50/GS_50-13.01.pdf), states the policies and guidelines for the court to follow in custody cases. This policy essentially encourages the following actions in all custody matters:
- Creating child-centered parenting agreements in good faith that promotes the best interest of the child and reduces needless litigation over custody issues.
- Having parents take responsibility for their child by setting an expectation that parenthood will be an ongoing significant responsibility.
- Having parents share equitably in the rights and responsibilities of parenting duties, and having court programs and policies in place that encourage parents to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with the other when it is in the best interest of the child, and appropriate for the situation.
Child Custody Factors
In following the court’s principles, a judge’s primary purpose in making a custodial decision is to always “promote the best interest and welfare of the child”. For the court to determine the best interest of the child, there are various factors a judge will consider. The North Carolina child custody statutes do not list any specific factors that should be taken into consideration but rather state “all relevant factors, including domestic violence between the parents, the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from domestic violence by the other” be taken into consideration. Therefore, judges have wide discretion in making child custody decisions and how much weight to give each factor presented to them. Specific factors presented in each case will vary depending on the circumstances. However, the most common factors considered will focus on what is in the minor child’s best interest as it relates to the child’s physical, emotional and mental well-being, such as:
- The age of the child;
- The needs of the child;
- The ability for each parent to provide for the child;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- The safety and stability of each parent’s home environment;
- The schedule of the minor child and each parent;
- The child’s relationship and bond with each parent as well as the child’s relationship with other siblings or third parties residing in the home;
- The parents’ relationship with one another and their ability to foster a healthy and loving relationship between the child and the other parent;
- The existence of any family or community support systems in place;
- The child’s ties to a school or within the community;
- Each parent’s history of domestic violence;
- Any drug or alcohol abuse of either parent ;
- And, in some cases, the wishes of the minor child.
Either parent may request joint custody from the court, and the court has an obligation to hear their request as there is not a presumption that one parent is better than the other. Both parents are on equal footing. A custody order entered by the court will entail a detailed narrative of all the factors and circumstances that support the conclusions made by the judge. While custody orders are appealable, it is rare they are overturned because of the wide discretion afforded to judges. Therefore, it is critical that you have a knowledgeable attorney represent you in a child custody case. Your attorney can help you determine the necessary information to be presented along with any witnesses needed to help strengthen your case and chances of obtaining a beneficial custody order.
Even if you believe that your matter will be resolved by agreement, to determine a reasonable custody agreement it is critical to have a thorough understanding of North Carolina laws and how they apply in your situation. Knowing all possible outcomes gives you the knowledge to make informed decisions throughout the entire process without jeopardizing your rights. At Hopper Cummings, our attorneys are skilled negotiators and dedicated to helping our clients create long-lasting agreements tailored to their unique needs for the best interest of the child. Contact us today for a confidential consultation at 919-533-4115, or complete our online form to get started.
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