child custody

Custody in North Carolina

Child custody cases are the most emotionally charged type of court exposure most people ever experience. Custody battles are usually tied to a divorce or couples who conceived a child but never married although they may also occur in adoption proceedings. Some child custody cases involve taking away parents’ rights to the child as the result of abuse.

North Carolina’s Guiding Policy on Child Custody

The North Carolina Family Law Court is guided by principals that put the child’s well-being at the center. North Carolina has a specific policy relating to child custody and care. This policy:

  • Seeks to establish parenting arrangements between divorced and never married parents that are based in good-faith that parents will make the child’s best interests a priority.
  • The policy attempts to discourage repeated litigation that occurs when one or both parents are in battle mode. Arbitration and Parenting Coordinators assist the State in these efforts.
  • Encourages parents to take responsibility and commit to the significant and long-term responsibilities having a child entails, sharing equitably in those rights and responsibilities regardless of the status of their relationship with one another.
  • A preference for ordering custody arrangements that keep both parents involved in the child’s life while considering any evidence of abuse, neglect, or dependency that might make joint custody inappropriate in specific situations.
  • Encourage parents to develop a relationship where they are capable of working together for the good of their child but also recognizing that factors such as mental illness and criminal behavior may make this impossible or inappropriate.

Definitions

Custody refers to custody and to visitation with a minor child.

High-conflict case is a custody battle with a pattern of unhealthy behaviors including:

  • Excessive litigation
  • Anger and distrust
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical aggression or threats of physical aggression
  • Difficulty communicating about and cooperating in the care of the minor children
  • Conditions that, in the discretion of the court, warrant the appointment of a parenting coordinator

Minor child is an unmarried person under 18 years of age who has not been emancipated by the courts.

Parenting coordinator is an individual qualified by education and experience to assist parents in high-conflict cases.

Mediation is a method of resolving conflict that is less adversarial than a court hearing. Mediation is facilitated by a neutral third party who is a skilled communicator and negotiator.

Child Custody Decisions

Child custody decisions are determined first and foremost based upon what is in the best interest of the child. At times this focus may lead to decisions that appear manifestly unfair from the position of the parent or parents. As the most vulnerable citizen involved in the process, the child’s well-being is given the highest priority.

Although many factors may be evaluated while determining what would be in the child’s best interest, there are some factors that will overshadow and negate benefits provided by other factors.

Custody of a child who has been abused, neglected, abandoned, or exposed to abuse of one parent by the other will be heavily weighted toward giving custody to the non-abusive parent. If both parents are abusive or neglectful, the potential that both parents may lose not only custody, but also their parental rights, exists. Parents who have been found guilty of certain criminal offenses will not be granted custody of their children.

Additional factors relating to parental behavior the Court will consider when making custody decisions includes:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Promiscuity
  • Stability of the home environment
  • The safety of the home environment
    • A safe neighborhood versus a neighborhood with a high crime rate
    • Child proofed as appropriate and other potential safety hazards
  • Whether the parent is supportive of a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The child’s opinion may be considered but there is no age where a minor child is allowed to make the decision
  • Whether the child’s needs for food, shelter, health, education, and clothing will be met
  • A child’s psychological attachment (love, affection, bond, and emotional ties) to each parent and other caregivers

  • The child’s relationship with siblings (whole blood, half blood, and step) and where they reside
  • The child’s needs for stability and continuity of significant relationships
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent to give love, affection, and guidance that will support the child’s well-being
  • The parenting knowledge and parenting style of each parent

  • The stability of the family unit
  • The presence or absence of support systems within the community or extended family
  • The metal health of everyone involved
  • The physical health of the child, caregivers, and other caregiving responsibilities they may have
  • The home, school, and community as well as any special health or education needs
  • Community ties to a religious organization, school, and friends
  • The child’s background and cultural ties
  • The choice that is the least disruptive for the child

  • The preferences of potential caregivers
  • Recommendations of a court appointed mediator or guardian ad litem
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant to the decision

Mediation

The court will automatically refer disputed custody cases to mediation unless there appears to be good cause not to do so. Mediation pursues the following goals:

  • Reduce the animosity and bitterness between parties who disagree about custody arrangements for their child
  • Develop child custody solutions that reflect the child’s best interests
  • Create an environment where parents are able to learn about their choices and make decisions based on what is best for their child
  • Get parents to buy-in to decisions to avoid repetitive disputes
  • Give the parties involved information about the possible choices and an opportunity to make decisions

  • Create a setting where conflicts can be resolved without being as adversarial as court hearings to improve the psychological impact of custody hearings on the child and parents
  • Provide a setting that is private and confidential

The Court, or one of the parties in involved, may make a motion not to use mediation. When violence, abuse, neglect, severe mental health problems, or hardships due to travel are involved, the court may dismiss the mediation and hear the case in court.

The mediator has the right to interview the child and others.

The written agreement resulting from mediation will be submitted to the Court and become a Court Order as long as the judge does not have an objection to its terms.

Who is Awarded Custody?

The custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child, when all the known factors are considered, shall be ordered. There are no assumptions that a parent of a specific gender will be the best custodial parent. Joint custody will be considered upon request.

Custody can be arranged as:

  • Sole custody
  • Shared Custody
  • Nesting arrangements

Custody may be joint or only to one person. If visitation is involved, a visitation schedule that is in the best interest of the child will be included. Visitation schedules may include visitation rights for any grandparent who has a substantial relationship with the child.

A history of domestic violence or abuse will not be taken lightly by the court when custody is awarded.

The order may specify that electronic communication, such as the telephone, computer, Skype or FaceTime will occur in addition to physical visitation. Time spent communicating via electronic means does not affect the calculation of child support.

Visitation may be conditional:

It may require the visiting adult to abstain from consuming alcohol for twenty-four hours prior to and during visitation. Compliance may be verified with an alcohol monitoring system.

Unfit Parents

In order to deny a parent visitation rights, the court must make a finding of fact that visitation by the parent is not in the child’s best interest or that the parent is unfit.

Parents whose parental rights are not terminated will have access to records involving the child’s health and education.

Incompetent Adult Children

If a child who reaches the age of majority is mentally or physically incapable of self-support, his majority will be treated the same as when he or she was a minor as long as the incapacity continues.

Parenting Coordinators

The Court’s appointment of a parenting coordinator may be subject to the consent of the involved parties. The parties also have the right to limit the decision-making authority of the parenting coordinator to specific issues or areas of conflict between them.

Appointment of a parenting coordinator does not require the consent of the parties when:

  • The action is a high-conflict case
  • The appointment of the parenting coordinator is in the child’s best interest
  • The parties are able to pay for the cost of the parenting coordinator

Parenting coordinators will be provided with specific issues to address. A parenting coordinator has limited authority. The court retains the exclusive right to make determinations regarding custody, visitation, and support. The court retains the authority to control the case. The court may give the parenting coordinator limited powers that may include:

  • Identification of disputed issues
  • Improve communication with the goal of reducing misunderstandings
  • Clarify priorities
  • Make attempts to achieve beneficial compromises
  • Improve parenting skills related to child custody issues
  • Improve compliance with court orders regarding custody, visitation, and guardianship
  • Decide outstanding issues, subject to the Court’s review and approval
  • The parenting coordinator is prohibited from personally providing professional or counseling services to the parents or child
  • Disputes involving financial matters shall be referred to the parties’ attorneys

Communications with the parenting coordinator are not confidential. Prompt notification to the court by the parenting coordinator is required if it is determined that:

  • The current custody arrangement is not in the child’s best interest
  • There are issues the parenting coordinator is not qualified to address or resolve

The arrangement with the parenting coordinator shall be terminated when no progress is being made after substantial efforts to reach the goals have been made or when the parties no longer need assistance.

Child Custody (AOC) Forms

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