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North Carolina Custody Laws: The Basics



Child custody is one of the most stressful elements of any break-up between partners. North Carolina custody laws provide guidance for deciding which parent the child will live with and how often and on what terms the child will visit with the other parent.

Is North Carolina the Right Venue?

The first thing the judge has to do before deciding any child custody issue or sending the parents to mediation is determine whether the court has jurisdiction. Child custody laws in North Carolina follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. Under that act, North Carolina court has jurisdiction if one or more of these conditions are met:

  • The child has lived in North Carolina for the most recent six months
  • North Carolina has the most significant connection with the child and at least one parent
  • The child is physically present in North Carolina and needs protection based on abandonment or an emergency
  • No other state currently has jurisdiction, and it is in the childs best interest that North Carolina accept jurisdiction
  • If any of these criteria exists, the judge will likely find that North Carolina has jurisdiction over the child custody case.

North Carolina Custody Mediation

North Carolina custody law requires that the parents meet with a mediator to attempt to come to a mutual agreement about custody and visitation.

There are some exceptions to this requirement, including:

  • Where there are allegations of abuse or neglect of the child
  • Where there are allegations of alcoholism or drug abuse by either parent
  • Where there are allegations of domestic violence between the parents
  • Where there are allegations of severe psychological, psychiatric, or emotional problems
  • Where the judge finds that complying with the mediation requirement would cause "undue hardship" for one or both parents
  • Where one or both parents live 50 miles or more from the courthouse

Mediations are private, where only the parents, the mediator, and sometimes the parents lawyers are present. Nothing said in mediation can later be used in court if the mediation fails. The goal of mediation is to reach a mutual agreement that is in the best interests of the child or children. The mediator cannot be called to testify in court about anything that happened in the mediation.

If the parents reach an agreement, the mediator puts it in writing and gives it to the judge. The judge will sign it, making it a part of the courts official order.

If the parents fail to come to an agreement about custody and visitation, the court will have to make the decision.

North Carolina Custody Laws: The Best Interest Standard

North Carolina child custody laws require the judge to base the custody decision on the best interest of the child.

Although there is no standard definition of "best interests" most courts will look at:

  • Each parents ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the child
  • The childs emotional attachment to each member of each parents household
  • The childs and parents mental and physical health
  • Where the child has lived up to that time

Courts generally dont want to remove a child from their long-time home and household unless necessary for the childs health or safety.

North Carolina Physical and Legal Custody

Generally, courts have found that spending exactly equal time with each parent is not in the childs best interest because the child has to move around too much. So, in most cases, one parent will be awarded primary physical custody of the child, and the other parent will have liberal visitation rights at specified times that work for both the parents and the childs schedules.

North Carolina custody law makes no distinction between fathers and mothers as to who should have primary physical custody. The judge will look at the circumstances of each parent and of the child and make decisions based on individual situations.

If the judge finds that it is in the childs best interest, the judge can also allow for electronic visitation, including by computer webcam, email, telephone, or similar technology. The judge will decide which parent will pay for any equipment or services needed for electronic visitation.