What you must know about custody in NC
How does the Court decide who gets custody of my child (children)?
The court has to determine what custody schedule or arrangement would be in the best interest of the child. “Best interest” is not defined in any NC statute. Custody cases, in my experience, fall into two categories, which I will call abuse cases and best interest cases. Abuse cases are custody cases in which one or both of the parents are being accused of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or mental health issues. Best interest cases are custody cases where none of those issues exist, and the parents are arguing over how much time each parent will get with the children, or other disputes such as which school the children will attend.
In abuse cases where there are serious allegations that one (or both) parents are unfit, the case centers around whether the allegations are true and if the parent is a danger to the child. If the court finds that a parent is a danger to the child, then custody is going to be limited, and there are going to be safety measures, such as drug testing, supervised visitation, mandatory therapy, etc. If the allegations are not true, or if the court decides that allegations, while true, do not rise to the level that the child is in danger, for example, the domestic violence happened years ago, or the parent is now sober, etc., then the case becomes a best interest case.
What does best interest mean?
The court will consider all the relevant factors, for example, whether one parent is more mature or has more parenting resources than the other parent, or if one parent has been the primary caregiver during the relationship. There are just a few examples. Judges care about who is available to take care of the child if the child has to stay home from school on a sick day, which parent takes the child to the doctor and attends parent/teacher conferences, which parent has family support to pitch in during emergencies, and which parent helps the child with homework or coaches their baseball team. In my experience, unless abuse is involved, the court will favor parents who cooperate with the other parent and foster a healthy relationship with the other parent, as opposed to constant arguments.
What does joint custody mean?
There are two kinds of custody, physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody refers to the power to make major parenting decisions about the child(ren), such as their medical care, where they go to school, which sport teams they join, etc. Physical custody refers to the custodial schedule. North Carolina custody statutes do not define “joint custody.” But, joint legal custody means that both parents have equal rights to make major decisions. With regards to the custody schedule, joint custody does not necessarily mean an equal 50/50 schedule. Visitation is a form of custody. So if the child lives with you most of the time, typically called primary physical custody, and visits the other parent every other weekend, you and the other parent have joint custody.
Sole custody refers to the child living with one parent and the other parent has no visitation and no rights to make major decisions about the child.
Split custody means that there are at least two children, with one or more child living with one parent and the other children living with the other parent.