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North Carolina – Child Custody Laws

Date Posted: November 14, 2023 3:13 am

North Carolina – Child Custody Laws

When it comes to child custody in North Carolina, things can get a bit tangled, like a kite caught in a tree. But fear not, because untangling these legal knots is what this blog is all about. We’re going to walk you through the ins and outs of North Carolina’s child custody laws, without all the legal jargon that makes your head spin.

Think of it as a friendly chat over the fence, where we break down what these laws mean for you and your little ones. Whether you’re just starting the custody process or are in the thick of it, our aim is to provide clarity, one step at a time. So, let’s unknot these complexities together and find a clear path forward for you and your family

Key Takeaways

  • In North Carolina, child custody encompasses more than just where a child lives; it’s about ensuring a stable, nurturing environment where children can thrive, especially during family changes like separations.
  • There are two main types of custody arrangements. Primary custody may be appropriate when one parent is best suited to provide a stable environment for the child, while shared custody represents a collaborative approach, emphasizing the benefits a child gains from the involvement of both parents.
  • Filing for custody in North Carolina involves several steps, including understanding your situation, gathering necessary documents, completing, and filing custody forms, and preparing for court proceedings like mediation and, if necessary, a court hearing.

What Is Child Custody?

In North Carolina, child custody is a lot more than just a legal term. It’s a crucial part of ensuring that children have a bright future, especially in times of family changes like separations. These laws help maintain a stable and caring environment for the child, covering both day-to-day care and key life decisions. It’s not only about where a child sleeps; it’s about where they find a safe space for emotional growth, mental stimulation, and consistent support. So, what exactly is child custody?

Having custody means you, as a parent or guardian, get the legal right to make significant decisions about the child’s life (this is called legal custody). Plus, it allows you to have the child live with you (known as physical custody). Physical custody can be either full-time or part-time.

Any parent has the right to file for custody. This includes parents who are:

  • Separated,
  • Divorced, or
  • Never married.

Furthermore, there are situations where others, like grandparents or different relatives, might need to file for custody or visitation rights for the child.

Primary Custody vs. Shared Custody: What’s the Difference?

Primary custody in North Carolina is sometimes the best choice when one parent is especially able to give the child a stable and supportive environment. This might be due to their personal stability, ability, or perhaps the other parent is facing difficult challenges.

It’s important to understand that primary custody isn’t about leaving the other parent out. It’s about giving the child what they need to reach their full potential in the best possible surroundings.

On the other hand, shared custody is all about teamwork. It reflects the belief that children do best when they benefit from the different strengths of both parents. It requires parents to work together, putting aside their differences to focus on what’s best for their child.

 In North Carolina, choosing shared custody is a powerful way to show that even though parents may separate, they can still unite in their love and care for their child.

The key here is to rise above any personal conflicts. Remember, while adults may go their separate ways, the path forward for a child should be built on cooperation and love, no matter the type of custody.

How to File for Custody in North Carolina

Understand Your Situation:

 First, determine the type of custody you seek — whether primary or shared custody— based on what’s in the best interest of your child.

Gather Important Documentation:

Compile all necessary documents, such as birth certificates, financial records, and any evidence that supports your capability to provide a nurturing environment for your child.

Draft the Necessary Forms:

You must understand what is required. If you do not, you should seek the advice of a family law attorney.

File Your Custody Complaint:

Submit your completed documents to the Clerk of Court. You’ll need to pay a filing fee unless you qualify for a fee waiver based on financial hardship.

Serve the Other Parent:

After filing, you must serve the other parent with the custody complaint and summons.

Prepare for Court:

Consider seeking legal advice to navigate the custody process. A family law attorney can provide valuable insight and advocacy.

Attend Custody Mediation:

Before your case goes to trial, you’ll be required to participate in custody mediation, a service provided by the court to help you and the other parent attempt to resolve your custody issues amicably.

Go to Court, if Necessary:

If mediation doesn’t result in an agreement, you’ll present your case before a judge to determine what’s best for the child.

How to Deal with Custody Order Violations

When a custody order is violated, the stability it was meant to secure is threatened. Here’s what to do if this occurs:

Document the Violation: Keep detailed records of any instance where the other parent violates the custody order.

Seek Legal Advice: Consult with a family law attorney to understand your options and the appropriate course of action.

File a Motion for Contempt: If informal resolution fails, you can file a motion for contempt in court, asking the judge to enforce the order and address the violation.

Prepare for a Hearing: Collect evidence and witness testimony that supports your claim of a custody violation. The court will listen to both sides before making a decision.

Enforcement: If the judge finds the other parent in contempt, the court may impose fines, modify the custody order, or in extreme cases, order jail time to enforce compliance.

Learn More About NC Child Custody Laws

To further educate yourself on North Carolina’s child custody laws:

Consult Legal Resources:

Read up on statutes and legal texts specific to North Carolina family law.

Attend Workshops:

Some local community organizations offer workshops on family law matters, including custody issues.

Seek Legal Counsel:

A family law attorney can provide detailed insights and personalized advice on custody matters.

Use Online Resources:

Official North Carolina Judicial Branch websites and reputable legal aid services offer resources and information.

Legal Standards for Determining Child Custody in North Carolina

Here’s a brief and not exhaustive listing of what the court normally considers:

Safety and Welfare:

The best interests of the child are paramount. Any history of family violence or abuse is heavily weighed.

Stable Environment:

The ability of each parent to provide a stable, loving, and nurturing environment is scrutinized.

Parental Involvement:

The court assesses each parent’s role in the past care and nurturing of the child.

Co-parenting Abilities:

The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent, unless it is contrary to the child’s best interests.

Health and Special Needs:

Consideration of the child’s physical and emotional health, as well as any special educational or developmental needs.

Home Environment:

The living situation of each parent, including the safety, community, and school district.

Modification of Child Custody Orders: When and How

Modification of Child Custody Orders: When and How

Life is not static, and as circumstances evolve, so might the needs of your child. North Carolina understands this and allows for the modification of custody orders when a substantial change in circumstances affects the welfare of the child. Here’s how the process works:

Demonstrate a Change in Circumstances:

The parent seeking the modification must show that since the original custody order, there has been a substantial and material change in the circumstances affecting the child’s welfare.

File a Motion:

A motion to modify custody must be filed in the court that issued the original custody order.

Best Interests of the Child:

The court will again focus on what arrangement serves the child’s best interests based on the current circumstances.

Mediation or Court Hearing:

Depending on the case, the parties may be required to attend mediation.

The Role of a Child’s Preference in Custody Decisions

In North Carolina, while a child’s preference is not the deciding factor, it is one of the many considerations the court may evaluate when discerning what custody arrangement best serves the child’s interests.

The child’s age, maturity, and the quality of their reasoning play a pivotal role in determining how much weight their preference is given. For example, the preferences of a mature teenager may be given considerable weight, while those of a young child might be less influential.

Age and Maturity: Typically, the older and more mature the child, the more consideration is given to their preference.

Reasoning: The child’s reasons for preferring one parent over the other are important. The court will look to see if these reasons align with the child’s best interests.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody Arrangements

When allegations or evidence of domestic violence enter the custody conversation, they steer the course of judicial decision-making:

Restrictions on Custody and Visitation: A history of domestic violence can lead to the abusive parent having restricted, supervised visitation, or, in extreme cases, being denied access to the child entirely.

Primary Consideration: The child’s safety is the paramount concern. A court will not place a child in a situation where they might witness domestic violence or become victims themselves.

The Process of Mediation in Child Custody Disputes

Here’s what the process entails:

Neutral Mediator: A trained, neutral third party assists the parents in negotiating a mutually agreeable custody arrangement.

Confidentiality: Mediation sessions are confidential, promoting open dialogue without fear that statements may be used against a parent later in court.

Child’s Best Interests: The mediator helps focus the discussions on the best interests of the child, rather than the parents’ disputes.

Creating a Parenting Plan: If successful, mediation results in a parenting plan that outlines the custody and visitation agreement, which can then be approved by the court.

Mediation can be a compass that guides disputing parents to a calmer resolution, reflecting the child’s needs above their conflicts.

Relocation and Its Effects on Child Custody Agreements

Relocation is another significant factor that can require the re-charting of custody arrangements. When a parent wishes to move, particularly if the distance could disrupt the custody and visitation schedule, the effects are diverse:

Best Interest Standard Revisited:

The court will revisit the best interest standard in the context of the proposed relocation and its potential benefits or detriments to the child.

Notice and Consent:

Generally, a parent wishing to relocate must provide notice to the other parent, who may consent or object to the move.

Modification Proceedings:

If the non-relocating parent objects, the parent who wishes to move may need to file a motion to modify the existing custody order.

Burden of Proof:

The burden usually falls on the relocating parent to demonstrate that the move would serve the child’s best interests and is not an attempt to disrupt the relationship between the child and the other parent.

Grandparents’ Rights in North Carolina Child Custody

In North Carolina, grandparents often find themselves in the midst of complex situations regarding visitation and custody, especially when they’re concerned about the child’s well-being.

Limited Circumstances:

Grandparents’ rights are somewhat limited and generally come into play if the parents are deceased, divorced, or if there is an ongoing custody dispute.

Intervening in Custody Disputes:

Grandparents may be able to intervene in a custody dispute if they can demonstrate that it’s in the child’s best interest to have visitation or custody rights.

Nonparent Custody:

In rare cases, grandparents may seek and be granted custody if they can show that both parents are unfit or have acted inconsistently with their constitutionally protected status as parents.

Custody Considerations for Special Needs Children

When a child has special needs, the standard custody considerations are magnified, and specific additional factors come into play:

Specialized Care:

Custody arrangements must account for the child’s medical, psychological, educational, and therapeutic needs, ensuring that the custodial environment is conducive to their specialized care.

Continuity and Stability:

It is often imperative for children with special needs to have continuity in their care. Disruptions can have outsized negative impacts, making stability a key factor in custody decisions.


The child’s living arrangements must accommodate any physical disabilities. 

Financial Support:

Due to potentially increased medical and care expenses, the court must carefully consider the financial arrangements to ensure the child’s needs are financially supported.

Parental Capability:

A parent’s ability to understand, engage with, and manage the special needs of the child is critically evaluated. 

For parents of special needs children facing custody disputes, it is not just about legally delineating parenting time or responsibilities; it’s about crafting an ecosystem that nurtures and supports the child’s development at every level.

 Similarly, parenting coordinators are not just facilitators but are key players in maintaining a dynamic where the child’s best interests are not overshadowed by parental conflict. 

Secure Your Child’s Future with Expertise and Empathy at N. Lawrence Hudspeth III.

Are family law issues keeping you up at night? N. Lawrence Hudspeth III is here to turn those sleepless nights into a peaceful resolution. With a deep understanding of the emotional and legal complexities of family law, we bring clarity to the table in the midst of life’s most challenging moments.

If you are tussling with child custody concerns, we specialize in guiding you through these delicate matters with a blend of professional expertise and genuine care. Understanding the stakes involved, we focus on crafting custody arrangements that serve the best interests of your child, ensuring their emotional and physical well-being are at the forefront.

The thought of going through these processes alone can be overwhelming. Every delayed decision or unguided step can have long-term effects on you and your loved ones. But you don’t have to face it alone. Get in touch with N. Lawrence Hudspeth III or Call for a Confidential Consultation at (910) 455-9921 today!


Navigating child custody laws in North Carolina is a journey that calls for understanding, patience, and a child-centered approach. Whether it’s deciding between primary or shared custody or embarking on the filing process, the guiding principle remains the same: the best interests of the child.

 These laws are designed to ensure that children find a nurturing environment for their growth and development, regardless of their family’s structure or circumstances. For parents and guardians, recognizing the importance of these laws and the processes involved is crucial in making informed decisions that shape the future of their children

FAQs: North Carolina Child Custody Laws

FAQs: North Carolina Child Custody Laws

 What are the different types of child custody in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, there are two main types of custody: legal custody, which involves decision-making authority regarding the child’s welfare, education, and health, and physical custody, which pertains to where the child lives.

How does the court determine child custody in North Carolina?

The court’s primary focus is the child’s best interests. Factors considered include each parent’s ability to care for the child, the child’s relationship with each parent, any history of domestic violence, and the child’s own preference, depending on their age and maturity.

Can a child’s preference influence custody decisions in North Carolina?

Yes, a child’s preference may be considered, especially for older, more mature children. However, the final decision is based on the overall assessment of what’s best for the child’s welfare.

Is joint custody a common outcome in North Carolina?

Joint custody, both legal and physical, is increasingly common as it allows both parents to be involved in the child’s life. The specific arrangement, however, depends on the family’s situation and the court’s judgment of what’s best for the child.

Can custody orders be modified in North Carolina?

Yes, custody orders can be modified. To do so, the parent seeking the change must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances that affects the child’s best interests. The court will then reassess the situation to determine if a modification is necessary.