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Child Custody in North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Wake County Courthouse is the setting for hundreds of child custody and divorce cases. Over 2500 divorces and annulments are recorded each year, that represents a marriage failure rate of over 50%. Accompanying most of these divorce cases are issues regarding children from the ending marriages. Child custody agreements, child support settlements, and child custody battles can be very difficult legally, emotionally, and financially for the parents and the children.

In North Carolina, the court gives no preference for the mother or the father in the custody arena. The “best interest of the child,” is the standard determining factor for a child custody arrangement. Prior to a trial date, parents who have requested a custody hearing must participate in a child custody mediation to attempt to reach an agreement without litigation.

There are two definable types of child custody in North Carolina, joint custody and sole custody. While joint custody can be considered primary and secondary, the definition is determined by the parties involved and the agreed upon arrangement. Sole custody, alternatively, defines a case in which one parent has primary and exclusive custody, care, and control of the children.

Custody agreement can be modified in North Carolina if “a substantial change of circumstances materially affecting the best interests and welfare of the child” can be determined. The most effective means of proving such a change is through a custody evaluation in which a third party assesses each parent to determine the most beneficial environment for the children. A set of witnesses that includes teachers, counselors, religious figures, and / or family members who have first hand knowledge of the events important in the child’s life can also help a court in it’s determination of custody. If a child custody case is to be litigated, evidence that might aid the court in the determination of the best interest of the child should be presented. The same witnesses listed above are likely to offer the most effective evidence as to the welfare of a child. The preference of the child is also given some consideration in the final assessment. Whether or not a child will testify in court is at the discretion of the Judge. The child may be allowed to testify in the judge’s chambers (in-camera).

One of the most important factors in a case where child custody will be litigated is the welfare of the child. It should be noted that child support and child custody are separate issues and the two should not be determinate of one another. Circumstances that include physical abuse, drug use, sexual abuse, or child abuse are typically treated with supervised visitation which is ordered and determined by the court.