Child Custody: A Primer

In Child Custody by Elizabeth Stephenson

There is no area of law that gets as heated and emotional as child custody litigation. After all, parents are fighting for their children and are willing to do whatever it takes to win. If you are facing the prospect of a separation or divorce from the other parent of your child, you are becoming fully aware of this anxiety, fear, and rage. But before you make any rash or impulsive decisions, consider some free advice: find a way to cope with these intense feelings in a healthy way and take your next steps with the child’s emotional and physical health at the forefront of your mind.

The Spirit of North Carolina’s Child Custody Laws

The North Carolina General Statutes Subchapter 50-13.01 lays out the underlying purpose of the state’s child custody laws. Essentially, the law encourages parents to:

  • Engage in “focused, good faith, and child-centered parenting agreements to reduce needless litigation over child custody matters and to promote the best interest of the child.”
  • Both “share equitably in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child, even after dissolution of marriage or unwed relationship.”
  • Establish and maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent when such is determined to be in the best interest of the child, taking into account mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, or any other factor the court deems appropriate.”

Two Forms of Custody

North Carolina recognizes two forms of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody includes the right to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare, health, medical needs, education, and religion. Physical custody involves which parent the child lives with. When reaching determinations about custody, the courts’ overriding consideration is the best interest of the child. In addition, mothers and fathers have equal standing in the eyes of the law. Custody is awarded in some combination of the following arrangements:

  • Primary Physical Custody — When one parent has primary physical custody -, the child will live primarily with one parent. The secondary parent will generally be allowed a physical custody, in the form of visitationin accordance with what the court deems appropriate and in the best interest of the child.
  • Sole Legal Custody — In a sole legal custody arrangement, one parent makes all major decisions for the child. At times, the court will order that the parties discuss all major issues that affect the minor child, and in the in the event the parties cannot agree, one parent will have the authority to make the decision.
  • Joint Legal Custody — In a joint legal custody arrangement, parents share in the major decision making regarding the child. Significantly, they must agree on major decisions.
  • Joint Physical Custody — In a joint physical custody arrangement, the child spends anywhere between equal time with the parents to an arrangement of every-other weekend. If the parties share less than 50/50 custody, then one parent will have primary custody and the other secondary custody.

Are you considering a separation or divorce? Are children involved? You should seek legal advice. For more than sixteen years, New Direction Family Law has provided aggressive, compassionate advocacy for clients in the areas of separation, divorce, and child custody. There is nothing more important to you that your children, and our team will give you the focus and individualized attention that you deserve. Our office serves Wake, Johnston, Lee, Harnett, Cumberland, Nash, Granville, Franklin, and Durham counties. Call us today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a comprehensive consultation, or contact us online at our website.

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