Child custody issues comprise some of the most emotional and bitterly contested battles that our family law firm sees. The reason is obvious for anyone with kids: nothing in the world matters more than their safety, stability, and happiness.
Physical Custody versus Legal Custody
There are essentially two types of custody recognized by North Carolina family courts: legal and physical custody. Physical custody is what most people envision when they think of custody. It can be described as whom the child lives with, where the child lives, and when the child sees each parent.
In contrast, legal custody encompasses the rights and duties of parents in making major parenting decisions regarding a child. These decisions include a child’s education, health and medical decisions, activities, and religious upbringing.
Beyond the types of custody, parents or a court must also allot how this custody is distributed between the parents. This can either be sole custody or joint custody. Joint legal custody essentially gives both parents some range of input into the major parenting decisions regarding the child’s health, religion, education, and general upbringing.
Notably, for a joint legal custody arrangement to work, parents must be able to communicate and co-parent well. This is because no court wants to grant or enforce a joint custody arrangement when it knows that either parent is going to continuously bring the matter before the court. Instead, the court must be convinced that the parents can resolve these decisions in a mature and productive manner.
Custody Can Be By Agreement of By Court Order
Child custody arrangements can be reached by agreement or by order of a court. In the majority of child custody matters, parents are able to reach some kind of agreement regarding physical and legal custody. This is best for children as collaboration and harmonious co-parenting is obviously better for children. However, even with an agreement, it is advisable to have a court approve the agreement as an order. This protects both parties if there is some kind of break-down between the co-parents, and it makes the custody agreement legally enforceable across the country. Courts often approve these orders unless the order goes against the child’s best interest or is somehow unconscionable.
What Do Courts Consider?
If parents cannot agree, custody matters can also be put before a judge for a decision. As with any order involving children, North Carolina courts consider the best interest of children when deciding on child custody orders. The North Carolina General Statutes specifiy that in determining the child’s best interest, a court “shall consider all relevant factors including acts of domestic violence between the parties, the safety of the child, and the safety of either party from domestic violence by the other party.” Significantly, a court will consider joint custody to the parents if requested by either parent.
Contact New Direction Family Law
New Direction Family Law provides legal guidance for people experiencing separation, divorce, property division, alimony, and child custody issues. If you need help with any of these subject matters, call us to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys have ten years of combined legal experience and provide passionate and thoughtful legal representation. We serve clients throughout Wake, Johnston, Lee, Harnett, Cumberland, Nash, Granville, Franklin, and Durham counties. Contact our office at (919) 719-3470 or visit us online through our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law