The significance of the parent-child relationship cannot be understated. Legally, it has constitutional dimensions and public policy in North Carolina and the country dictate that parents should generally have rights and ample access to their children. However, these rights and presumptions are not absolute. This is particularly salient in situations where a person has demonstrated himself or herself to be an unfit parent.
Limiting a Parent’s Access to the Child
In any custody determination, courts in North Carolina are required to enter orders that “promote the best interest and welfare of the child”. What this usually means is some form of ample custody, access, and visitation that promotes the continued parent child-relationship and bond. However, in reaching these decisions, the court also has the discretion to “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.” Some of the defined acts that constitute domestic violence include:
- Whether the minor child was exposed to a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury or sexual abuse.
- Whether the minor child was present during acts of domestic violence.
- Whether a weapon was used or threatened to be used during any act of domestic violence.
- Whether a party caused or attempted to cause serious bodily injury to the aggrieved party or the minor child.
- Whether a party placed the aggrieved party or the minor child in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
- Whether a party caused an aggrieved party to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.
- Whether there is a pattern of abuse against an aggrieved party or the minor child.
- Whether a party has abused or endangered the minor child during visitation.
- Whether a party has used visitation as an opportunity to abuse or harass the aggrieved party.
- Whether a party has improperly concealed or detained the minor child.
- Whether a party has otherwise acted in a manner that is not in the best interest of the minor child.
If the court finds that a parent engaged in domestic violence, the court “shall enter such orders that best protect the children and party who were the victims of domestic violence.” This means that the court is required to enter orders to protect a child from an unfit parent. For example, courts are authorized under North Carolina General Statute, section 50-13.5 (Denial of Parental Visitation Right), to deny a parent the right of reasonable visitation, based on a finding that the parent is “an unfit person to visit the child or that such visitation rights are not in the best interest of the child. Ultimately, courts in North Carolina take domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect incredibly seriously and will act to protect this vulnerable population.
Whether you believe that your children’s other parent is unfit, or if you are accused of being an unfit parent, you need an attorney. At New Direction Family Law, we take the care and safety of children very seriously. For two decades, our attorneys have represented clients in obtaining protective orders, child custody orders, separations, and divorces. Let us help you. Our team serves Wake, Johnston, Lee, Harnett, Cumberland, Nash, Granville, Franklin, and Durham counties. Call today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or reach us online at our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law