Child custody cases can be highly contested matters. This is because everyone fighting for custody of a child or children cares deeply for the child’s well-being and genuinely believes that they know what is best for them. While the vast majority of child custody cases involve parent versus parent, this is not exclusively the case.
In fact, North Carolina General Statute Section 50-13.2 provides that “An order for custody of a minor child may grant joint custody to the parents, exclusive custody to one person, agency, organization, or institution, or grant custody to two or more persons, agencies, organizations, or institutions.” Essentially, this allows for courts to consider giving exclusive or joint custody to either parent, to a child protection agency, or to third party persons. This third party may be a relative, grandparent, stepparent, or family friend who has a quasi-parental relationship with the child.
What Does A Court Consider When a Third Party Seeks Custody?
While the court’s discretion to award custody to a third party may sound broad and limitless, the reality of what the court must weigh almost always favors parents over third parties. In other words, courts cannot just randomly give custody to anyone who asks for it. First, the “best interest of the child” is the key underlying question for a court. Specifically, the statute states that “An order for custody of a minor child entered pursuant to this section shall award the custody of such child to such person, agency, organization or institution as will best promote the interest and welfare of the child.”
Second, the Supreme Court of the United States has determined that there is a constitutional dimension to parental rights, and parents in North Carolina have strong legal protections when it comes to custody of their children. There is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interest of a child to remain in the custody of parents versus third parties seeking custody. To overcome this presumption, a third party seeking custody of a child in opposition to a parent must demonstrate by “clear and convincing evidence” that the parent’s continued custody acts contrary to the child’s welfare. Essentially, a court must make some finding that a parent is unfit in order to award a third party sole or joint custody of a child.
Contact New Direction Family Law
If you are fighting for child custody, you need an attorney. New Direction Family Law provides legal representation for people experiencing child custody issues. Our attorneys have years of legal experience and provide passionate and intelligent legal representation. Let us stand with you. We serve clients throughout Wake, Johnston, Durham and surrounding counties. Contact our office at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit us online through our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law