Child custody is arguably the most emotional thing that a couple has to deal with upon separation. An attorney can help you to understand the laws regarding child custody, and how to petition for custody of your child if you wish to do so.
Who Will Be Granted Custody in the Event of a Separation or Divorce?
Courts in North Carolina must make a custody determination based on the best interests of the child. As such, who will get custody of your child when you and your spouse separate is dependent upon a number of factors. A court may determine that joint custody is the best option for your child; in other cases, one parent may be awarded primary custody.
It is also important to know that there are two different types of custody in North Carolina: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the rights of one parent to make important decisions about the child, such as decisions regarding the child’s education or religion. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to with whom the child will live. Sometimes, parents will have joint legal custody over a child, even though one parent retains physical custody.
Forming a Custody Agreement in North Carolina
While a court will sometimes make a determination about child custody for you, it is best if you and your spouse can come to an agreement on your own. In order to do so, you and your spouse will need to work together to form a parenting plan and custody agreement.
If you and your spouse cannot come to a custody agreement, then you will need to attend mediation before going to court. Mediation will allow you and your child’s other parent to meet with a neutral third party, who will guide you through the custody agreement and provide you with advice. Forming a custody agreement on your own, outside of court, is almost always ideal. Going to court can be very expensive, drawn out, and emotional for all parties involved. Further, when you are in court, you lose the ability to make the decision on your own; the court will make the custody decision for you.
Fathers’ Rights to Custody
In years past, North Carolina courts favored mothers over fathers when making custody determinations under what was called the “tender years doctrine.” When children today are infants or toddlers, a court may still lean in the favor of the mother based on the best interests of the child, particularly if the child is still of nursing age. However, there is no doctrine now that prevents a father from receiving custody of his child, particularly if the father is a more fit choice.
There are some situations in which neither a child’s mother nor their father is fit to have full custody over the child. When this is the case, a third party, such as a grandparent, may be awarded custody of the child. While this is not common, as courts prefer to place children with their parents, it does happen.
Is It Possible to Change a Child Custody Order?
It is possible to modify a child custody order after one has been handed down by the court, but doing so it not easy. The court allows for a modification order at anytime, assuming there is a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the change. The party seeking modification has the burden of proving that the best interests of the child are in jeopardy due to the change in circumstance. For example, one parent being arrested or accused of a crime may jeopardize the best interests of the child, as may a new job that would take the custodial parent to a new country.
Child custody can be extremely complex, and one of the most contentious issues that parents will have to work through. If you have questions about child custody, you should seek legal counsel immediately.
Touched upon briefly above, joint custody refers to an arrangement where both parties have shared legal custody over the child, meaning that both parties have the right to make decisions about the child’s wellbeing and day-to-day activities. Legal custody may include making decisions about healthcare, education, religion, and other important issues that parents face.
Parents may also share joint physical custody over a child, in which the actual time that the child spends with each parent is split equally. This requires the greatest degree of cooperation between parents, as splitting time equally can be extremely challenging.
When Does a Joint Custody Arrangement Make Sense?
A joint custody arrangement makes sense when both parents want to be involved in the parenting process, and both parents are fit to do so. While joint custody can be contentious when the relationship between the parents is strained, it can also be extremely advantageous when both parents are willing to make it work. The benefits of a joint custody arrangement include:
- Both parents get to be involved in your child’s growth. One of the biggest benefits of a joint custody arrangement is the fact your child gets to grow up with the influences of both of their parents, and is able to maintain a relationship with each as such. This can be beneficial, emotionally and psychologically, for all parties involved.
- Responsibilities are shared. Raising a child on one’s own is extremely difficult; there is nothing easy about being a single parent. When you and your child’s other parent split custody, there may be less stress placed on you thanks to the shared responsibility.
- It forces you to work together. When you and your child’s other parent share custody of your child, you will be forced to work together and cooperate for the benefit of your child. This may help you and your spouse to develop a peaceful and cooperative relationship, which will be very beneficial for your child.
While there are many benefits to sharing custody of your child, there are also some disadvantages too. The biggest disadvantages present themselves in the event that you and your ex-spouse cannot get along. Furthermore, if you share joint physical custody of your child, moving the child back and forth between houses on a routine basis can be difficult for both the child and for you.
Joint custody is not for everyone, but in some circumstances, it makes sense. If you are ready to learn more about joint custody agreements in North Carolina, their benefits and disadvantages, contact an experienced family law attorney now.