Ending a relationship is never easy, whether the couple is married or not. When this time comes, the couple must take the necessary steps to untie the life they have built together which can be an emotional, frustrating and stressful process. These feelings are only amplified when the couple shares a child or children and must then figure out the custody arrangement they will share. Establishing this custody arrangement can easily be one of the most difficult parts of ending a relationship or going through a divorce – should the court need to step in and help make this arrangement, family courts in North Carolina are only interested in creating an agreement that is in the best interests of the child.
How Child Custody Decisions are Made in North Carolina
When the North Carolina court system is tasked with deciding a child custody case, they will begin by evaluating what will be in the best interest of the child or children’s welfare. The judge will determine this by examining all the factors that are relevant to the child or children’s domestic life. Under the laws in this state, not all of the factors are listed that should be considered but does make mention of several examples for the judge to consider, including any domestic violence issues that may be of concern as well as factors that directly relate to the child or children’s overall safety.
Some additional examples of factors that the judge should consider include the child or children’s current living situation and conditions, the relationship between the child or children and both of the parents as well as each parent’s ability and willingness to care for and provide for the child or children in question. Under North Carolina law, the judge is not to presume that either the female or male parent should be preferred when it comes to promoting the child or children’s best interests or that a natural parent has more rights to the child or children than an adoptive parent.
Types of Child Custody Awarded in North Carolina
North Carolina courts may grand sole or joint custody and either parent involved in the case has the right to ask the judge to grant a joint custody arrangement. A custody order should allow both parents equal access to the child or children’s medical and school records as well as provide a detailed outline of visitation schedules. Domestic violence issues will also be taken into account by the judge in an attempt to place the child or children in the safest possible living environment. Domestic violence incidents that are repeated or severe in nature are considered much worse than an isolated, one-time incident.
Grandparents also have the right to petition for custody of the child or children or petition the court for visitation rights. Although this is true, should the biological parents have terminated their parental rights, the biological grandparents cannot seek any custody rights. Additionally, under an order of custody in this state, parents may be able to take the child or children out of state for a temporary period of time. Should the order state that the child or children be returned to their home state, the parent who is removing the child may have to provide financial security that the child will be returned.
Electronic Communication in North Carolina
Should one parent live a great distance away from the other parent and regular visitation is not possible, the law in North Carolina does provide that electronic communication, or “e-communication,” be a suitable substitute. This communication could include email, webcam or video services such as Skype. Before making a final decision, the judge will need to consider if having e-communication with the parent is in the child or children’s best interests. Additionally, while electronic communication can be a substitute for visitation, it is not a substitute for the parent’s custodial responsibilities – for example, a parent only interacting with the child through a webcam is not fulfilling their parental duties.
As a part of the custody order, the judge will outline how the electronic communication is to be used, including a detailed schedule as well as which parent is responsible for the cost of this communication.
Child Custody Modification in North Carolina
While the original order for custody may work for both the parents and the child or children at the time it is decided, it is very likely that the needs of the child or children or the circumstances of the parents will change over the course of the following years. Should there be a significant change in circumstances for either the parents or the child or children involved, it is likely possible that the judge will allow modifications to the original child custody agreement. Should both parents be in agreement about the proposed changes, and they are in the best interests of the child, they will likely be allowed.
In cases where the parents are not in agreement about what changes need to be made to the child custody agreement it will be up to the parent requesting the changes to prove they are necessary. This parent will need to prove to the judge, despite the other parent’s protest, that the proposed changes are necessary to uphold the child or children’s quality of life and allow the child custody order to continue acting in the best interests of the child or children. North Carolina judges try to keep modifications to child custody agreements to a minimum to reduce the disruptions to the child.
Custody and Relocation in North Carolina
Relocation is often a touchy area when it comes to child custody, especially is one parent has primary custody of the child or children and wishes to move them a great distance away from the other parent. Again, if both parents are in agreement about the relocation and it is found to be in the best interests of the child or children the judge will likely honor the change to the child custody agreement. Issues arise, however, when one parent protests the relocation and the decision must be made by the judge.
The burden for proving while the relocation is necessary will again fall on the parent who is wishing to move. This parent must prove to the judge, without a shadow of a doubt, that the relocation being proposed is necessary to uphold the child or children’s current standard of living and to continue to uphold the best interests of the child or children involved. There are a number of factors a judge will consider when looking at a relocation request. Some of these factors are outlined here, but note that each case is handled individually and more factors may be considered during the decision:
- Why the requesting parent is looking to relocate
- Why the other parent is protesting the relocation
- Where is the requesting parent looking to move to
- How far from the other parent is the relocation
- What benefits with the child or children see from this relocation
- The dynamics of the relationship between the child or children and the requesting parent
- The dynamics of the relationship between the child or children and the other parent
- What changes will need to be made to the current child custody agreement
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