North Carolina Divorce FAQ’s – Parenting

This is about custody and visitation after divorce in North Carolina, including the effect on custody and visitation of misconduct of the parents, mental health of the parents, and the rights of grandparents in North Carolina.This information is from Lee Rosen, the DivorceInfo Network Lawyer for North Carolina. Click here to visit his web site.

How does custody get decided as between a parent and a third party?

Natural parents are given a strong preference over third parties in North Carolina. A court can only award custody of a child to a third party when the court finds that both natural parents are unfit to serve as parents.

How does custody get decided as between parents?

You and your spouse can decide which of you will have custody of your children. If you are unable to resolve this question, then a court will resolve the issue of custody for you. Judges consider a variety of factors in determining which parent is entitled to custody including the age of the child, the time each parent has available to spend with the child, the stability of the parents, efforts by either parent to undermine the other parent, abductions, moves out of state, facilitation of visitation and involvement of the other parent, child abuse and neglect, drug and alcohol problems, religion, non-marital sexual relationships and the preferences of the children. In almost all cases, the parent not being awarded custody will be awarded a period of visitation with the child. The court is required to act in the “best interests” of the child.

What’s the terminology for custody?

North Carolina judges refer to “custody”, “visitation” and “joint custody” in making custody determinations. Only a small percentage of these disputes are resolved by the court. Most often parents make arrangements regarding their children without the need for court involvement. “Custody” means control. “Visitation” means certain fixed periods of time during which the non-custodial parent will visit with the child. “Joint custody” is defined by the judge issuing the order after becoming familiar with the facts of the case. Different judges use the term “joint custody” differently.

Is there a presumption in favor of not changing custody arrangements?

The court will only change custody arrangements upon one party showing a substantial change in circumstance detrimental to the well being of the child. The court is generally unwilling to change a prior order unless given a significant reason to do so.

What effect does the misconduct of one of the parents have on custody?

“Adultery” may be considered by the court in making a custody determination as may any other misconduct by either party. Generally, the impact of the misconduct on the outcome of the custody trial depends upon the impact of the misconduct of the children. Serious misconduct reflecting significantly upon the character of either party will obviously impact the decision of the judge.

What effect does the mental health of one of the parents have on custody?

“Any serious mental health problem will impact the outcome of the custody litigation. Minor problems, such as being treated for depression with medication (as opposed to a lengthy hospital stay), are not usually deciding factors in custody litigation.

What effect does the preference of the child have on custody?

The preference of the child is a factor in the outcome of a custody dispute as a matter of practice rather than a statutory requirement. The court will generally consider the opinion of a child of suitable age and maturity (generally around 10 to 12 years of age) as a factor in making the decision. The child’s opinion is, however, merely a factor and not the deciding factor.

How does visitation get set?

Visitation is generally determined by the parties without the need for litigation. However, in those cases that are litigated, the court will make a determination of visitation at the time of a ruling on the custody issue.

Is there such a thing as “standard visitation”? If so, what is it?

North Carolina does not have a “standard visitation” plan. Typically, North Carolina judges award visitation on alternating weekends, alternating holidays, and for a period in the summer of two to six weeks. Some judges add time during weeknights as well.

Is there a standard visitation pattern when the non-custodial parent is in a different state from the child? If so, what is it?

There is not a standard pattern for out-of-state visitation. North Carolina judges exert their best efforts to devise a schedule that is best for the child given the time available and the cost of travel.

What rules govern cases where the custodial parent wants to move away with the children?

No answer.

What visitation rights do grandparents have, if any?

The North Carolina General Statutes provide for visitation rights for any grandparent as the court deems appropriate.

Other issues in North Carolina: