Divorce creates a cascade of urgent considerations for all involved as the marriage comes to an end, not the least of which is deciding how to handle the care and nurturing of the children. Finding a balance between the needs of the child and the wishes of the parents makes family law cases quite complex.
Every state has different provisions regarding child custody. Under North Carolina’s laws, a custody case must be filed in the child’s home state where the child has lived for at least six months. Within North Carolina, parents may file for custody either in the county in which the child resides or is physically present, or in the county in which the parent resides.
Grandparents, relatives or other caregivers may also file for custody or visitation under certain circumstances. North Carolina recognizes grandparent rights, and in cases of neglect, abuse or if the parents are unfit to care for the needs of the child, relatives or non-relatives may be granted visitation or custody rights.
The best interests of the child
The court will weigh custody decisions based on the standard of what is in the best interest of the child. Some factors a judge will consider are:
- The parents’ living arrangements
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- History of domestic violence
While the courts do not favor one parent over another in a custody hearing, these and other factors, such as the child’s preference if he or she is of the age of discretion, will determine the ruling on custody and visitations rights of the parents.
Types of custody
The court may grant one or both parents legal or physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make major medical, educational and religious decisions about the child, while physical custody is the right to have the child in one’s physical care.
There is also sole or joint legal or physical custody. A parent with sole legal or physical custody means that they may make important decisions without first consulting the other spouse, and that the child lives only with that parent.
With joint physical custody, parenting time is split evenly between the parents, and there may also be situations where one parent has primary custody while the other parent is granted secondary custody, which may mean every other weekend custody or scheduled dinner visits.
It is important for parents to seek experienced legal guidance before appearing in court or negotiating a parenting plan so that they can protect their rights as parents and do what is best for the children.