When we first meet with a new divorce client, they’re understandably most concerned about child custody. North Carolina’s child custody laws are something most people don’t think about until they find themselves going through a divorce. Our clients want to understand how custody works, what they can expect during the divorce process and how they can put their best foot forward.
Two types of custody
When a couple gets divorced in North Carolina, the court decides two types of custody. They decide who has physical custody. Physical custody means who has possession of the child. The parent with physical custody makes the simple decisions for the child while the child is with them.
There’s also legal custody. Legal custody is who makes the big decisions about the child’s upbringing. Decisions like major medical care, school choice and religion fall into this category. A parent who has legal custody can have access to school and medical records. Unless there’s a big problem with one parent like violence, a significant criminal record or some other big reason that the parent shouldn’t have a say in the child’s upbringing, the courts typically award legal custody to both parents and ask them to work together for the good of the child.
Usually, both parents have contact with the child
Many parents assume that when they go into a divorce, one parent will be the winner and the other parent will be the loser. They think that the parent who wins gets to raise the child while the other parent supports their efforts with child support. In nearly all cases, that’s not what happens.
The court does everything it can to ensure that both parents have an ongoing, strong relationship with the child. If the parents are in the same city, the court orders frequent exchanges of the child on a schedule that works for them. Even if the parents are in different states or different countries, the court will set some kind of schedule to make sure that the child has contact with both parents. Even if a parent needs to have their time with the child supervised by a third party, the court will still do everything that it can to make sure that the child has some kind of continuing contact with both parents.
But it’s still important to build your case
Even though the court’s goal is to help the child maintain contact with both parents, it’s up to you to show the judge what’s best for the child. If it’s best for the child to see the other parent on weekends or in the summer, you need to show the judge why that’s the case. If a parent has a substance abuse concern or a significant criminal history, you need to prepare the records and show the judge how their history may impact their ability to parent. Carefully building your case can help the judge fashion the custody order that’s in the best interests of the child.