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If you are filing for divorce in North Carolina and you have children, you need to have a plan for how the custody of your children will be handled. Sometimes, parents work with each other to arrive at an agreement they can both live with. When this is not possible, the court can decide terms of custody, visitation and child support.
In North Carolina, custody decisions are made in district courts. A judge evaluates various factors when ordering a plan that promotes the children’s best interests.
In North Carolina, child custody refers to all the duties of care and time spent with children. Legal custody is distinct from physical custody. A parent may have legal custody without having physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions on behalf of a minor child. These might include decisions about the child’s education, medical care and religion. Both joint and sole legal custody are options.
Physical custody refers to a child living under one parent’s roof. This too may either be shared or one parent alone may have physical custody of the child. If one parent has sole physical custody, which is very often the case in North Carolina divorce cases, the other parent will usually be granted fair visitation rights.
Custody questions arise not just in the case of divorce, but also when working out the details of a legal separation.
In North Carolina, children may have some influence over how the custody arrangements play out. If a child has reached the “age of discretion,” usually around 10 years of age, the judge may take his or her opinion into account when making a decision. Around this age, the justice system considers children to be capable of rational preferences.
Of course, a child’s perceived maturity level also affects the weight that his or her preferences receive. Sometimes children older than 10 offer up conflicting testimony, and in other cases, children younger than 10 can give clear rationale for their preferences.
Children have these rights because there are perfectly legitimate reasons why a child may prefer one household over another, at least for a given time period. These may include remaining in a good school, living in the childhood home, or living near good friends or relatives. A child’s needs and preferences may change over time, and custody decisions can sometimes be modified to reflect those changes.
Usually, a judge won’t give much credence to a preference that seems to be rooted in the superficial “perks” of one parent’s home, such as later bedtimes, more relaxed rules or similar considerations. A child’s preference will be weighed most heavily in cases in which both spouses appear to be good, stable parents.
For a child’s preference to play a role in custody decisions, that child’s voice needs to be heard in some way in the courtroom. If a judge decides that a child is capable of testifying and won’t be overwhelmed by the experience, he or she may be required to express the preference directly to the court.
Courtrooms can, of course, be intimidating, and sometimes the presence of the parents makes children reluctant to express their preferences freely. Therefore, there are other available channels for children to voice their opinions. A judge may interview children privately, with no parents present, or may appoint a child therapist to meet with the child. Many divorcing couples opt for mediation services, and in this case, the child’s opinion will be heard alongside both parents’ opinions so that a mutual agreement can be reached.
The judge’s main responsibility in a custody case is to promote the best interests of the child. Giving children an opportunity to express their preferences isn’t the only way children’s rights are upheld in court.
Normally, both parents have the right to partial custody. However, children deserve to live in homes that are safe, supportive and free from substance abuse. If one parent cannot provide such an environment, the other parent – or even another relative – may gain full physical custody.
In addition to, or instead of, children’s preferences, judges will also consider factors like the child’s health, any history of parents’ substance abuse, any history of domestic violence, the parents’ respective work schedules and a multitude of other factors that point to where the child’s best interests truly lie.
If you are unable to reach a custody agreement with your spouse, you may find yourself in court. If that happens, you will need experienced lawyers on your side. At Charles Ullman & Associates, we can help you seek sole or joint physical custody of your child. Our objectives are your objectives. Our professional team is fully capable of crafting a case to establish the facts as to why living with you part-time or full-time is what will be best for your child or children. If he or she has a preference to live with you, we will work hard to make sure that your child’s voice is heard.
The lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates know the rights and protections that are built into North Carolina’s child custody laws. We are experienced and compassionate attorneys who are dedicated to finding solutions to child custody issues. Call us today or use our online contact form. We can provide you with a confidential consultation about your case.
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