Parental Rights in North Carolina Child Custody Cases

Parental Rights in North Carolina Child Custody Cases

Child custody is perhaps the most emotionally charged and highly contested issue in a divorce. When marriages dissolve and families separate, both parents will continue to be responsible for their children, and along with those responsibilities come certain rights.

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we understand the challenges you face in a divorce. If you are dissolving your marriage in Raleigh, Cary or elsewhere in Wake County or anywhere in North Carolina, our experienced family lawyers can provide high-quality representation and protect your rights and interests, including your parental rights.

What Are Your Parental Rights in North Carolina Child Custody Matters?

In North Carolina child custody cases, including actions to modify child custody after a divorce, the courts’ dominant principle is that custody must be awarded based on the best interests of the child. The parent who, in the judge’s opinion, will best promote those interests and the child’s welfare will generally be awarded custody.

Judges have a great deal of discretion in North Carolina family law cases. In child custody matters, they consider various factors that have a bearing on the child’s best interests. These include the child’s mental, physical, emotional, moral and spiritual development. The courts also must consider the substantial right that parents have to the custody of their minor children, and that right cannot be interfered with unless it would be in the child’s best interests.

There is no presumption in North Carolina favoring the rights of either mothers or fathers. Our state, along with many others, has abolished the “tender years doctrine,” which presumed that mothers were more capable than fathers of providing care to children in their early years. However, some judges are still more inclined to favor the mother for custody of very young children, particularly when the mother has been the primary caregiver.

Child custody refers to the duty to care for children and the time spent with them. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child. Physical custody is the right to have the child live with you in your home. Both legal and physical custody can be awarded by the court to either one parent (sole custody) or to both parents (joint custody).

Judges have the discretion to determine child custody in North Carolina. As a parent, you have the right to present a case for custody of your child to the judge. It is within the judge’s prerogative to determine how much weight is given to each of the factors considered, which may include:

  • Age of the child
  • Child’s preference
  • Home environment each parent can provide
  • Income of each parent
  • Caretaking capacity of each parent
  • Each parent’s available time to be with the child
  • Bonding of the child with parents and/or siblings

A parent who is not awarded custody still has rights to visitation. Although the courts determine visitation on the same principles as custody – predominately, the best interests of the child – non-custodial parents are almost never denied visitation in North Carolina. Even when the judge is convinced that the child may come to some harm, supervised visitation is still generally allowed.

Termination of Parental Rights In NC

The rights of a parent are not easily terminated. The Administrative Office of the Courts lays out the various steps.

A Petition is Filed.

The petition asks the court to terminate parental rights, and can be filed by either parent, another individual who has been appointed a guardian of the child, or the County Human Services Agency to whom the court has given custody, or a parent seeking to adopt a child.

Preliminary Hearing.

In cases in which the parent or respondent is unknown, a hearing must be held to determine a parent’s name or identity, and must be held within 10 days of the petition filing. If the parent can be identified or found, he or she will be summoned to appear at the hearing.

Notice for Unknown Parent Published.

Any case in which the parent is unknown must include publishing a notice in the relevant county or counties as directed by the court for three weeks, which discloses when and where the child was born, the case number, and type of proceeding.

Summons Issued.

In cases in which the parents are known, a summons will be issued for a court hearing.

Respondent Answer.

The parent or guardian has the right to answer and a hearing will be held to determine various issues. A failure of the parent or guardian to respond within 30 days will lead to the termination of parental rights.


A hearing will be held within 90 days of the petition being filed, and additional evidence can be sought for discovery.

The process of terminating parental rights is not a simple process. If you are hoping to terminate the rights of the other parent due to incarceration, abandonment or other issue, it is crucial that you have legal help to move the process forward.

Signing Over Parental Rights in NC

If you hope to have the other parent of your child sign over parental rights, or you want to gain full custody of a child or children you have been caring for, our firm can help you get this process moving. Many grandparents and other family members have taken on the duty of raising children that were abandoned by parents for various reasons, including drug addiction, criminal activity, alcoholism, mental problems or other situations. You risk losing custody of a child if you fail to take the correct legal steps. Our firm can help you get the process moving forward correctly, including all the necessary filings and hearings.

Custodial Parental Rights in NC

The custodial parent is the parent who has been granted custody of a child, whether in a divorce or through another situation. The rights of the individual parent to make decisions about the child will be based upon whether the parents have joint legal custody, or if the parent has sole legal custody. A parent with whom the children live can make the day-to-day decisions about the child’s care, but the other parent (in cases of joint custody) has the right to be part of any major life decisions, including education, religion and healthcare, among others.

Non-Custodial Parental Rights in NC

The non-custodial parent has an equal right to be involved in the upbringing of the child. If necessary, a father can pursue a paternity case in order to prove parentage and gain access to the child, which includes responsibilities, such as the requirement to pay child support. Parents who do not have physical custody have the right to visitation, and the courts can order a visitation schedule that is reasonable.

The other parent is required to adhere to this schedule, and allow liberal access for the other parent. The court can impose the arrangements about visitation, or private arrangements can be made and submitted to the court for approval. As the non-custodial parent, if you have joint custody, you have rights equal to those of the other parent with regard to the major decisions about upbringing.

How Charles R. Ullman & Associates Can Help

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we know that determining the custody of your children is probably the most important aspect of your divorce. We understand that you will want to spend as much time with your children as possible and have a say in important decisions affecting their lives. Our Raleigh child custody attorneys have the skills, experience and compassion to protect your parental rights and help you obtain the best possible solution for your family.

We can help you negotiate a parenting agreement out of court, to keep the decisions regarding custody in the hands of the parents instead of the judge. Our family lawyers can help you craft an agreement that is practical and addresses the unique current and future needs of your family. If necessary, a neutral party can assist you and your spouse in reaching an agreement through mediation.

If you are unable to reach an agreement regarding custody, we can represent you in the courtroom and demonstrate to the judge that you will promote the best interests and welfare of your children. We have a great deal of experience in addressing the factors the court will consider.

Our North Carolina child custody lawyers are compassionate and dedicated to protecting your rights and securing the child custody arrangement that best meets your needs and those of your children. Contact our firm for a consultation to discuss how we can guide you through your divorce or child custody dispute.



Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.