The State of North Carolina requires that decisions during a divorce serve the best interests of any underage children affected. When a child’s parents go to court to have a separation agreement ratified or to argue a contested divorce, the court will use the best interests of the child doctrine to make decisions regarding whether one or both parents will have custody of the child, the nature of visitation rights, and the child support payments.
There are several general factors related to the child’s circumstances and the parent’s capacity to provide proper parenting that the court will consider when determining what is in a child’s best interest. North Carolina’s child custody statute says a court order will “best promote the interest and welfare of the child.”
North Carolina family law judges have wide discretion when determining what is best for children in a divorce.
A Raleigh child custody attorney with Charles R. Ullman & Associates can represent you in separation agreement negotiations or handle a contested divorce. We have the skill, experience, and compassion necessary to help you craft a settlement or argue a divorce case that will meet your goals and serve the best interests of your child.
North Carolina Law and the Best Interest of the Child Principle
A North Carolina court must always focus on the child’s best interests when making decisions about child custody, visitation, and support. But there are few requirements as to what factors may be used to make such a determination.
State law says the court shall consider “all relevant factors, including acts of domestic violence between the parties, the safety of the child, and the safety of either party from domestic violence by the other party.”
The same state statute says a court may not consider a parent’s past or possible future military deployment as the only basis for determining the best interest of the child. It does allow a judge to consider any significant impact on the best interest of the child caused by the parent’s past or possible future deployment. For example, it has been argued that a judge may consider that, for a specific child, enrolling in a new school or being away from half-siblings due to a deployment would have a significant negative impact on that specific child.
North Carolina’s judiciary says:
“This decision can include many factors, such as the parents’ living arrangements, each parent’s ability to care for the child, the child’s relationship with each parent, and any other factors affecting the welfare of the child. While fairness to the parents is important, this is secondary to the child’s welfare. A party’s shortcomings as a spouse or relationship partner will generally only carry substantial weight if they also impact the party’s parenting abilities.”
Decision-Making Applying the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ Principle
Our decades of experience in North Carolina family courts have taught us that a judge seeking to ensure the best interests of a child will consider the factors cited above as well as:
- How much time each parent has for the child
- The home environment that each parent is able to provide for the child
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child over long or short periods of time
- The caretaking role each parent has had historically and has had during separation
- Whether either parent is more likely to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
- Each parent’s relationships with other adults, including whether either parent has an intimate relationship with another adult
A judge will also consider whether the proposed arrangements:
- Ensure that both parents have active roles in the child’s life
- Limit change or losses in the child’s life regarding school, church, family, friends, pets, and participation in sports or other activities
- Ensure continuity between the households in such matters as family rules, religious practices, and school activities
- Ensure the child’s medical and developmental needs will continue to be met as the child ages and requirements change
- Require each parent to notify the other in a timely manner if changes in their schedule will affect visitation, participation in planned activities, etc.
Parental Fitness and the Child’s Perspective
Parental fitness refers to a parent’s capacity to provide the minimum standard of care and act as a responsible parent to the child. The court assumes a child’s natural or adoptive parents are fit to parent unless it is proven otherwise. You do not have to worry about how to prove you are a fit parent in court or passing a parental fitness evaluation, though you would want to be ready to rebut any evidence against you.
In a child custody hearing, if a child has reached the age of discretion, usually around ten years of age, the court considers them to be capable of rational preferences. The judge may take the opinion of a child aged ten or older into account in custody decisions. A child’s preference will be weighed most heavily in cases in which both spouses appear to be good, stable parents.
Charles R. Ullman & Associates: Advocating for the Child’s Best Interest
The lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates know the rights and protections that are built into North Carolina’s child custody laws for divorcing parents and for children. We are experienced family law attorneys who are dedicated to finding equitable and compassionate 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.