Filing a Motion to Modify Child Custody Order in North Carolina

Image depicting a document with the title 'Modify Child Custody Orders'. Represents the process of modifying child custody orders in North Carolina. Contact our Raleigh family law attorney for guidance.

Child custody orders are not carved in stone. A child custody order issued in North Carolina can be modified by petitioning the court to change it.

If you are not satisfied with your current child custody arrangement and wish to seek changes to it, contact a Raleigh family law attorney at Charles R. Ullman & Associates. We can put our skills and experience to work for you.

Contact us today so we can review your situation and determine how to meet your child custody objectives.

The Legal Role of Child Custody Orders

There is no legal requirement for divorced parents in North Carolina to obtain a child custody order. But both legal parents have equal rights to the child if there is no custody order. A child custody order protects the child and provides compulsory guidance in case the parents disagree about the child’s care.

A child custody order grants:

  • Legal custody, which conveys the right to make major life decisions about a child
  • Physical custody, which details the parent’s right to have the child live with them.

The parents can share legal and physical custody of the child, or one parent can have custody, and the other parent can have visitation rights.

A parent who has sole legal custody can make major decisions about the child’s life without consulting the other parent. If parents have joint legal custody, then they must consult one another on major decisions involving the child.

A child custody order is a binding court order. If a violation were to occur, one parent could file a Motion for an Order to Show Cause or a Motion for Contempt to ask the judge to hold the other parent in contempt of court. Contempt of court is punishable at the judge’s discretion and may range from a verbal reprimand to a fine and jail time. The judge may require the party in contempt to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees.

A child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law when they turn 18.

Filing a Motion To Modify a Custody Order in NC

The judge who issues a child custody order is legally bound to ensure the requirements of the order serve the child’s best interests.

To change a permanent custody order, a parent or guardian who is a party to the custody arrangement must file a Motion to Modify.

The motion must assert that:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order was entered
  • The impact of the change requires a change in the child custody order for it to continue to serve the child’s best interests.

The motion should also state the proposed changes to the child custody order.

If both parents agree to the modification, they can submit a consent order to the court. The judge may approve it as long as the change is in the child’s best interest.

Reasons To Modify a Custody Order

A judge will be looking for a substantial change in circumstances that makes it necessary to modify an order previously handed down by the court.

Courts will typically modify a custody order if there are substantial changes in a parent’s life, such as:

  • Change in residency or relocation. When a parent who has physical custody of a child decides to move to another North Carolina location or out of state, this adversely impacts the other parent’s access to their child. You will need to return to court to have the custody order modified to accommodate the change of residency as well as visitation allowances.
  • Change in employment, income, or work schedule changes. There may be a reason to modify a custody order if the parent with physical custody loses their job or has other occupational changes that affect their ability to care for the child, such as increased travel demands.
  • Parental behavior or lifestyle changes. An adult freed from an unhappy marriage may decide to pursue a new lifestyle. But the other parent may object to certain lifestyle choices, such as recreational drug use, guns in the home, or promiscuous sexual activity. A judge may decide the impact of a custodial parent’s behavior is detrimental to the child’s best interests.

Sometimes, modifications to a custody order are solely about meeting the best interests of the child. A judge will consider such factors as:

  • The child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs
  • The impact of the proposed changes on the child’s well-being
  • What maintains stability and continuity in the child’s life
  • Signs of stress or other negative impacts on the emotional or physical health of the child
  • The child’s desires.

A judge’s decision to modify a custody agreement may be influenced by credible evidence of:

  • A parent’s attempt to alienate the child from the other parent
  • A parent’s attempt to hinder the other parent’s visitation in a way that has harmed the child
  • A parent’s new spouse or partner demeaning the other parent in front of the child
  • Domestic violence, sexual abuse, or other criminal activity within a parent’s household.

Contact an Experienced Raleigh Child Custody Attorney

If you need to modify a child custody order, choose a family law attorney to guide you through the process. No one at the judicial center, clerk of court’s office, or judge’s office can give you legal advice.

The Raleigh child custody lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates are dedicated to seeking child custody arrangements that best meet the needs of parents and their children. Attorney Charles Ullman is recognized by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Specialization as a Certified Specialist in North Carolina Family Law. We know the rights and protections that are built into our state’s child custody laws and how the courts reach decisions regarding modifying custody orders.

When possible, it is usually better for all concerned to negotiate and agree to child custody order modifications outside of court. We can protect your interests during those discussions or make the case for your needs in court.

Call us today through our online contact form or at (919) 336-0136 for a confidential legal consultation.


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.