North Carolina Child Custody Laws

Child Custody Laws

Going through a divorce is not only tough on the adults involved – but also the children. When a family unit breaks apart, each spouse endures a great deal of stress. Where will you live? What can you afford? How will you make it work? These can be tough questions to answer. However, an even tougher question may be – how is my child going to handle it?

Initially, children of divorce may feel responsible for the situation (“If I had only done what I was told, this never would have happened…”) Going forward, they may feel a struggle between loyalties to each parent, uncertainty as to where they really belong and anger that their family unit has been shattered – regardless of fault or the circumstances surrounding the situation. Their life may simply not be going the way they envisioned it. This can result in depression, anger, withdrawn behavior and more.

The emotions attached to the above can occur even when a divorce is amicable. Add a custody battle and you add a whole new set of emotions. It’s no secret that custody battles can be just that – battles. While the “prize” is the children, they rarely feel that way. Not only has their world been upended, they’re likely dealing with parents who are now visibly hostile towards each other. That’s hard to deal with at any age – but is extremely difficult when your greatest emotional bonds are with the two people now fighting it out in court.

While every situation is different, anyone going through a divorce where children are involved should recognize all of the emotions that can arise within yourselves – and within your children. There are many good therapists in North Carolina who can help you figure out the emotional part and attorneys who can help you through the legal process, which is outlined below.

North Carolina Child Custody: Physical vs. Legal

Did you know that child custody can be either physical or legal? Here’s how those terms are defined:

  • Physical custody describes a situation in which a child lives with a parent.
  • Legal custody describes a situation in which a parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the child, including those related to education, health care and more.

In many cases, a parent with physical custody will also have legal custody. However, some parents share custody – either equally or by visitation.

Should You File for Child Custody or Make a Non-Court Ordered Agreement?

The answer to this question will depend upon the facts and circumstances surrounding your situation. Obtaining a custody order gives you legal rights to make decisions for your child – including where he or she will live. Without one, you may be at the will of your ex to do the right thing.

If you’re not absolutely sure that your ex won’t fight for custody or be cooperative, supporting, fair and reliable without a court order, then contacting a child custody lawyer may be in your best interests and those of your child as well.

Regardless of the type of agreement you have, you do not need a custody order to receive welfare assistance, medical care and medical insurance for your child, to enroll your child in school or to allow somebody else to take care of your child temporarily.

Child Custody Is Different Than Child Support

It’s important to understand that child custody and child support are two different things. Child custody refers to being a custodial parent who is responsible for a child physically and/or legally. Child support refers to merely receiving (or making) payments to help support a child financially.

Obtaining a court order for child custody does not automatically result in child support and vice versa. For information on filing for child support, contact your local Child Support Enforcement (CSE) or contact an experienced lawyer to discuss your situation and determine what options are available to you.


In many situations, a child will live with one parent and have visitation with the other. While this type of arrangement can work well, it can also be troublesome. Parents who develop behavioral issues, such as drug and alcohol problems, can become abusive or find that their coping skills or common sensibilities have become diminished. This can result in a parent’s visitation hurting a child more than helping a child cope with an already stressful situation.

When this happens, custodial parents can petition the court for supervised visitation on a temporary basis (where the custodial parent can be present or not) until the non-custodial parent addresses his or her behavioral issues and non-supervised visitation can be restored.

It is highly recommended that custodial parents who suspect abuse, by the non-custodial parent or by someone else present during non-custodial parent visitation, contact an attorney immediately to discuss which options are available to best address the issue – and quickly.