How to File for Sole Custody in North Carolina

filing for a sole custody in NC

A parent may obtain sole legal and physical custody of their child in a divorce if the other parent agrees to it or if a judge orders it. When a request for sole custody is contested by the other parent, the parent seeking custody must prove that it is in the best interest of the child for the other parent to be relieved of rights and responsibilities for the child.

Obtaining sole custody of a child in North Carolina can be a highly contentious issue in a divorce. A judge will not grant a petition for termination of parental rights without clear and convincing evidence that it is the proper decision for the child’s future.

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, our family law attorneys can guide you through the complex process of petitioning the court to terminate the parental rights of an estranged spouse or another family member. We can help you compile evidence as to why granting you sole custody serves the best interest of the child.

Our experienced child custody lawyers can provide high-quality representation and protect the rights and interests of you and your minor-age child or children in Raleigh, Cary, or elsewhere in Wake County. Contact us at (919) 829-1006 or online to discuss your needs today.

What Is Sole Custody?

The parents of a child who is not yet 18 years old in North Carolina have the joint responsibility to maintain physical custody and care for the child and the right to make decisions on behalf of the child. Physical custody includes ensuring the child’s daily needs are met, such as providing shelter, food, and clothing. Legal custody includes the right to consent to medical care and to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, particularly regarding education and religious training.

If a court in North Carolina decides it is in the child’s best interests, it may take away these rights and responsibilities from one parent and make the other solely responsible for the child. A parent may voluntarily relinquish custodial rights, too. When warranted, a court may terminate parental rights of both parents in favor of another responsible adult.

When one parent has sole custody of a child, the child lives with them but the other parent may have visitation rights.

Why an N.C. Judge Would Grant Sole Custody

 dad-talking-to-his-sonA judge may grant sole custody to one parent if they determine that it is in the best interest of the child that the other parent no longer have rights and responsibilities for the child. North Carolina judges are instructed by law to show no preference for mothers over fathers in a custody dispute. Otherwise, a judge has wide discretion and may award sole custody based on such factors as:

  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child, including how either parent’s mental or physical condition may affect their ability
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The environment each parent can create for the child
  • Each parent’s ability to take care of the child for long or short periods of time
  • Each parent’s role in taking care of the child historically and during separation
  • Any history of physical or mental abuse by one spouse
  • Whether one 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
  • Other factors are believed to have an impact on the welfare of the child.

Under North Carolina law there are several reasons why a court may grant a petition for termination of parental rights as part of a divorce proceeding or as an amendment to a divorce decree.

They include the parent in question:

  • Being proven unable to care properly for the child
  • Having abused or neglected the child
  • Being convicted of a violent crime against a child
  • Failing to pay court-ordered child support for one year or more without justification
  • Willfully abandoning a child for six consecutive months or more. Abandonment is failing or refusing to provide adequate means of support or attempting to conceal your whereabouts from a child to escape a lawful obligation to provide support.

How To File for Sole Custody in North Carolina

Child CustodyWhen a child’s parents cannot come to an agreement on custody, either parent may file a complaint and sue for custody of their child. This requires filing the complaint and paying the fee in the local county courthouse where either the parent or child resides. The forms are available online, but in most cases, a child custody attorney can do the paperwork for you and build a stronger case for presentation in court.

After filing, you must ensure that the complaint and summons are served on the other parent so they have the opportunity to respond.

Before the complaint goes to court, you will likely be ordered to mediation with a mediator who works for the court system. If mediation does not result in a workable agreement, a judge will hear your custody case in court.

Child custody hearings usually require the presentation of witnesses and documents to make the case that granting you sole custody is in the best interest of your child. The judge will want to hear from both parents in court and will make a decision based on factual evidence.

In most child custody hearings, you will want to concentrate on showing why it is better for you to have sole custody of your child rather than painting a negative picture of your spouse. Your best approach is to remain calm and businesslike at all times.

Sticking to the plan in a child custody hearing is easier if you have an experienced child custody lawyer representing you. An experienced Raleigh child custody attorney will handle the paperwork, preparation of your case, and communications with the judge and can keep you from making mistakes that jeopardize your case. Your lawyer will ensure that you understand what to expect and are ready for your role in the hearing, including what questions you may face if you testify and are cross-examined.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Child Custody Attorney

The Raleigh child custody lawyers of Charles R. Ullman & Associates know the rights and protections for parents and children that are built into North Carolina’s child custody laws. When sole custody is appropriate for a child’s well-being, our attorney can help the responsible parent develop a case for sole custody to protect the child.

Call us today or use our online contact form to schedule a confidential consultation about your child custody goals.


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.