North Carolina Child Custody Laws

North Carolina Child Custody Laws In Durham

Child custody cases can be emotionally challenging and legally complex. Understanding the laws governing child custody in North Carolina is crucial for parents navigating separation or divorce. In this guide, we’ll delve into the critical aspects of North Carolina child custody laws, including types of custody, factors the court considers, and the process of obtaining custody.

Types of Custody

In the realm of child custody, it’s crucial to understand the various types of custody arrangements within the legal framework. In North Carolina, as in many other jurisdictions, custody is typically divided into two main categories: physical custody and legal custody.

1. Physical Custody

Physical custody encompasses the daily lives of children. Physical custody has two primary subcategories:

  1. Sole Physical Custody – In circumstances of sole physical custody, a single parent has primary physical custody of the child. This means the child typically remains with one parent, but the other parent usually obtains visitation or parenting time based on a court-determined or mutually agreed-upon schedule. The parent with sole physical custody is responsible for the child’s daily care and decision-making during their assigned period.
  2. Joint Physical Custody – In joint physical custody arrangements, both parents share significant periods of physical custody of the child. This doesn’t necessarily mean an exact 50/50 split of time, but rather that the child spends substantial and significant amounts of time with each parent. Joint physical custody arrangements require high cooperation and communication between parents to ensure the child’s well-being and stability across both households.

2. Legal Custody

Legal custody pertains to the authority to make crucial decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and welfare. Like physical custody, legal custody can also be divided into two main subcategories:

  1. Sole Legal Custody – With exclusive legal custody, a single parent has the authority to make critical decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions may pertain to schooling, healthcare, religious upbringing, and other essential elements of the child’s life. The parent with sole legal custody consults with the other parent but ultimately chooses.
  2. Joint Legal Custody – Joint legal custody involves both parents sharing the responsibility for making important decisions about the child’s welfare. Even if the child primarily resides with one parent, both parents have an equal say in major decisions affecting the child’s life. Joint legal custody encourages parents to collaborate and communicate effectively to reach agreements that serve the child’s best interests.

Child custody arrangements can be changed to fit each family’s situation. What’s right for one family might not be suitable for another. Judges decide on custody and consider what’s best for the child. They want to make sure the child feels safe and supported as they grow up. If you need help figuring out custody, talking to a child custody attorney can be helpful. They can give you advice and help you understand the laws and rules.

North Carolina Child Custody Laws

Factors Considered by the Court

When North Carolina courts decide child custody, they always focus on what’s best for the child. They look at several essential factors:

1. The Child’s Age and Health – The court considers how old the child is and their physical and mental well-being. Younger children may need more care and support, while older children might have their own preferences and needs.

2. Parental Ability to Provide – Each parent’s ability to take care of the child’s needs is carefully assessed. This includes emotional support, educational opportunities, and ensuring the child’s development.

3. Existing Relationships – The court examines the child’s relationships with each parent and other important people in their life, like grandparents or siblings. It wants to ensure that the child’s connections are maintained and nurtured.

4. History of Domestic Violence or Substance Abuse – Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent is taken seriously by the court. They prioritize the safety and well-being of the child above all else.

5. Child’s Preference – If the youngster is old and grown up enough, their preferences can be considered. The court wants to hear what the youngster has to say and consider their sentiments when making choices.

It is critical to remember that each custody battle is unique, and the court may examine additional criteria based on the specific circumstances. The ultimate goal is to establish a stable, safe custody arrangement that supports the child’s best interests.

Process of Obtaining Custody

The process of obtaining custody in North Carolina is a multi-step journey that involves legal procedures and considerations to ensure the child’s best interests are met. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the obtaining custody process:

1. Filing a Custody Action – The process typically starts with one or both parents filing a custody action in family court. This initiates the legal proceedings and officially brings the custody matter before the court for resolution.

2. Presentation of Case – Parents can present their case to the court once the custody action is filed. This may involve providing evidence, testimony, and any relevant documentation supporting their custody arrangements claims.

3. Mediation – In many cases, the court may order mediation as a first step to help parents reach a custody agreement outside of court. Mediation is an impartial third-party mediator supporting negotiations between the parents to reach a mutually agreeable parenting arrangement.

4. Custody Determination – If mediation is unsuccessful or not ordered by the court, the judge will make a custody determination based on the child’s best interests. The judge considers various factors, such as the child’s age, relationship with each parent, living arrangements, and parental capabilities.

5. Parenting Plan – Parents are encouraged to work together to create a parenting plan that outlines custody and visitation schedules, as well as decision-making authority regarding the child’s upbringing. This plan should address practical aspects such as holidays, school breaks, transportation arrangements, and communication methods between parents and child.

6. Court Approval – If parents can agree on a parenting plan, they can submit it to the court for approval. When parents demonstrate cooperation and agreement in creating a plan that serves the child’s best interests, the court is more likely to approve it.

7. Modification and Enforcement – After a child custody order is in place, either parent may seek modification if significant changes in circumstances warrant a change in custody arrangements. Additionally, the court has mechanisms for enforcing custody orders if one parent fails to comply with the terms outlined in the order.

In summary, the process of obtaining custody in North Carolina involves legal proceedings, opportunities for negotiation and mediation, and ultimately, a determination by the court based on the child’s best interests. Effective communication, cooperation between parents, and adherence to legal procedures are essential to successfully navigating the custody process.

Durham North Carolina Child Custody Laws


Understanding child custody laws in North Carolina can be intricate, but grasping the fundamentals is crucial for parents to make well-informed decisions concerning their children’s welfare. It involves understanding the various types of custody, such as sole and joint custody, the factors that courts consider, including the child’s best interests, and the procedures involved in custody determination, modification, enforcement, and relocation.

Crafting thorough documentation and custody agreements with consideration of family members’ roles is paramount. Consulting with child custody lawyers who are well-versed in state statutes and can represent one’s rights effectively before a judge in a courtroom setting is advisable. In this way, parents can navigate the legal process with discretion, presenting evidence and testimony pertinent to their situation to advocate for the child’s best interest.

Additionally, legal counsel can offer guidance on matters such as child support, custody rights, and the implications of court orders. Grandparents and other concerned parties may also be involved in custody cases, further emphasizing the importance of understanding and exercising one’s custody rights within the framework of North Carolina’s laws.


Here are some frequently asked questions about “North Carolina Child Custody Laws”:

Q. How can a parent modify child custody in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, a parent can modify child custody by filing a motion with the court requesting a modification. The parent must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order was issued and show that the proposed modification is in the child’s best interests. The court will consider factors such as the child’s well-being, changes in the parent’s circumstances, and the child’s preferences if they are deemed old enough and mature enough to express them. It’s advisable for the parent seeking modification to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney to navigate the process effectively.

Q. What factors do courts consider when deciding child custody cases in North Carolina?

When deciding child custody cases in North Carolina, courts take into account a variety of factors, including the child’s age, physical and mental health, the existing relationship with each parent, past experiences of domestic violence or substance abuse, each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, the child’s preference if mature enough, and any other relevant circumstances affecting the child’s welfare.

Q. What are the rights and responsibilities of parents under North Carolina child custody laws?

Under North Carolina child custody laws, parents have rights and responsibilities for their children. These include the right to seek custody and visitation, the responsibility to provide for the child’s needs, including physical, emotional, and educational support, and the duty to make decisions in the child’s best interests regarding their upbringing and welfare. Parents also have the right to seek modifications to custody arrangements if circumstances change and the responsibility to comply with court orders related to custody and visitation.

Q. Can grandparents petition for visitation rights under North Carolina law?

Yes, grandparents can petition for visitation rights under North Carolina law. North Carolina statutes allow grandparents to seek visitation rights under certain circumstances, such as when there is a substantial relationship between the grandparent and the child or when visitation is in the child’s best interests. However, grandparents must demonstrate to the court that granting visitation would serve the child’s welfare.

Q. How long does it take to get a child custody order in North Carolina?

The time it takes to obtain a child custody order in North Carolina can vary depending on various factors, including the case’s complexity, whether the parties can reach an agreement and the court’s schedule. In some cases, custody orders can be finalized relatively quickly, especially if the parties are able to agree on custody arrangements. However, if the case goes to trial or disputes need to be resolved, the process may take longer, potentially several months or even longer in some situations. It’s best to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can provide guidance based on the specifics of your case.

Q. How does relocation affect child custody in North Carolina?

Relocation can significantly impact child custody arrangements in North Carolina. If a custodial parent wishes to relocate with the child, they must provide notice to the non-custodial parent and seek approval from the court. The court will evaluate the proposed move based on the best interests of the child, considering factors such as the reason for the move, the impact on the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent, and the child’s overall well-being. If the court determines that the relocation is in the child’s best interests, modifications to the custody arrangement may be necessary to accommodate the new circumstances.

Contact Constantinou & Burkert Today!

At Constantinou & Burkert, our dedicated team of attorneys specializes in providing comprehensive guidance on North Carolina Child Custody Law. Our experienced Child Custody Lawyers in Durham, NC are committed to assisting clients with navigating the complexities of child custody matters in the Durham area.

Whether you’re seeking information on custody arrangements, understanding your rights as a parent, or require assistance with modification or enforcement of existing custody orders, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. We understand the importance of prioritizing the well-being of your children and strive to provide personalized legal solutions tailored to your unique circumstances.

Don’t hesitate to contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards achieving clarity and peace of mind in your child custody case!

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(919) 683-1302

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Angela Smith

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