What should I know when filing for custody in North Carolina?

When it comes to divorce, decisions regarding child custody are the most difficult to navigate. Even amicable divorces are hard on kids, so you must do all you can to ensure a smooth process. Part of this involves understanding your options when it comes to custody.

According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch, courts base custody decisions on the best interests of the child at the center of the dispute. That means that your wishes and desires can take a back seat to what is best for your child.

Legal vs. physical custody

Legal custody enables a parent to make major decisions on behalf of a child. For example, a parent with legal custody of a child has the authority to choose schools and seek out medical care. Conversely, physical custody involves where the child resides. One parent can have legal and/or physical custody exclusively, but it is also possible for both parents to share them.

Sole vs. joint custody

When one parent has sole legal custody of a child, they make all major decisions regarding that child’s life. This parent can make decisions without the need to contact the other parent to receive their input. The sole custodian can still seek out input from the other parent, but it is not required. Sole physical custody means one parent lives with the child and the other receives visitation.

Joint legal custody typically requires an agreement between both parents in case debates arise about childcare. Joint physical custody requires the child to spend time at each parent’s home. Developing a custody schedule is beneficial, so everyone remains on the same page.

The custody process begins with filing a complaint. Be prepared to present evidence if asking for sole custody. Courts prefer to award custody to both parents, unless there are concerns about parental fitness.