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Fathers’ Custody Rights in North Carolina


There is still the expectation in our society that mothers are to be the sole caregivers and fathers to be breadwinners, more dedicated to careers than family. The reality these days is that both parents may work outside the home and more fathers are taking a proactive role in childcare than ever before.

This shift to a more egalitarian household and partnership in child-raising is much better for the child, and the state of North Carolina recognizes the important role fathers play in a child's life. In order to ensure the best interests of the child, there are laws in place to ensure both parents have rights after they separate or divorce. So, when it comes to child custody, even though there is an expectation and unconscious bias that courts favor mothers, especially in the event that the couple isn't married, in North Carolina, that's actually no longer the case. Our divorce attorneys in Raleigh are breaking down father's rights and how you can protect your rights as a parent.

A Father's Rights After Divorce

When a couple is married and they have a child during that marriage, the state assumes that both parties are the child's legal and biological parents. This means that if the couple divorces, both parents have equal rights unless the court deems one party as unfit. So, what does equality look like as parents after divorce?

Legal Custody

Legal custody means having a say in decision making for the child, and often, parents agree to joint legal custody. This includes issues like medical care and education. For example, if one parent believes the child should attend parochial school and the other parent does not, either they come to a mutual agreement that's in the best needs of the child, or the court will make the decision.

Physical Custody

Physical custody relates to where the child lives or who the child stays with. In some cases, there will be joint physical custody, in which the child spends roughly the same amount of time with each parent (like switching weeks or spending half the week with one parent and the other half with the other parent.). However, either parent can give primary physical custody to the other parent and receive visitation rights, especially if the parents live far away or have complicated work schedules.

Today, more parents are working together to create a custody situation that works best for the children and both parties, though in the event that the couple can't reach a conclusion, the courts may create a custody arrangement. They look at multiple factors to determine the best arrangement for the child, rather than just granting primary custody to the mother. It's also important to note that in North Carolina, either parent can petition the court to modify the arrangement in the event of substantial changes in circumstances, like a new job or moving.

Child Support

If a father has primary custody, he has just as much right to receiving child support as the mother would. As a rule, child support payments are determined using the formula laid out in the North Carolina child support guidelines which factors in time spent with each parent and their respective incomes. And, like child custody, you can petition the court to modify payments.

It's important to note that a parent cannot block visitation with the other parent if they have fallen behind in child support payments. Support and visitation are two entirely different things and stopping visitation unless permitted by the court is a violation of parental rights.

Establishing Paternity

In the event that a couple is not married, has a child together, then separates, the father must establish paternity in order to receive his parental rights. First, the father must file a formal motion to ask the judge to determine biological parentage and submit to a paternity test. Once paternity is established, the father has the same rights as a divorced couple.

Visitation and Custody During COVID-19

With shelter-in-place rules caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many parents were confused about what that meant for custody and visitation rights. Governor Roy Cooper mandated that custody agreements are to be maintained during this time and that "handoffs" are considered essential.

That being said, if both parents agree that it's safer for the child to remain with one parent during the quarantine period, that's also fine as long as it's agreed-upon. However, when one parent is trying to block visitation and custody, it may be necessary to reach out to an attorney.

Contact Our Child Custody Attorneys in Raleigh

If you are a father who is going through a divorce or separation and needs to ensure your rights are protected, having an experienced child custody lawyer on your side is key. Reach out to our team today at (919) 301-8843 or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation.

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