If you and your spouse are divorcing or have divorced, and you feel your ex-partner is not suitable to be an equally involved parent to your children, you may be considering filing for sole child custody in North Carolina. To learn more, we’re sharing what you need to know about sole custody in North Carolina.
Types of Child Custody in North Carolina
Because of complicated laws, filing for sole custody may not be a cut-and-dried action. You’ll need a strong family law attorney on your side to fight in your child custody case, who understands the nuances of NC child custody laws.
Understanding Legal Custody
First, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions for a child, such as where they go to school, the religion they practice, or the medical care they receive. With joint legal custody, both parents have equal say in these matters and both parents must agree on a course of action. With sole legal custody, the custodial parent can make decisions on the child’s behalf alone and does not need to speak with the other party.
Understanding Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to with whom the children live. While many people believe that mothers receive preferential treatment or are automatically given custody, that’s actually not the case, especially in the past two decades. Now, fathers have equal rights to child custody in North Carolina.
Most often, judges determine it is in the best interest of the child for parents to have joint physical custody, meaning the child spends time with both parents, though it does not necessarily mean equal time. For example, joint custody can be one week with one parent and one week with the other, it can be weekends with one parent, week days with the other, or some other child custody schedule that either the parents agree on or the judge puts in place. In cases where a child spends more time with one parent than the other, one parent may be said to have primary physical custody with the other having visitation rights or secondary custody. There is a minimum guideline of one weeknight visit per week and every other weekend for it to be considered joint custody.
Sole physical custody is when one parent has primary physical custody for a significant amount of time, generally more than the minimum joint custody arrangement, and the other has visitation that often has stipulations attached. This could mean the visits must be monitored or supervised or that overnight visits aren’t allowed.
Understanding Sole Custody
Typically, sole custody, both legal and physical, is only awarded when the judge determines a parent is not fit due to issues such as:
- History of abusing the child
- History of abusing the other party
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Inability to provide a safe, stable environment
- Physical and emotional health problems
Can Grandparents File for Sole Custody?
In North Carolina, grandparents do not have guaranteed visitation or custody rights. However, when deferring back to the “best interests of the child” principle, a grandparent can request visitation, particularly if it’s during an active divorce or custody dispute. Grandparents are often awarded visitation or temporary custody when there is an acrimonious custody case between the parents.
Filing for Sole Custody
The steps to filing for sole custody in North Carolina are challenging and having a child custody lawyer on your side can be immensely beneficial to ensure the process is handled correctly. To ask the court for a custody order or to update an existing order, you or your attorney can file a complaint (for a new custody order) or a Motion to Modify (to update an existing order) in the county where you or the other partner has lived for six months.
After filing, the other parent must receive the summons, which may be issued either by a sheriff or received through certified mail. The other parent must receive this before anything can be decided. In the interim, it’s important to gather any information that may help your case, such as proof of abusive or neglectful behavior, evidence of illegal drug use, or other actions that could jeopardize the health, safety, and well being of the child.
Schedule a Consultation with Our Child Custody Attorneys in Raleigh
If you would like to learn more about filing for sole custody in North Carolina, reach out to our experienced family law firm today. To schedule a consultation, reach out to us today at (919) 301-8843 or fill out the form below to learn more.