It varies from case to case. North Carolina Courts make custody determinations using "the best interest of the child" standard and applies that standard to each and every child custody case. In order to determine what is in the best interest of your child, the court may look at a number of factors that are relevant to the child's life. For example, the court may look at the age, physical and mental needs of the child, the mental health of the parents, substance use or abuse issues of the parties, the party's relationship with the child, the party's efforts to raise the child thus far, the work schedule of the parents, stability of the parties, living conditions of the parties and a number of other factors that are unique to each case. If you have any questions or need assistance obtaining custody of your child, please contact a local attorney.
Parents may contract outside of court who will have custody of the child and what the custody schedule will be. If parents cannot decide, custody will be settled in District Court by a District Court Judge. It is noteworthy that most local counties in North Carolina require parties to attend mediation prior to hearing a permanent custody trial. Many parties ask if the child can decide. The short and plain answer is no. While case law suggests a judge can take the child's desires into consideration, it is not required and usually not appropriate absent certain facts that make the child's testimony necessary. It is our recommendation that you talk to a local attorney before calling a child to testify in a child custody case. The effects of court can be traumatic on adults and children. It is important to put the needs of the child ahead of your own in this process.
Joint physical custody is the actual sharing of the child between the parties. Joint custody does not necessarily mean the parties share 50/50 time with the child, it just means the parties share time with the child in some fashion where both parties have meaningful time with the child.
Sole custody is when a party receives the majority of physical custody time with the child. When parties resolve custody cases by consent, it is important for the document to contain specificity and to define the joint or sole custody arrangement and include provisions that create a clear plan for the parties going forward co-parenting in separate households.
In some custody arrangements when one party has the majority (potentially "primary custody") of custodial time with the child and the other party has substantially less custodial time, courts, agreements or attorneys may refer to this time as "visitation". Visitation periods may be overnights or only for a few hours. In some cases, when the facts warrant the same, courts may order supervised visits. These visits may be supervised by a friend, family member or at a third-party visitation center. Generally supervised visitation is used in situations when a party is a danger to the child's physical or mental wellbeing. That danger could be due to substance abuse, mental health concerns or overall instability and inability to parent the child safely without supervision.
It is necessary for parties or courts to determine legal custody of the child at the time of settling custody or as a result of trial on custody. Legal custody relates to making major decisions for the child. These decisions may concern healthcare, education, religion and extra-curricular activities. Parties share joint legal custody when they make these decisions together. Both parties with joint legal custody have equal authority to make these decisions and should exhaust efforts in good faith to make these decisions together after communication about the topic at hand. In some cases, parties share joint legal custody with one party having the final word on certain topics. Sole legal custody is when one party has the sole authority to make these decisions on behalf of the child. Attorneys have creative ways to split some of these duties to allow one party to make decisions regarding certain topics and the other party to make decisions regarding others. - Mathew G. Moore