When parents divorce, they must arrive at a custody arrangement that serves the best interest of their children. When the relationship is contentious and they are unable to come to a parenting agreement, the North Carolina court will make a custody determination.

The judge will order custody and visitation with the goal of helping the child maintain a relationship with both parents as long as it is healthy for him or her to do so.

Legal vs. physical child custody

Physical custody describes where the child lives, while legal custody indicates who can decide about the child’s education, religion, health care and other important aspects of his or her upbringing. Whenever possible, the North Carolina court orders shared legal custody and either joint physical custody or sole physical custody with visitation for the noncustodial parent.

The best interest standard

The judge must award custody based on the arrangement that is in the child’s best interest. Factors that play a role in determining best interest include whether each parent can care for the child and provide a stable, healthy environment, the child’s current living arrangement, whether either parent has a history of violence or neglect, the child’s safety and health status and the existing relationship between the child and each parent. The court does not consider issues between the parents, such as adultery, unless these issues affect the child’s health or safety (drug abuse, for example).

When you are unable to reach a fair custody arrangement with your child’s other parent, help is available. You can file a custody complaint asking the judge to make a determination in the county where your child lives most of the time. This complaint will include your proposed parenting plan, and the other parent will have an opportunity to submit his or her own parenting plan before the scheduled hearing. You will both present your case so the judge can create a final custody order.