Child custody is undeniably one of the most emotional aspects of family law. Divorcing and separating parents often cannot agree who should have custody and how often the other parent should be able to visit. Worse, in some cases, allegations of abuse or neglect add a tragic dimension to what is already a contentious matter.
As a parent, your primary concern is the well-being of your child. And the child custody attorneys of Patrick, Harper & Dixon are here for you. We represent our custody clients with the legal skill and professionalism they deserve.
Two Types Of Child Custody
In North Carolina, child custody consists of both physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to which parent will have primary care, custody, and control of the child and which one will have visitation rights (also known as secondary custody). Physical custody essentially determines the time-sharing schedule between the parents. Courts will typically grant joint physical custody of a child, unless there are particular circumstances warranting the need for one parent to receive primary custody.
Legal custody, meanwhile, concerns decision-making authority over the child. That includes major medical, educational, and religious decisions. Courts will typically grant joint legal custody to both parents provided they can responsibly co-parent the child and communicate with each other.
How Do Courts Decide Child Custody?
As a general rule, judges want children to have regular contact with both parents. Of course, this isn’t always possible. No matter the facts presented to a court, the judge is bound to decide custody cases according to the best interests of the child. This universal standard in North Carolina custody law will affect which parent has primary physical custody or if joint custody is best and how legal custody will be shared between the parents..
“Best interests of the child” is difficult to define because every custody matter is different. In other words, the specific facts of your case, and how effectively those facts are presented to a court, will determine the outcome of custody. In deciding this, the judge will consider evidence of the following (among other things):
- Physical, sexual, emotional, and other kinds of abuse or neglect
- Domestic violence between the parents
- Which parent can provide a stable household for the child
- The parents’ work schedules
- Parental fitness, which broadly considers which parent is more responsible
- Drug or alcohol abuse by either parent
- Either parent’s criminal record, if any
- Whether one or the other parent plays a greater role in raising the child
- Any disparaging remarks made by one parent to the other in the child’s presence
- The degree to which the parents can effectively cooperate with each other
- Either parent’s romantic partner or new spouse and the effect that individual might have on the child’s best interests
- Testimony from family, friends, and third parties
- Expert witness testimony, if appropriate
Setting custody and visitation schedules can be complicated. Judges have to decide not only which parent the child will primarily live with, but how many overnight visits the other parent will get to have. This means coordinating the parents’ work schedules, the child’s school and extracurricular schedules, and other factors. Courts will often set precise terms such as how vacation time with the child will be allocated between the parents, which parent will celebrate different holidays with the child, and more.
Will My Custody Case Go To Court?
While child custody is often contentious, it doesn’t have to be. If the parents can effectively communicate with each other, mediation may be used to resolve custody. Mediation is an out-of-court procedure by which a neutral third party, known as a mediator, will help the parents negotiate and settle their differences.
The goal of child custody mediation is to develop a fair and comprehensive custody agreement. That means considering a number of different factors and providing sufficient detail to avoid confusion and misunderstanding between the parents. If an agreement can be reached, the judge will still have to review it to determine whether it’s in the child’s best interests. Once the judge approves the agreement it will be reduced to an enforceable court order.
Mediation offers a number of advantages to traditional litigation. It is generally less expensive, less time-consuming, and less stressful for both parents and children. Mediation can also be beneficial as it allows the parents to more fully decide the custody provisions they would like for the child. Not every child custody matter is a good candidate for mediation, so be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney.
How Can An Attorney Help My Child Custody Case?
Before a court officially decides custody, both parents have equal rights regarding their child. During this period, it is essential that you conduct yourself responsibly with respect to both the child and the other parent. Your attorney will discourage you from taking actions that could reflect negatively upon you in court, such as improperly denying visitation to the other parent.
At the same time, there may be compelling reasons the other parent should not have unrestricted access to the child. Evidence of abuse, neglect, drug use, or other harmful activities could necessitate imposing limitations such as supervised visitation. In some cases, attorneys must go to court and seek emergency custody orders where there is an immediate threat to the child.
Regardless of your individual circumstances, evidence will be key. Your lawyer will work to obtain evidence that you are a fit and responsible parent or, conversely, that the other parent is not. Attorneys typically use a process known as discovery to formally request relevant information from the other parent and third parties.
It’s important to be upfront with your attorney about problems you may have had as a parent. One of the worst things that can happen is for a parent to fail to disclose something to his or her lawyer and then have the other parent’s attorney bring it up in court. Your communications with your lawyer are protected by attorney-client privilege, so you can trust your attorney to determine how best to address such matters.
Finally, your lawyer can represent you in mediation and help you and the other parent develop a custody agreement. Your attorney should have a thorough knowledge of North Carolina custody law, a working understanding of how to draft effective and comprehensive custody agreements, and a proven record of zealously advocating for the rights and interests of parents.
Contact Our Hickory Child Custody Attorney
We know the stakes are high when it comes to child custody, and we also know you need trusted legal representation that puts your concerns first. You can count on Patrick, Harper & Dixon. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can serve you.