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What Are The Top 5 Child Custody Factors in North Carolina?

Overall, child custody and parenting time orders must be in the best interests of the child. Most good parents agree with that general principle. However, sometimes even great parents disagree on specific points. To help translate this rather obscure principle into everyday language, North Carolina law sets forth a number of factors in this area. Some of the major factors are outlined below.

Generally, child custody disputes settle out of court. So, a Raleigh child custody attorney must be mindful of these factors during pretrial settlement negotiations. Usually, Wake County judges won’t approve settlement agreements that don’t at least generally conform with key factors. An attorney must also stick close to the factors during court arguments. Usually, arguments that revolve around one of the key factors resonate very well with most judges.

Current Arrangement

No matter how you slice it, divorce and separation are tough on children. At the same time, children need rules, predictability, and boundaries, whether they admit it or not. So, in many cases, judges want to keep the current arrangement in place, if at all possible.

That’s why the divorce temporary hearing is so important. Frequently, the final orders incorporate the temporary orders, especially in terms of child custody and child visitation. Judges only approve significant alterations if game-changing evidence, like a bombshell social services investigation, is available.

Generally, judges are willing to tolerate minor problems if that’s the cost of consistency. According to an old saying, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

Child’s Preference

This factor is very high on the list. However, it’s not always dispositive. Under North Carolina law, unless a child is “of sufficient age to exercise discretion,” the child’s preference is irrelevant. Under this standard, a judge could ignore a 17-year-old’s preference and endorse a 9-year-old’s preference.

Additionally, many children don’t directly express a preference. Frequently, children don’t want to take sides. However, they may indirectly express a preference. For example, if Junior’s grades are better when he’s with Dad, this factor weighs heavily in Dad’s favor.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, a controversial item in divorce cases that was once called maternal brainwashing, could come into consideration regarding direct preference expressions. Usually, judges look for red flags, like age-inappropriate language during an interview. Most young children don’t use many two and three-syllable words unless someone told them what to say.

Parent’s Preference

Once again, this preference could be direct or indirect. Some parents directly express a preference. They’re happy to be weekend parents or insist on having primary custody.

However, much more often, parents indirectly express their preferences. Usually, they make these preferences clear during the marriage. If Dad shows little interest in soccer games and piano recitals during the marriage, he most likely wouldn’t make a good full-time residential parent, even if he tries to convince a judge otherwise.

On a related note, co-parenting could be an issue. Some parents hire an attorney who bitterly contests every legal point. Many judges believe, quite rightly, that such obstinate parents would make bad co-parents. So, this strategy often backfires.

Overall Environment

This factor includes the home environment as well as the neighborhood and the general non-home environment.

Many parents don’t have the proper tools, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, to be good full-time parents. Onset or removal of disability is one of the most common reasons for a subsequent motion to modify child custody.

The general environment includes things like the school, healthcare infrastructure, security, and other items which affect a child’s health and safety.

Domestic Violence

Most of the aforementioned factors have roughly equal weight. One isn’t bigger than the others. However, this last highlighted factor, if present, could be a game changer. That’s especially true if the child was a victim of the abuse or witnessed the abuse. Generally, judges don’t just limit parent-child contact in these situations. They often attach additional conditions, like supervised visitation or an anger management counseling requirement.

If the abuse didn’t directly affect the children, the abuse could still affect a child custody determination. However, in these situations, domestic violence is more akin to parental preference, current arrangement, and other factors. Physical violence, especially if there’s a parallel criminal case, could mean visitation restrictions. Emotional, verbal, or other non-physical abuse the children didn’t witness could have a lesser impact.

Prior domestic abuse issues in a prior relationship usually aren’t too impactful, especially if they did not involve physical violence.

Work With a Dedicated Wake County Family Lawyer

Most family law matters involve complex emotional and financial issues. If you’re dealing with child custody issues or facing divorce and are concerned about what may happen with your children, it’s important to contact our experienced child custody team at Triangle Divorce Lawyers and schedule a case review today.