The judge considers many factors in determining child custody.  Most important is “the best interests of the child.” This approach is child centric and not parent centric.  It is key to understand that the judge will want to preserve the child’s relationship with both parents, while reducing unnecessary disruptions to the child’s routine.  To determine best interests, the judge may look at the factors described below:

Home Environments

This refers to the respective environments offered by you and your spouse. The court may consider factors such as the safety, stability, and nurturing found in each home.

Emotional Ties

The emotional relationship between your child and each parent may include the nature of the bond between the parent and child and the feelings shared between the child and each parent.

Age, Sex, and Health of the Child and Parents

North Carolina no longer ascribes to the “tender years” doctrine, which formerly gave a preference for custody of very young children to the mother. The judge, therefore, will consider both the father and the mother for custody.  If one of the parents has an illness that may impair the ability to parent, it may be considered by the court.  Similarly, the judge may look at special health needs of a child.

Effect on the Child of Continuing or Disrupting an Existing Relationship

This factor might be applied in your case if you stayed at home for a period of years to care for your child, and awarding custody to the other parent would disrupt your relationship with your child.

Promotion of the Minor Child’s relationship with the other parent

The court may consider your ability and willingness to be cooperative with the other parent in deciding who should be awarded custody. The court will pay close attention to how the parties communicate and promote the other parent’s relationship with the Minor Children.   Treating the other spouse negatively in front of the minor children can greatly affect your ability to achieve your custody goals.

Capacity to Provide Physical Care and Satisfy Educational Needs

Here the court may examine whether you or the other parent is better able to provide for your child’s daily needs such as nutrition, health care, hygiene, social activities, and education.

Comfort and Routines of the Minor Child

What has been occurring during the marriage is very important to determine what kind of parenting schedule the court will award.  The judge may consider who had been providing the children’s needs in the past and the particular routines and needs of the minor children.  The court may also look to see how and whether you or your spouse have been attending to these needs in the past.

While what the parents did throughout the marriage to provide for the comfort and routine of the child is an important factor, it often as important to show the routine since the separation.  Each parent has equal rights to parenting the child, making it difficult to set up a schedule or routine that works for both parents.  If a routine since separation has been working for the minor child, the judge may weigh that information strongly.

Preferences of the Child

The child’s preference regarding custody will be considered if the child is of sufficient age of comprehension, regardless of chronological age, and the child’s preference is based on sound reasoning.  North Carolina, unlike some other states, does not allow a child to unilaterally choose the parent he or she wishes to live with. Rather, at any age the court may consider the well-reasoned preferences of a child.  Typically, the older the child, the greater the weight given to the preference.  The child’s reasoning is also important.  Ultimately, the judge makes the decision on all of the evidence.  Having a child testify is extremely stressful for the child and should be avoided if possible.

Health, Welfare, and Social Behavior of the Child

Every child is unique. Your child’s needs must be considered when it comes to deciding custody and parenting time.   The custody of a child with special needs, for example, may be awarded to the parent who is better able to meet those needs.

The judge may also consider whether you or your spouse has fulfilled the role of primary care provider for meeting the day-to-day needs of your child.

The ability to show a plan to provide for the physical and emotional well-being of the minor child going forward is essential.  Proper supervision by a parent or someone designated by the parent, such as an after school child care provider is essential.  It is best to be able to articulate how you can provide for the day-to-day needs going forward.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is an important factor in determining custody, as well as parenting time and protection from abuse during the transfer of your child to the other parent. If domestic violence is a concern in your case, be sure to discuss it in detail with your attorney during the initial consultation so that every measure can be taken to protect the safety of you and your children.

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