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Moving forward with a custody action in North Carolina

North Carolina parents going through a divorce who do not agree about who should have custody of their children may petition the court to make this decision on behalf of them. The process begins with one of the parents or guardians of the children filing a complaint in family court.

North Carolina recognizes two types of child custody. Sole legal custody occurs when one parent is given the right to make all decisions pertaining to the child. Generally, this parent also has primary physical custody of the child. North Carolina also recognizes joint custody. Joint legal custody occurs when both parents are given an equal right in making decisions that pertain to the children. It often does not equate to each parent receiving equal parenting time. However, it usually involves both parents having the children for more than a weekend at a time.

Mediation is mandatory in many cases involving child custody in North Carolina. A court may order it, or parents can elect to go through mediation or arbitration in lieu of going to court. However, if parents opt to go to court, the parents may be ordered to attend parenting classes. In some cases, the parents may be psychologically evaluated or a guardian ad litem may be put into place to serve as the child's attorney. During a hearing, each party is able to present evidence regarding their position and how they would be the best parent to have primary custody of the child. The court makes the determination regarding child custody and visitation by evaluating the facts in light of the best interest of the child.

Individuals who would like to present evidence to the court as to why they would be the best parent to be primarily responsible for caring for the children may decide to consult with an attorney who has experience in family law matters. The attorney can explain to the client what factors the court will consider in making its determination.

Source: North Carolina State Bar, "Child Custody/ Visitation and Child Support ", October 11, 2014

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