image description

Child Custody: How Does It Work?

Child custody disputes can be one of the most stressful issues surrounding a legal separation or divorce.  What do you need to know?  Where do you start?  A good first step is always to contact an experienced attorney to help you, but it’s also important to know about the process.

Once a custody case has been filed in court, the Judge will consider the evidence presented in court to decide what type of visitation schedule is in the child’s best interest.  All custody cases are heard in the District Courts of the State, before a Judge, not a jury.

There are two main types of child custody – “legal custody” and “physical custody.”  Legal custody refers to who will make major decisions for the child, such as healthcare and education.  Legal custody may be awarded to both parents jointly (“joint legal custody”), or may be awarded only to one parent (“sole legal custody”).  It is not required that a child live with the parent in order for that parent to have legal custody.

Physical custody refers to where the child actually lives.  The Judge may award one parent “sole physical custody” of the child.  More commonly, physical custody is awarded to both parents, so that both parents are said to share “joint physical custody.”  This does not necessarily mean that the child spends equal time with each parent.  The judge will consider all of the circumstances of the case to determine the actual visitation schedule.

In North Carolina, it is required that all parties involved in child custody cases attend a mediation session prior to a permanent custody trial.  At the mediation session, a neutral third-party mediator will meet with both parents in the hopes of creating a visitation schedule that everyone agrees on.  The mediator will not take sides, cannot give legal advice to either party, and cannot force anyone to enter into an Agreement.  If the parties are able to agree on a visitation schedule, the agreement will be put into writing as a “Parenting Agreement.”  This agreement will then be submitted to the Judge for approval, and will become an order of the Court.

If your case does not resolve itself in a settlement agreement, the next step is the custody trial.  At the trial, you must present evidence that supports your side of the case, and you must follow the local rules of court, the rules of evidence, and the rules of civil procedure.  Custody cases can be complicated by issues like domestic violence, allegations of child abuse, non-traditional work schedules, out of state residence, and military deployment.

It is important that you are prepared and organized as you present your case in court.  If you do not have a lawyer, you will still be required to comply with all court rules.  The Judge is not allowed to help you present your case.  After hearing all the evidence, the Judge will issue a custody ruling, which will address issues such as the regular visitation schedule, holiday schedules, and who will have the right to make decisions concerning the child.  Regardless of whether your case settles outside of court or goes to trial, stay focused on your goals and do not be afraid to seek advice.  Contact Mahlum Law Office today if you have any questions or concerns about your child custody case.  We can help.

Comments are closed.