Matters involving children are often the most contentious and emotionally charged aspect of divorce. In North Carolina, the issues related to the children of divorcing spouses typically include:
1) Legal custody of the children (i.e., decision-making)
2) Physical custody of the children (i.e., when are the children residing with each parent)
3) Monetary support for the children
At Close Smith Family Law, we encourage our clients to try to resolve child custody and child support issues through settlement negotiations, mediation or collaborative law. Optimal outcomes often result when both parties are willing to set aside fear and anger in the best interests of their children. However, if it is not possible to resolve your matter through settlement, we stand ready to vigorously represent you in court.
Child Custody & Child Support in North Carolina
Below we walk you through the various avenues and procedures of N.C. child custody and child support law. When you’re ready to talk with one of our family lawyers about your specific situation, contact Close Smith Family Law at (919) 834-8484.
Factors Considered in Child Custody
When considering custody arrangements for a child or children, the judge will make a determination based on what is in “the best interest of the child.”
Factors considered include the child’s age, schedule and special needs (if any), as well as the parents’ respective living arrangements, ability to supervise the child, and ability to provide for the child’s day-to-day needs. In the case of an older child, the court may consider the child’s wishes in determining custody – but not always. Contrary to what many people believe, some of our family court judges will not allow children of any age in the courtroom.
Custody Agreements in North Carolina
Custody agreements (i.e., agreements reach by the parents through negotiation) can be formalized in three ways: 1) as part of the Separation Agreement, 2) outlined in a separate custody agreement, or 3) in a court order called a Consent Order.
Child Custody Mediation
If you and the other parent are unable to reach an agreement, you may file a lawsuit seeking child custody or visitation. Once a lawsuit has been filed, both parties are required to participate in a mandatory child custody mediation (with limited exceptions). After a mediation orientation session, you and the other parent will meet with a neutral mediator in an attempt to reach a parenting agreement. If the mediation is successful, the mediator will draw up the Parenting Agreement that becomes an order of court once signed by the parents and the judge.
Going to Court
If mediation is unsuccessful and it is not possible to resolve your child custody matter, going to court is the last resort. In child custody matters, the trial judge has broad discretion to make decisions that affect your child. With your child’s welfare and future at stake, you need the most effective custody litigators on your side.
The divorce law attorneys at Close Smith Family Law have vast experience litigating divorce and child custody cases. We stand ready to vigorously present your case in court to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your child.
Factors Considered for Child Support
The amount of child support owed by one parent to the other is often determined based on the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. Key factors include the gross monthly incomes of the parents, the schedule of overnights for the children, and any work-related child care or health insurance costs.
In addition to the monthly child support, the parents typically share medical and dental expenses for the children that are not covered by insurance, with the sharing often being done pro rata based on the respective incomes of the parties.
In certain high-income cases, the guidelines are not applicable. Instead, child support is determined based on the actual monthly needs of the children (i.e., how they were used to living before their parents separated).
Modification of Child Custody or Child Support
Child custody is subject to modification by a court having jurisdiction. Either parent may initiate legal proceedings to modify a permanent custody order based on a showing of a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child.
Under certain circumstances, child support may also be modified. Primary factors are 1) a change in the needs of the children; 2) an involuntary decrease in the income of the supporting parent; 3) a change in the physical custody schedule; or 4) a child support order that has been in place for three years or more and where there is disparity between the original child support agreement and the current N.C. guidelines.