Child Custody Q&A

Allen, Lee (Thumb)

A Primer on Child Custody

My spouse and I have separated. When can I see my child?

If you and the other parent can agree, then you can be as creative and flexible as you like. In addition, an agreement gives both parents some input into a custodial schedule.

What happens if we cannot agree?

If the parents cannot agree, litigation becomes necessary. Ultimately, a Judge will decide on the issue of custody (assuming the parents remain unable to reach an agreement) and the parents will have much more limited input into what the custodial schedule looks like.

How do Judges decide the issue of child custody?

 Under North Carolina law, a Judge will base his or her decision about child custody on what the Judge believes is in the child’s best interest. Therefore, the Judge has a great deal of discretion. Typically, the history of parental involvement plays a great role in determining the custodial arrangement. In addition, judgment, maturity, and the ability and willingness of one parent to set aside differences with the other parent in order to do what is right and best for the child.

What is “joint custody?”

 When both parents have authority and responsibility to make major, important decisions for the child, such as medical/dental care and education, they are said to have “joint legal custody.” It is not unusual for both parents to be awarded joint legal custody, with one parent having primary physical custody of the child. ”Primary physical custody” refers to the rights and responsibilities of the parent with whom the child primarily resides. This would include a good deal of decision-making with regard to the more mundane, every day decisions. “Visitation” refers to the right of a parent to spend time with a child. This is sometimes referred to as “secondary physical custody.”

How are holidays dealt with after parents separate?

Holidays are most often shared in some fashion. Holidays can be divided equally, or they can be rotated from year to year. That is, one parent might have, for example, Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years, and the other parent would enjoy time with the child at Thanksgiving in even-numbered years; while the parent having the first part of the Christmas holiday one year would have the second part of Christmas the following year. Creativity and flexibility are especially important when dealing with holiday time.