Debunking Common Myths and Knowing When to Modify Your Child Custody Agreement in North Carolina

As family law attorneys, we get the opportunity to help people deal with different types of family law-related matters. One of the issues we help people tackle is the issue of child custody. When working with parents to tackle the issue of child custody, we get the chance to answer many child custody-related questions. While much of the questions parents ask regarding child custody are all valid, it is pretty clear that most questions arise due to the myths and misconceptions that circulate. Some questions arise because of what was said by a friend, and others come up because of what a parent saw online or in the movies. If you are dealing with a North Carolina child custody case, whether concerning a paternity or divorce case, you should be able to differentiate between myths and facts. Keep reading to learn about some of the most prevalent myths about child custody in North Carolina.

What Occurs in a North Carolina Child Custody Case?

Before discussing myths, you should understand what happens in a North Carolina child custody case. In NC, there are two types of custody. The first one is physical custody, and the other is legal custody. Physical custody concerns where the child lives, whereas legal custody concerns a parent's ability to make decisions for the child. In a North Carolina child custody case, certain factors are considered before final decisions can be made. Some of the factors courts consider before making decisions about child custody include;

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s specific needs
  • Caretaking ability of each parent
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The nature of each parent’s home environment

Generally, in NC, decisions about child custody are made based on what is in the child's best interest.

Common Myths About Child Custody in North Carolina, Debunked

Many myths exist about child custody in North Carolina. There are so many myths that it is impossible to debunk all in one article. That said, the following are some of the most prevalent myths regarding child custody in North Carolina.

Mothers Always Get Sole Child Custody

It is not true that mothers always get sole child custody. In NC, the deciding factor in a child custody case is not gender. The deciding factor in a North Carolina child custody case is what is in the child’s best interest.

Certain factors are considered when determining what is in a child's best interest. The court may lean towards a mother when awarding child custody if, after considering the relevant factors, it finds that doing so is what is in the child’s best interest. A judge will never award sole child custody to a mother primarily because of gender.

A Child Can Decide Which Parent Gets Custody

Indeed, the court can consider the child’s preference. If a child has sufficient understanding, maturity, and judgment to express a preference about which parent they want to live with, the judge will most likely ask them to share their wishes. However, a child cannot decide which parent to live with. When a child expresses their opinion, the court will consider that opinion along with other factors before making a decision.

You Have to Go to Court to Resolve a Child Custody Disagreement

If a disagreement arises regarding child custody, you can resolve it in court or outside court. Alternatives to going to court include mediation, informal negotiations, and arbitration. An informal negotiation is when parents meet and reach a custody agreement. Mediation is when a mediator helps parents reach a custody agreement. Lastly, arbitration, which is a more formal process, involves an arbitrator making the final decision.

Only Parents are Awarded Custody

North Carolina courts prioritize awarding custody to parents. However, in some cases, courts award custody to other family members or friends.

The following are some cases where a court may decide not to award custody of a child to a parent;

  • The parent has a serious problem with alcohol and drugs
  • The parent has neglected the child
  • The parent has abused the child
A Parent Cannot Withhold Visitation if the Other Parent Refuses to Make Child Support Payments

A parent is not allowed to withhold visitation if their child’s other parent refuses to pay child support. Withholding child support because a parent has refused to pay child support can result in the parent changing the custody arrangement in their favor. If your child's other parent fails to make child support payments, inform your attorney and let them guide you on how to proceed.

When Should You Modify Your Child Custody Agreement in North Carolina?

Even if your child custody agreement was rock-solid when you first wrote it, things can change over time. After all, a child’s needs and requirements can drastically evolve, especially when you consider the differences between an infant and a teen. If your agreement no longer seems to apply to certain issues or disputes, it may be time to modify the agreement. Your ex might agree with the need to modify the agreement, or they may feel that it should stay the same. Perhaps you want to keep your agreement unchanged while your ex is pushing for certain changes that you do not agree with. Whatever the case may be, you can benefit from the guidance of an experienced divorce lawyer if you are facing this situation.

Disputes Over Legal Custody

There is a major difference between legal custody and physical custody. While physical custody simply involves where the child lives, legal custody is much more complex. This type of custody involves the decision-making authority of each parent over major life changes that affect the child. The “default” is shared legal custody for divorced or separated parents in North Carolina. This means that each parent has equal decision-making authority over these major life choices. The end result is that each parent must consent to any and all major decisions that affect the child.

As you might expect, this can lead to serious disputes among parents. A recent example involves Covid-19. Many parents disagreed over how this healthcare decision should be handled. Some parents believed that their children should wear masks, while others felt that this was going too far. Some parents believed that their children should get vaccinated, while others believed that this healthcare decision was not necessary. If divorced parents disagreed on this matter, they may have taken their dispute to court. The family court would then rule and decide on a path that best serves the child’s interests.

During disputes such as these, the family court has several choices. Firstly, they can simply rule in favor of one parent, giving them total decision-making authority on this matter alone. All future choices would still require both parents to consent. Another option would be to modify the child custody agreement so that all future medical decisions would be made by one parent alone. Finally, they could give total legal custody to one parent – allowing them to make all major child-raising decisions from that point onward without consent from the other parent.

Healthcare is just one example of a potential source of dispute among parents. Other major choices may include:

  • Religion
  • Education
  • Dating
  • Permission to join the military
  • Name changes
Disputes Over Physical Custody

Parents may also disagree on physical custody. In this situation, the parent needs to show that circumstances have changed since the physical custody agreement was put in place. For example, they may show that the child is suffering from some kind of abuse or neglect while staying at their ex’s home. They may lack proper food, or they may be suffering from physical danger. In this situation, the concerned parent can take the matter to court, prove that their concerns are valid, and obtain sole physical custody of the child.

Disputes over physical custody may occur under a range of different circumstances, including:

  • Excessive geographical distances between parents’ homes
  • A parent’s inability to care for the child due to disability
  • A parent’s inability to care for the child due to mental health issues
  • A parent’s inability to care for the child due to substance abuse
  • Parental alienation
Working Things Out Without Going to Court

Generally speaking, it is best to work things out with your ex without going to court. Always try to communicate and adjust your child custody plan by compromising and serving everyone’s best interests. This will be much easier and cheaper than going to court.

Where Can I Find a Qualified Divorce Attorney in North Carolina?

If you are in need of a divorce attorney in North Carolina, look no further than Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We have helped many parents in the state resolve disputes with their exes over the years. We understand the importance of your child's upbringing and are here to help you modify your child custody agreement and fight for your rights as a parent. Remember, internet research can only take you so far. For the best results, schedule a consultation with us today. We will create an action plan tailored to your unique needs.

If you require an attorney to assist you with a child custody case, please get in touch with our family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC.