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North Carolina Child Custody Process

When a romantic relationship ends, those involved have important decisions to make. Perhaps no issue is more emotionally charged or difficult than deciding custody of children born during the relationship. Many factors determine how each state settles child custody disputes, and this article provides a brief overview of North Carolina's child custody process.

North Carolina's Child Custody Process

Though North Carolina has adopted federal statutes to standardize child custody cases, it has also enacted state-specific laws for determining child custody when out-of-court, voluntary agreements between parents are not possible.

Any party claiming child custody rights may file a court action. However, rather than hearing arguments, North Carolina courts will first schedule the custody issue for mediation (unless there is a reason to waive it). Causes for a waiver may include:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse allegations;
  • Domestic violence; or
  • Undue hardship on either party.

If the parties can reach an agreement through mandatory mediation, the court will usually adopt it as an order. If mediation doesn't result in an agreement, courts will make the determination themselves.

North Carolina Child Custody Awards

Courts fashion custody awards promoting the welfare and best interest of the child at issue. Any custody order must include written findings of fact to show the court's consideration of each factor in support of its determination.

North Carolina doesn't presume to favor either parent in child custody cases. Additionally, a court may award joint custody, sole custody, or custody to two or more persons if it serves the interest and welfare of the child. Courts also set visitation rights at the time of the award.

North Carolina Child Custody Process Laws at a Glance

Seeing a law's original statutory form can be helpful. However, understanding the meaning of a law is often easier when it's explained in plain English. This chart provides you with an overview of the child custody process in North Carolina.


North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS):

General Child Custody Determination Process

Any party claiming custody rights to a minor child can file an action for custody. When custody is contested, courts will order mediation to resolve custody issues absent good cause. Either party may move to dismiss mediation on prejudicial grounds such as a mediator's conflict of interest or bias.

Courts will adopt mediated agreements as enforceable orders unless there is good reason not to do so. When mediation doesn't produce an agreement, courts will award custody that promotes the child's welfare and best interests.

Good Cause for Waiving Mandatory Mediation

Courts may waive mandatory mediation when they find (or a party shows) that good cause exists. Good cause may include:

  • Undue hardship;
  • Parties' agreement for voluntary mediation;
  • Child abuse or neglect allegations;
  • Allegations of alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, or emotional/psychological problems; or
  • Parties residing over 50 miles from the court.

Related Statutes

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

North Carolina Child Custody Process: Related Resources

Get Legal Help with the North Carolina Child Custody Process

Resolving child custody can be emotionally and legally challenging, but it's critical to follow the process correctly. To get legal assistance with your child custody situation or learn about the process, speak with an experienced North Carolina child custody attorney.

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