Understanding North Carolina Child Custody Law

North Carolina is one of many states that uses the Uniform Child Custody Act. This law provides the basic rules and regulations regarding child custody generally and how child custody is determined. If you are dealing with a child custody issue in North Carolina, knowing the basics about this law is a good place to start.

What are the Types of Child Custody?

Child custody in North Carolina involves several different types of custody. They often overlap and will vary depending on your unique situation.


  • Legal Custody – This type of custody gives you legal “power” regarding important decisions about the upbringing of your child. For example, the parent or parents with legal custody will be able to choose how the child will be educated, what religion the child may follow, and how medical decisions will be handled. This type of custody also deals with access to records and information about your child. A parent with sole or joint legal custody will be entitled to access all of the child’s important medical, educational, and other information and records.
  • Physical Custody – When most people consider custody, they think of physical custody first. Physical custody means how much time the child spends with each parent.
  • Joint Custody – When both parents share physical and/or legal custody. Joint physical custody means that the child spends overnights with both parents, though not necessarily in equal amounts. Joint legal custody means that both parents have the right to make major decisions and access important records about the child.
  • Sole Custody – Sole physical custody means that the child spends all of his/her overnights with just one parent. The other parent will often only have visitation rights. Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the authority to make major decisions for the child and/or to access important records about the child. It is possible to have sole physical custody (the child lives only with you), and joint legal custody. It’s also possible to have sole decision-making authority as to one type of issue (like education or religion, for example), but have to make joint decisions about all other major issues.

How is Custody Determined?

The court in North Carolina will ultimately decide where the child will live and what type of custody should be awarded to each parent. However, if the parents have come to an agreement regarding custody, the court will often take that into account.

If there is no agreement, then the court will award custody based on the “best interests of the child.” It will consider a number of factors to determine the best arrangement for the child. These factors may include:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The delegation of caretaking duties when the family was intact
  • Whether the parent can create or maintain a stable home for the child
  • The parent’s general ability to care for the child
  • History of domestic violence
  • Safety of the child
  • The child’s current living arrangement
  • The child’s preference (particularly if the child is over 12 years old)

Financial resources may also be considered. However, they are not determinative. For example, if the parent that makes more money frequently travels for days or weeks at a time for work, then it may not make sense to award primary physical custody to that parent. Custody decisions vary based on the unique situation of the parents.

Being awarded child custody often involves presenting information to the court that you are a fit and responsible parent that has the desire and resources to care for your child. Haas & Associates, P.A. can help you understand navigate the complexities of a child custody case. Call (919) 783-9669  today for more information.