When Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live with in North Carolina

There are many urban myths in family law, and whether a child can choose which parent to live with is one of the most persistent matters in a divorce.

A child’s best interests are the primary focus of North Carolina family law and there is no specific age for a child’s right to choose. As a result, it is not accurate to say that when a child reaches 12 years old they will have the right to choose which parent to live with. North Carolina custody law accounts for a child’s opinion no matter the age.

Split Custody Schedules

Most divorces have children spending split time with each of their parents. With some creativity, there are many ways to create a schedule that maximizes quality time with each parent. Often, what works when a child is in elementary school may not work in middle school or high school.

The biggest issues cited when a child expresses that they would prefer to spend more time with a particular parent involve access to electronics, cars, supervision of homework, and extracurricular activities (sports). One parent may place more weight on homework and grades, while the other parent may feel that sports and extracurriculars are more important. There isn’t any right or wrong approach and ultimately depends on the needs of the child.

Custody Schedules for Children Above The Age of 16

By the time a child begins to drive, visitation schedules often go by the wayside. The teen can spend time with either parent or instead use that time for personal relationships. Both parents usually experience a loss of control of their child’s schedule and unequal time with each parent could occur. Parents should practice the best possible communication with each other, keeping the child’s best interests top of mind.

Parents may not always agree with each other over punishments for broken rules in one or the other household. If both parents cannot agree on a single approach, each household should be consistent in what is or is not acceptable behavior, and what are appropriate punishments.

There are always cases in which your child may begin to go down paths that might lead to harm. Drugs, sex, and risky behavior are best addressed with a unified front from both households. However, filing a lawsuit is not always the best way to address these issues. It isn’t always possible for both parents to agree on a course of action.

We Can Help

Divorce matters are important and often require the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to ensure that the needs of the children and parents are properly considered. If you need legal assistance, contact Lundell Law Firm for more information and to discuss a strategy for pursuing your divorce or child custody matter. You can reach an attorney by calling (704) 288-4096, or by completing our contact form. We offer flexible payments without compromising our level of service.

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Court Backlogs & Delays Impacting Child Custody Outcomes in North Carolina

Most states, including North Carolina, have adopted the Best Interest of a Child standard to determine all issues affecting children including child custody, parenting plans, visitation, child support and decision-making.   However, one factor missing from the court’s analysis is the overall impact of the court’s already crowded court docket or calendar.

The Cause of Crowded Court Dockets

In many jurisdictions, courts experience a backlog that prevents a child custody case from reaching the court in a reasonable amount of time.  Some courts have witnessed a three-year trend in growing backlogs that have resulted in countless families waiting over a year for their day in court to determine a parenting or custody plan that is in the child’s best interest.

In some states, delays stem from a requirement that a family undergo an evaluation if anyone in the household has a criminal record.  Other jurisdictions lack judicial resources and some judges lack experience in handling domestic relations or family law cases.  Many jurisdictions divide judges between criminal, domestic relations and civil litigation dockets.  While the multi-discipline approach allows a breadth of knowledge and expertise among the members of the bench it also appears to limit the ability of the court to handle an increased number of cases in a specific practice area.

No Real Signs of Relief Ahead

Regardless of the reason for growing delays in family law matters, especially contested custody battles, we don’t see any encouraging signs for improvement.  Many jurisdictions have experienced an increase in the number of cases filed due to a slightly improving economy and lower rate of unemployment (i.e. folks can now afford to retain the lawyer to handle the divorce).  The opposite is also true; pro se filings are on the rise, which lead to the court’s ongoing struggle with an increase in improper filings and an increase in contested hearings to resolve matters that could have been avoided by skilled negotiation and settlement.  In a band aid style solution, one jurisdiction outside North Carolina simply reassigned three judges to family courts to hear custody cases.  Of course, the real impact of the temporary fix is yet to be felt as other practice areas may be neglected or pushed off on other judges.

Crowded Dockets Lead to Other Issues

While courts continue to experience backlogs that impact the ability to conduct timely hearings to determine which parenting plan or orders best satisfy the best interests of a child, another danger may be created by rushing cases through the domestic relations gauntlet.  Pushing a case through to a hearing may be detrimental to both parties.  This is because it robs the parties of valuable opportunities to iron out a parenting plan that is in a child’s best interest.  The full court press to push the case through the system actually results in clogging the system more.  The court ends up taking its already limited resources to hear a case that could have resolved amicably (not only is it less expensive for the clients to work through a parenting plan with the help of their attorneys, the couple is more likely to follow a parenting plan that they help craft).  Further, the court is more likely to conduct a modification hearing in the future because the parties do not like the parenting plan ordered by the court.

Mandatory Mediation in North Carolina Child Custody Cases

With some exceptions, parties in North Carolina cases involving a contested issue of child custody or visitation are required to attend mediation prior to a hearing in their matter.  N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.1(b).  While mediating these issues sometimes resolves the case in a timely manner, the unresolved cases lose valuable time being scheduled on the crowded dockets discussed above.

How Long Will It Take for My Case to be Heard?

At the time of this post, at least one county where we practice is scheduling hearings on child custody some seven months from the date of the request.  Practically speaking, this means that it may be at least eight to nine months from the date of filing an action for custody until the parties have an opportunity to be heard by a judge.  This is because the case may not be placed on a court calendar until an opposing party has an opportunity to respond, and the parties have  attended an unsuccessful mediation.  For these reasons, it is increasingly desirable to attempt resolving child custody issues with the help of experienced attorneys and mediators, rather than waiting for a court to decide a case.

Contact an experienced North Carolina Family Lawyer at Lundell Law Firm for more information and to discuss a strategy for pursuing your child custody matter.  You can reach an attorney by calling (704) 288-4096, or completing the contact form on this website.  We offer flexible payments without compromising our level of service!

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