By Jim Warren
Some aspects of family law are fairly black-and-white, such as the formula used by North Carolina Child Support Enforcement to determine child support obligations, while in other areas, judges are granted wide discretion under statute to determine matters as they see fit. In a recent article, we outlined how the courts consider multiple factors when determining alimony awards.
Judges also have wide discretion in one of the most important—if not THE most important—aspects of a divorce case, child custody. The guiding principle of North Carolina statute for judges is the best interests of the child. The courts must consider all the relevant facts to determine custody and visitation. These can include, but are not limited to, past parental involvement, willingness to involve the other parent, support network, availability, attitudes, residence, physical and mental health, and willingness to put the children first.
Judges may also review evidence of the lifestyles of the parents and their respective friends and acquaintances to whom the child will be exposed. If a parent, upon separation, has entered “mid-life crisis” mode fueled by late nights and alcohol use, that parent may not be deemed as worthy a custodian as the parent who maintains a calm, quiet home where the child can grow peacefully. The polar star that guides the Court’s decision is not what is best for mom or dad, but what is best for the child.
There are also relocation considerations. Has one parent, upon separating, moved hours away? It may not make sense for the court to award any custody to the faraway parent—which would remove the child from safe, familiar people and surroundings.
Another concern, which we’ve written about in this space, is the custodial rights of grandparents. Most grandparents adore their grandchildren, and sometimes their access to their grandkids may be threatened by the acrimony between the separating spouses. As we’ve written, it’s important for the grandparents to formally protect this while a custody action is pending and before the judge issues a custody order.
Matters of child custody are some of the most sensitive areas we explore with our clients. You can rest assured that we will be a champion for your rights and interests, as you seek to protect the best interests of your children. Contact us at Warren Family Law to work for a better future for your family.