Child custody is an important issue in any divorce case involving children. Although the circumstances of each case are unique, courts are always bound by the central consideration of the best interests of the child.
The best interests of the child is a general term referring to a constellation of factors related to interest and welfare of the child. North Carolina state law states that courts are to consider all relevant factors when determining which custody arrangement is in a child's best interests. These factors include those having to do with the parents themselves, the parents in their relationship to the child, the child's needs, and the practicalities of any given child custody arrangement.
Courts have broad discretion when weighing and applying the various factors in a child custody case, though some factors are naturally of greater concern than others. Of particular concern for courts are factors affecting the safety of the child, which can be called into question by a history of domestic violence and abuse, as well as a parent's lifestyle and the company the parent keeps when the child is around.
Even though courts have great discretion is making child custody determinations, they do not have absolute discretion. Judges are required to fairly and impartially consider the evidence and to make their decision with the child's interests in mind rather than out of favoritism of a parent or a desire to deprive the other parent of time with the child.
In our next post, we'll look at a couple additional points of North Carolina law that relate to this last point and the role an experienced advocate can play in advocating for a parent in the context of child custody disputes.