When you and your partner decide to divorce or separate, you may wish to keep the process as uncomplicated as possible. To do this, you may wish to forgo the custody battle and maintain your own unofficial custody agreement. According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch’s information page regarding child custody, you are free to operate without a court-ordered custody schedule. However, you may want to reconsider your decision to not legalize your custody schedule, and the Judicial Branch explains why.

When an official custody order does not exist, both legal parents have equal physical and legal rights to the child. “Legal parents” are those whom your child’s birth certificate lists as the mother and father. The courts will also recognize a child support order, adoption order or affidavit of parentage as proof of legal parentage. That said, there is no way to enforce those legal rights should your child’s other parent decide to withhold them from you for whatever reason. To prevent any disruption in parenting time, most parents elect to get a custody order.

If you are a non-parent who wishes to retain custodial and legal rights to your child, you also do not need a custody order so long as you and your former partner agree that your child will live with you and you will care for him or her. However, if you wish to make any medical, schooling or other major decisions on behalf of your child, you may have to present a legal custody order. Additionally, if your child’s other parent decides to withhold custody from you, you have few, if any, options to enforce visitation.

This article is meant to inform. It is not meant to serve as legal advice.