Like other things, divorcing couples in North Carolina and elsewhere often disagree on custody of their shared children. As such, this is a sticking point for many people as they navigate legally ending their marriages. In order to help them prepare and know what to expect, it is important for parents to understand how child custody is determined in North Carolina.

According to FindLaw, legal custody involves the right to make important decisions regarding a child’s care and upbringing. For example, this includes making choices about a child’s religious instruction, education, and medical treatment and care. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to with which parent the child primarily resides. In some cases, parents may share the responsibilities of legal or physical custody and have what is known as joint custody. In other cases, the primary responsibility may fall to only one parent or the other, in a situation known as sole custody.

In deciding child custody orders, family law courts make determinations based on what they deem to be in the best interests of the child. According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch, family law courts consider factors that may affect a child’s welfare in determining child custody cases. These factors include the following:

  • Each parent’s living arrangements
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child
  • The existing parent-child relationships

While the court places some import on fairness to the parents, the primary consideration is the well-being of the child. When children have sufficient maturity and judgment, the court may also consider their preferences in making child custody determinations.