In Brief: Child Custody in North Carolina


A mother with her children

Custody is determined based on whatever a judge feels is in the child(ren)’s best interest. In most cases, if neither parent is a danger to the child(ren), the parents will share responsibility for making major decisions in the child’s life. Then, the child will primarily live with one or both parents depending on which parent(s) are competent caretakers.

Legal Custody

“Legal custody” refers to a parent’s right to be involved in major decisions about the child(ren)’s upbringing. The court starts from an assumption that pure joint legal custody is in the child’s best interest. Then, the judge will modify it only to the extent that special circumstances warrant a different arrangement.

Physical Custody

“Physical custody” refers to which parent(s) the child(ren) live with and spend time with. To determine what’s in the child’s best interest, the court will compare one parent to the other to determine which (or both) are suitable caretakers.

Before Court

If there is no agreement or court order regarding custody, then either parent can do as they please. For example, both parents are within their rights to keep the child(ren) and not allow the other parent to visit. However, if you file a lawsuit, the court will usually make a temporary decision promptly.

More Information

This post offers a brief summary of custody law. For a more detailed explanation, download our guide to children in a divorce. For more information about negotiating divorce terms like child custody, visit our negotiations page. Attorney David King can be reached at If you have questions or complications to discuss, please schedule a consultation.