North Carolina Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in North Carolina and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for North Carolina courts.
In North Carolina, you can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
Knowing what the law allows and abiding by it will help you create a parenting plan / custody agreement that will serve the needs and best interests of your child as he or she grows to adulthood, and will improve your chances of a successful outcome in your case.
The North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Divorce and Alimony, contains some of the laws pertaining to child custody and visitation.
Case law, court rules, and the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act) all serve as stewards of family law in North Carolina.
The legislation details court procedures, methods for determining child custody, and allows parents to create their own parenting plan to submit to the court.
When creating a parenting plan in the State of North Carolina, having an understanding of the law and the expectations and requirements of the court is critical.
The North Carolina General Statutes provides parents in a child custody proceeding the means to jointly submit a parenting plan (or custody agreement) to the court and will accept and approve your plan as long as it is in the best interest of the child.
Some parents are able to reach an agreement entirely on their own, and are encouraged to do so.
The court may reject the parenting plan despite the fact the parents agree to it, if the court finds good cause to do so, but it is usually accepted as long as it protects the best interests of and meets the needs of the child.
Many parents in find themselves in this situation and when parents are having a hard time reaching an agreement, they may volunteer for or may be ordered to attend mediation to develop their parenting plan (G.S. § 50‑13.1.b).
The mediator acts as a neutral party and will help you create a parenting plan that you mutually agree upon.
Once you reach an agreement and the parenting plan is submitted to the court, it shall be incorporated into the court order and become an enforceable order of the court (G.S. § 50‑13.1.g).
The most important factor the court considers in all North Carolina child custody cases is the health, well-being, and the best interest of the child and the court considers the following factors when determining the best interest of the child:
- The expressed wishes of the parents as to custody
- The health of the parents and the child
- If the child has special needs, the court considers which parent is better equipped to meet those needs
- The home environments of each parent
- Whether or not each parent is able to provide the child a safe, loving, nurturing home
- Whether or not each parent is able to continue the child's education
- Whether or not each parent is able to provide basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter) for the child
- The child's history of care
- The established relationships with each parent, any siblings, and any other people of importance in the child's life
- The child's home, school, and community and what effect disrupting the continuity of these would have on the child
- Any history of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or any other behavior of a parent that would prove to be harmful to the child
- Any negative behavior of a parent that does not have an effect on the child is usually excluded from consideration
- Whether or not there is any evidence of substance or alcohol abuse
- Any factors the court finds to be relevant
Your North Carolina parenting plan / custody agreement may contain as many details and stipulations as you would like.
There are some basic components your parenting plan should contain, and at a minimum, it should include:
- The child's name, birth date, and gender.
- A statement designating physical and legal custody to either or both parents.
- A statement defining the (important) decision making authority of each parent.
- A designation as to the child's primary residence, for school and legal purposes.
- A child visitation schedule that includes a regular residential schedule, a holiday schedule, and a vacation schedule.
- A method for making changes to the plan as the child's needs or circumstances change in the future.
- A method for dispute resolution should conflicts arise in the future.
- Any relevant items you would like to include, such as transportation arrangements, attendance at parent/teacher conferences and extra-curricular activities, and elective medical care, such as orthodontics, etc.
If you are extremely hostile toward each other and are unable to reach an agreement, even through mediation, the court will most likely appoint a parenting coordinator to assist you.
A parenting coordinator is often ordered in high-conflict cases, and you and the other parent would be responsible for paying the fees of the coordinator, as long as you are able to (G.S. § 50‑91).
If the attempts of the parenting coordinator fail and a parenting plan is still not agreed upon, the parenting coordinator will decide the custody arrangements for you (G.S. § 50‑92).
It is always better to do whatever it takes to work together and design your own parenting plan. As parents, you know your child better than anyone else, including the judge, and are the best equipped to make such decisions.
The law provides specific information regarding electronic communication between the child and each parent (G.S. § 50‑13.2).
Electronic communication is contact, other than face-to-face contact, that is facilitated by electronic means. This could be through telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, video teleconferencing, wired or wireless technologies by Internet, etc.
You may include provisions for electronic communication in your agreement or the court may make an order to provide for visitation rights by electronic communication.
When making an order for electronic communication, the court will:
- Consider if electronic communication is in the best interest of the child
- Consider if the equipment is available, accessible and affordable to the parents
- Consider any other factor that is relevant to electronic communication
- Set guidelines including the hours the communication may be made
- Allocate the costs of implementing electronic communication
- Set guidelines regarding the furnishing of access information between parents that is necessary to facilitate electronic communication
If you want to include information about electronic communication in your agreement, you need to be aware that while electronic communication can be used to supplement visitation it may not be used as a replacement or substitution for custody or visitation.
Also, the amount of time spent accessing electronic communication does not impact child support.
The top twenty cities in North Carolina (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Cary, High Point, Wilmington, Greenville, Jacksonville, Asheville, Gastonia, Concord, Rocky Mount, Chapel Hill, Burlington, Wilson, Huntersville, Kannapolis.