Settling Child Custody and Visitation in NC: 4 Steps

Legal professionals consider settling the best way to resolve most custody cases. Settling means parents reach an agreement and file it with the court to make it a permanent order.

By settling, you keep the decision-making in your hands and tensions low. Plus, your case is likely to resolve faster, meaning reduced court costs.

Parents can settle at any point during the court process, including when opening a case.

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North Carolina encourages settling by making parents attend mediation before they resort to trial. Other alternative dispute resolution methods, like collaborative law or early neutral evaluation, can also help parents reach a consensus.

After negotiating an agreement with the other parent, follow the steps below to settle. If you hire an attorney, he or she will guide you through the steps and file paperwork on your behalf.

Step 1: Draft a parenting plan

First, you need to write up your agreement in parenting plan form. Usually, the plan you'll use is called a consent order. However, if you reached an agreement through mediation, the mediator will write you a slightly different plan, called a parenting agreement.

Plans can use any format — including the Custody X Change template — as long as they include required information, like who will have legal and physical custody of the child.

Step 2: File your paperwork

If you haven't yet, give the court clerk the paperwork to open your case.

Then, if you're using a parenting agreement, skip to Step 4. Your mediator will file the agreement for you.

If you're using a consent order, hand it to the clerk now and ask them to schedule you a settlement hearing. Verify whether the clerk will notify the other parent of the date. If not, you'll need to notify them yourself using the Notice of Hearing form.

Step 3: Attend your settlement hearing

Bring three copies of the consent order to your settlement hearing. Both parents must attend. If you're divorcing, your hearing will be at least 30 days after serving the initial papers.

Unless the order would jeopardize the child's best interests, the judge will sign off and hand it back to you. Then you can move to Step 4.

When a judge doesn't sign, domestic abuse or drug use are often to blame. These cases continue through the litigation process until the parents reach an acceptable agreement or go to trial.

Step 4: Finalize your permanent order

Now, head back to the court clerk.

If you had a settlement hearing, give the clerk your judge-approved documents. The court will keep the originals, and each parent will receive copies stamped as "filed."

If you settled using a parenting agreement, the clerk will hand you your judge-approved documents.

Either way, your parenting plan is now a permanent order. Keep it in a safe place.

If ever you want to modify the order, you can repeat the above process to submit a change to the court. If you and the other parent don't agree on the modification, you can try a method of alternative dispute resolution or ask the court to make a decision.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive permanent orders. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

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