Special Circumstances in North Carolina Child Custody

No two child custody cases are the same. Find information below on circumstances that may arise during your case.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

A history of crime or substance abuse will likely impact a parent's chance of receiving custody. The court may require therapy, classes or drug testing for them to earn custody.

In particular, courts rarely grant custody to a parent who has abused their child or the other parent.

If abuse allegations prove false, the parent who made them may face fines, legal repercussions and restrictions on legal custody. They may also face accusations of parental alienation (details below).

Except in extreme cases, parents with a history of crime, violence or substance abuse will receive at least some visitation, perhaps with supervision required (more below).

Experts advise hiring a lawyer to help you prove your parental fitness if your actions have been called into question. The complexities of these cases are much greater than in standard custody cases.

Supervised visitation

Supervised visitation is when a neutral third party observes a parent's visits with a child.

Judges order supervised visitation when a child would be at risk or afraid if left alone with a parent. In particular, a judge may order supervision if a parent has:

  • A history of abuse, especially if they abused the child or other parent
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Mental illness
  • A history of making kidnapping threats
  • A lack of relationship with the child

Many counties have supervised visitation facilities where trained supervisors monitor visits. Alternatively, the court may order a mental health professional, family friend or relative of either parent to monitor at-home visits.

Supervisors must observe the entirety of visits and maintain a safe environment. They have to understand basic child care and speak the same language as the parent and child.

Parental alienation

Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to distort their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation.

Your judge will likely order a custody evaluation if parental alienation is suspected or alleged. The evaluation will include interviews and psychological testing.

Parents who alienate can lose some or all of their visitation, as well as legal custody. Family members affected may be ordered to attend counseling.

If both parties engage in parental alienation, judges rarely assign joint legal custody, but usually award joint physical custody.

Consult with an attorney if your case involves accusations of parental alienation, as it is a serious and complex matter.

Foreign languages

Court business must be conducted in English.

You may request a free interpreter from the Office of Language Access Services. Languages include American Sign Language, Arabic, Cantonese, French, Haitian-Creole, Korean, Lao, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, among others.

Alternatively, you can hire a registered interpreter. Be aware that friends and family cannot interpret for you in the courtroom, though they can help you outside that room.

Military duty

Courts will not sign a permanent custody order while one party is deployed for military duty. The parents can agree on a temporary order or continue the custody process when the deployed parent returns.

If the family already has a permanent custody order, the military parent can choose an adult relative to take their parenting time. This requires court approval.

Deployed parents can communicate electronically with their children during their time away.

Addressing special situations in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But — the plan needs to follow a format the judge will understand and use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want. It's a sure way to get a plan that's tailored to your family and meets court standards for formatting and language.

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