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How does the family law court system determine child custody?

Most parents in North Carolina would agree that keeping their children healthy, happy and safe is the family's top priority. This is just as true in divorce as it is in marriage, if not more so. Despite this priority, parents often disagree during divorce proceedings and child custody is a common area of conflict. Each parent believes he or she is best suited to retain custody and before they know it, a dispute has arisen requiring the intervention of the court.

When parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding the custody of their child, family law courts in North Carolina may make the decision instead. However, this is more of a last resort than the first option. The courts encourage parents to try alternative dispute resolution first by using arbitration or mediation to reach an agreement. If these alternatives fail or the parents do not want alternative dispute resolution, a court may step in. However, in most cases, parents will be required to attend to mediation first.

If in the end, the court must decide, a judge will take many factors into account but the primary focus always remains on the best interests of the child. Family law judges are usually willing to consider parental wishes when making these important decisions as long as these wishes support the child's best interests.

In a best-case-scenario, you and your spouse are able to reach a custody agreement outside of the court. Having said that, it is important to remember that child custody can be particularly contentious. You can prepare yourself for the risk of conflict by seeking specific advice about your case from an experienced lawyer.

Source: North Carolina Bar Association, "Child Custody/ Visitation and Child Support," accessed March 11, 2016

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