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If a child’s parents divorce, they may prefer to live with one parent over the other. In North Carolina, children can tell a court their wishes about which parent should have custody. However, courts must act in the child’s best interest, even if that interest goes against the child’s wishes. In this post, we’ll explain how North Carolina’s custody laws and doctrines apply when children express a parental preference.
In order to explain how the court will handle a child’s wishes, we should first explain basic child custody laws, such as Chapter 50-13.2 of North Carolina’s General Statutes. Section (a) states that custody orders from state judges must “best promote the interest and welfare of the child.” Though the law explicitly states that keeping the child safe from domestic violence is to be a factor in making the decision, courts could also examine a variety of other factors, such as:
Whether the parents negotiate a custody agreement or a judge issues a custody order, the court will always have the final say on which parent children live with after a divorce. Just as judges must consider the child’s best interest, so should each parent.
Before custody issues go to court, parents often need to enter into mediation. Mediation consists of negotiations between the parties that a neutral mediator oversees. The goal of mediation is for the parents to draft and sign a custody agreement that synthesizes their mutual preferences with the child’s best interest.
If a child feels strongly about living with one parent over the other, they may make their preference directly known to the parent. While the parent could theoretically use their child’s preference as leverage in negotiations, they must focus on the objective best interest of the child. Negotiations could lead to a joint custody agreement, or if negotiations are not successful, either parent may ask the court to settle the dispute.
When the parents ask the court to make a determination regarding custody, a child may have the opportunity to express their preference as part of a custody hearing. A judge may consider the child’s preference under certain conditions. Some factors judges might use to determine how much weight to give a child’s wishes include:
In any case, a child can only choose which parent they want to live with if their preferences happen to be in sync with their best interest.
The Raleigh child custody attorneys of Marshall & Taylor PLLC, we offer parents faced with child custody matters firm, compassionate representation in a supportive environment. We are ready to answer any questions you may have about the process of custody determination. We understand the exponential stress that custody issues can place on those facing divorce. Let us fight for a fair custody agreement that supports you and your children.
Contact our office today at (919) 833-1040 for an initial consultation and to learn more about our legal services. Don’t go through this difficult period alone. We can help.