Brad H Ferguson Attorney at Law
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Brad H. Ferguson

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense | Family Law | Personal Injury Lawyer

Understanding Child Custody in North Carolina

Custody of children is a tender subject for everyone involved. It is often the most delicate part of a divorce or a separation of parents that elicit intense emotions. When we talk about this issue, it is vital to understand the different types of custody granted by a judge. Every state is different, but for our purposes, we will discuss child custody in North Carolina.

Before moving forward, it is important to remember that in the court’s eyes, the intention is to create order for the children based on the facts that have been presented.

Do I need a lawyer concerning child custody?

If you are going through a divorce or separation and can agree on how the two of you will co-parent your children, you are not required to get the court to order a custody agreement.

However, as stated, emotions run extremely high when it comes to children. If you feel that your rights are not being protected, you need to hire a lawyer.

Keep in mind that when your emotions are high, making decisions for your children can be difficult. Our advice is that you seek legal counsel to assist you in thinking about your family’s future.

What kind of lawyer do I need for child custody?

The practice areas that concern custody of children fall under Family Law. You can use search terms such as family law attorney or child custody lawyer.

North Carolina’s Different Types of Custody


Legal custody refers to the legal status that a parent has concerning making decisions for a child. Usually, these pertain to significant areas of a child’s life, such as religion, medical decisions, and education.


Physical custody is usually granted to the parent with whom the child resides. There is also Joint Physical Custody where children spend equal time with both parents.

An example of Joint Physical Custody would be an alternating weeks schedule. This is where the child lives with one parent one week and the other parent for the next week.


Joint custody applies when a parent is not granted physical custody. The other parent may be granted visitation, which can be as often as agreed upon between the parents and made official by the court. This type of custody may also be known as Joint Legal Custody, where the parties both have the legal right to decide for the child’s best interests. Most of the time, the decisions made are meant to be with both parties’ approval.


Sole custody refers to one party being granted both legal and physical custody of a child. The other party may be granted visitation but does not have legal custody to make any decisions concerning the minor.

Who can file for the custody of a child?

Either parent, whether married or not, may file a motion for the custody of a child. A step-parent who has legally adopted a child may also file for custody. And North Carolina also allows biological grandparents to file a motion for visitation rights in some circumstances.

How is child custody determined?

The court’s responsibility is to make a ruling that they feel is in the best interest of a child’s welfare. The determination is based on the facts presented in the case and will depend on factors such as:

  • The child’s current living situation
  • Can each parent provide a safe and stable environment for the minor child
  • The ability for each parent to care for their child
  • The child’s overall safety
  • Is there a history of domestic violence or drug/alcohol abuse
  • The relationship a child has with each parent
  • A child cannot make the decision on where to live, but their opinion can be heard by the court, and it can be used at their discretion to make the final judgment

I understand that child custody can be an emotionally charged process of divorce/separation. What has been provided here is an overview of how North Carolina handles child custody. So, if you have further questions or are seeking legal counsel concerning your child, please feel free to contact me here to discuss your situation further.  

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Legal Disclaimer: The information provided on this site does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship and is for general informational purposes only. Attorney Brad H. Ferguson has not been involved in any cases mentioned on this blog. Content provided does not constitute legal advice and may not represent the most up-to-date information. No reader of this site should act or refrain according to the information given without first seeking legal counsel in their jurisdiction. If you have a pressing legal matter that needs attention, please contact our office via phone to schedule a consultation at 828-452-1655.