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What is Legal Custody in North Carolina? Diehl v. Diehl, Hall v. Hall and Gentry v. Gentry

When the parents of minor children split up, they need to figure out how and if they will share custody of their children. North Carolina parents are free to agree upon any custody and visitation agreement they deem best for the family. If the parents decide on an agreement, they can do that without the need for a trial, if they get the approval of the court. However, if the parents cannot reach an agreement, a court decides the matter. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our seasoned North Carolina child custody attorneys have the skill, knowledge, and determination to handle your child custody case.

Under North Carolina law, there are two types of custody:  physical custody and legal custody. The parent with whom the child lives has physical custody of the child. The parent who has physical custody is responsible for the supervision and day-to-day physical care of the child. Legal custody pertains to the parent who has major decision-making powers over the child, specifically in the following ways:

  1. Regarding the child’s education, health care, and religion.
  2. Important matters regarding the child’s welfare and overall life.

It is possible for parents to have joint legal custody of a child but not joint physical custody. In rare cases, it might also be possible for parents to have joint physical custody, but only one parent would have sole legal custody. Custody arrangements are typically tailored to the circumstances of the parties involved.

North Carolina uses the “best interest of the child” standard to determine child custody arrangements. This standard gives judges broad discretion to examine any factor relevant to parenting, including but not limited to the child’s age, which parent took the most responsibility for caring for the child during the marriage, work schedules, each parent’s motives for having custody, each parent’s income and ability to provide, and each parent’s physical, emotional, and mental state.

In Diehl v. Diehl, the court held that legal custody refers to the right and responsibility of a parent to make decisions with important and long-term implications for a child’s best interest and welfare. In that case, a trial court’s custody order that awarded both parents “joint legal custody” while simultaneously granting the mother “primary decision-making authority” was reversed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals because the lower court’s custody order was not consistent with the phrase “joint legal custody.” According to Diehl, joint custody implies a sharing of responsibilities.

In Hall v. Hall, the court held that when a court finds that both parties are fit and proper to have custody, but the court finds that it is in the best interest of the child for one parent to have primary physical custody, as it did in the present case, such determinations will be upheld as long as they are supported by competent evidence.

In Gentry v. Gentry, the plaintiff filed a motion seeking primary custody of her children, claiming the defendant was unavailable much of the time. As a result, the plaintiff requested to drive her children to school and care for the youngest child. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant had an alcohol problem. The court granted the plaintiff’s request to drive the children to school, but it decided that keeping the custody arrangement 50/50 between the parents was in the “best interest of the children.” This was because, after reviewing the facts of the case, the court found a number of reasons to keep the joint custody arrangement. The defendant’s drinking did not cross the line between social drinking and alcohol abuse, both parents were very involved in the day-to-day affairs of their children, and neither parent tried to turn the children against the other parent.

Divorce is a long and difficult process, but it can be made easier with the right lawyer on your side. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our diligent child custody attorneys can help you understand your rights and options under North Carolina law. For more information, do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 336-272-9122.

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