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Modifying a Custody Order in North Carolina

Custody and visitation orders in North Carolina are commonly amended when the terms no longer benefit the children and there has been a change in circumstances. Not every change will lead to a revised custody order, so understanding when a qualifying change has occurred can help you decide if it’s time to request an amendment to your order.

North Carolina Law on Amending Custody Orders

North Carolina General Statute § 50-13.7(a) states that a custody order can be modified at any point as long as the party making the amendment request can show a change of circumstances has occurred. Case law in the state takes this a step further by requiring that the change be substantial and that it affects the child’s welfare. Without these two elements, a request to change an existing custody order will not be granted.

What Changes Qualify as Substantial Changes?

The distinction between a change and a substantial change is important. In a recent court case, Durbin v. Durbin, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled on this issue.

The Durbin case involved a mother and father who had a history of disagreements and an inability to co-parent effectively. There were numerous issues raised in this case, including medication management, the father’s unwillingness to respond to messages, the children’s therapy, extracurricular activities, and the mother’s remarriage. The trial court determined that a substantial change in circumstances that negatively affected the children had occurred, and the custody order was changed, giving the father visitation every other weekend and granting the mother final decision-making authority, among other provisions. The father appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling, stating that there had been no substantial change in circumstances that impacted the children. The following key details were discussed:

  • Remarriage alone does not meet the criteria for a substantial change.
  • Everyday injuries and common illnesses do not meet the criteria for a substantial change, at which point the appeals court referenced another significant case, Smith v. Dressler.
  • Disagreements and conflict between the parenting coordinator and a parent are not evidence of a change that impacts the child.
  • The existence of ongoing conflict between parents does not mean the child is affected by that conflict.

Appointing a Parenting Coordinator in North Carolina

In the Durbin case, another area of focus was the fact that three parenting coaches had been appointed to help the parties navigate co-parenting. A court can appoint a parenting coordinator at any point in a child custody matter if either of the following conditions are met:

  • Both parties agree to appoint a parenting coordinator
  • The judge determines the case is high-conflict and a parenting coordinator is in the child’s best interests

There does not need to be a substantial change in circumstances for a parenting coordinator to become involved.

The coordinator must be chosen from an approved list, and they must accept the appointment. Any decision that the parenting coordinator makes within the scope of their authority is binding and enforceable in court. Their authority is generally restricted to the issues that will help the parents obey the custody order and the issues that are not addressed in the order. A parenting coordinator in North Carolina may have the authority to address:

  • Discipline methods
  • Healthcare and medication management
  • Exchange locations
  • Vacation and holiday time
  • Telephone contact
  • Alterations to the child’s appearance, such as haircuts
  • Bedtimes
  • Choices regarding the child’s diet or wardrobe
  • Extracurricular activities

If you and your co-parent are having trouble reaching an agreement on some issues that are not explicitly detailed in the custody order, a parenting coordinator can be a valuable resource. There are some situations, however, that warrant an amendment to a custody order, and a Greensboro family law attorney can help you decide what your next steps should be.