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Parental Conflict in Custody Modifications in North Carolina

Custody decisions are largely based on the best interests of the children. This may sound like a simple decision-making process, but the variables involved are complex. Courts must consider the child’s physical and mental health, physical safety, and developmental needs. Moral standards are also relevant when deciding custody.

It is well-known that parental conflict can significantly impact a child’s mental health, as well as their physical safety in some scenarios, but how does such conflict impact changes to child custody in North Carolina?

Modification of Child Custody

In order to request a change in child custody in North Carolina, the requesting parent must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. There are myriad elements that can be qualified as a substantial change, including a relocation, a change in health, or a new job.

Child custody is often highly emotional, and conflict is common. Intense, long-lasting, or unresolved conflict can sometimes also be a factor in custody decisions because of the potential harm that such conflict can cause to children. Does parental disagreement always warrant a change in custody arrangements? No, in fact, there are strict parameters for when disagreements and arguments between parents should be considered relevant factors in custody modification cases.

In addition to the requirement that a modification be based on a substantial change in circumstances, it is also required that this change affect the children.

Durbin v. Durbin

Durbin v. Durbin is an appeals case that dealt with many legal issues, including parental conflict. The trial court ruled that a substantial change of circumstances had occurred in this case, but the appellate court disagreed and the decision was reversed.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals determined that an ongoing conflict between parents can constitute a change in circumstances even if such conflict has been present since the original custody order. However, it also stated that the existence of conflict on its own does not warrant a modification in custody, especially when the children are insulated from the parents’ conflict.

In Durbin v. Durbin, the children seemed to be relatively unaffected by the parental conflict even though neither parent seemed willing or able to reduce their disagreements. The children were attending therapy, and the eldest child’s therapist reported he was doing so well that he could lower the frequency of appointments.

The trial court’s ruling regarding the modification of custody was reversed by the appellate court because there was not a substantial change that impacted the children’s well-being.