Child custody cases are one of the most emotionally difficult experiences a parent may encounter. It is always best for parents to try to resolve their differences by way of a parenting agreement. When parents cannot agree, however, the courthouse is usually the next step. If you have never experienced family court in North Carolina, the prospect can be overwhelming, even frightening. What should you do to prepare for your child custody case?
First, understand that once a lawsuit is filed, the parents will be ordered to participate in mediation. Custody mediation is a statutory requirement in North Carolina, although in certain limited cases it can be waived. The goal of mediation is to try to resolve the child custody case by encouraging parents to enter into a parenting agreement. Courts provide these mediation services free of charge, although parents can always decide later to pay for their own private mediation. If the parents cannot resolve their differences in mediation, a judge will decide the issues.
To adequately prepare for court, consider the standard set out in the North Carolina General Statutes. N.C.G.S. § 50-13.2 requires a judge to determine what is in the “best interest” of the child. What exactly is the best interest will vary from one child custody case to another. This means that courts will rely heavily on the facts in your particular case. Your goal will be to demonstrate to the judge why those facts support your request for primary, joint, or other custody arrangements.
If the other parent has done something which calls his or her parental fitness into question, make note of this. Be sure to include relevant information such as dates, times, places, and other details of the incident. Often, a parent will exhibit an extensive pattern of misconduct, so a timeline could be helpful. But this tactic is not only useful in demonstrating the other parent’s shortfalls. You will also want the judge to know about things you’ve done which shows you to be a fit parent.
Some of the best documents to advocate your position to the judge are:
- Text messages
- School records
- Medical records
- Other documents
You may believe, for instance, that the other parent is neglecting the child’s academic needs. Report cards showing the child’s poor school performance while in the care of the other parent would bolster this. Another common issue that can be addressed is that of visitation. A parent may go to court and demand more time with the child. However, you may have emails or text messages from the parent in which he declined requests to visit the child. There are many facets of your child custody case where documented evidence is your strongest argument.
In many cases, there are witnesses – family members, friends, and others – who can support you. A good witness will be one who has firsthand knowledge of your positive behavior or the other parent’s negative behavior. Make a list of individuals who could testify in your child custody case. Write down their names, contact information, and what knowledge they may have. Talk with them about your case and their willingness to testify in court.
CONTACT A WILMINGTON CHILD CUSTODY LAWYER
Once your child custody case gets to court, you should be prepared for the long haul. It may be weeks or months before you are in front of a judge. The other parent may be hostile in court or denigrate your character. On the other hand, a settlement is always possible at any stage of litigation. Regardless, you will need an effective ally who is familiar with the family court system.