In North Carolina, couples going through a divorce can seek shared physical and legal custody of a child. Unfortunately, many parents are unable to come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation, as a result of which, a court is forced to step in and award primary physical custody to one of the parties. In making this decision, a court will determine what it believes is in the best interest of the child, which includes an analysis of which parent was the child’s primary caretaker.

Best Interest of the Child

Courts are required to make custody decisions based on what would be in the best interest of each child. To determine what custody arrangement would be in a child’s best interest, courts look at a series of factors, including:

  • Each parent’s physical and mental health;
  • Each parent’s work schedule;
  • The child’s wishes if he or she is old enough to make an informed decision;
  • The need for continuation of a stable home environment;
  • The age, gender, and maturity of the child;
  • Each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other;
  • Whether there is evidence of domestic violence or drug abuse;
  • Whether a child would have to relocate or change schools;
  • The parenting skills of each parent;
  • Which parent is most equipped to financially and emotionally support the child;
  • The opportunity for interaction with the child’s extended family; and
  • Which parent acted as a child’s primary caretaker.

While all of these factors play an important role in a custody determination, courts place a special significance on who filled the role of the primary caretaker during the child’s life.

Identifying a Primary Caretaker

When attempting to determine which parent was a child’s primary caretaker, courts tend to focus on who performed the bulk of the tasks related to the child’s care, including:

  • Meal planning and preparation;
  • Doing laundry;
  • Shopping for clothing, groceries, and other necessities;
  • Making health care arrangements;
  • Helping with homework and teaching reading, writing, and math;
  • Supporting participation in extracurricular activities;
  • Meeting with teachers; and
  • Caring for the child when he or she was ill.

Although a child’s primary caretaker will not always be granted custody, this factor has played an ever more prominent role in court decision making. This is partly in response to mounting evidence demonstrating that the emotional bond that a child forms with a caretaker are often instrumental in his or her continuing development.

How an Experienced Child Custody Attorney Can Help

If you live in North Carolina and are unable to reach a custody agreement with your ex-spouse or partner, please contact us at (336) 882-4300 to schedule a consultation with a dedicated family law attorney who will protect the interests of both you and your child.