Mothers’ Rights in Custody Cases: What to Know When You’re Separating

There is much misinformation that circulates regarding the issue of child custody. If you’re here, you may have heard something about how only mothers have custody rights in North Carolina or that mothers are always awarded superior rights over the child’s father. To help dispel some of these myths, we have provided accurate information on this topic below. In North Carolina, both a mother and a father have equal rights to custody of a child until a judge orders otherwise or the parties have a written agreement. With that in mind, there are two types of custody: physical and legal.

Mother’s Rights: Physical vs Legal Custody

Physical custody is defined by where the children are and who they are with. It involves the children’s schedule in regards to school, weekends, holidays, and where they are at any given time. Legal custody, in contrast, involves the right to make major decisions about the child or children. This would include decisions about medical and mental health care, education, and any other life decisions concerning minor children when they are not able to make such decisions for themselves.

If parents can agree on custody issues, they can use a separation agreement or co-parenting order to dictate that they will share legal custody.  This applies even if the parents are not married. Most custody agreements involve joint legal custody, meaning decisions will be determined mutually in regards to school, non-emergency medical care, and extracurricular activities. When parents can’t come to a decision together, the court will rule in the child’s best interest instead.

Due to the nature of society and previous actions of the courts, there can be some confusion surrounding physical custody. Many people have the assumption that the mother is favored here. However, over the past several years, the courts have been progressive in awarding more 50/50 joint, physical custody time decisions. Both parents are entitled to have time with their children. Studies support that the more time children have with both parents, the greater the increase in the child’s self-esteem, school grades, and social growth. Automatically thinking that a mother will have sole custody is no longer the norm, and both mothers and fathers should work together to make sure their children feel loved by both parents regardless of what the custody schedule says.

Determining a Custody Schedule

Settlement and agreeing on child custody issues is always preferred but isn’t always possible. As such, when proposing a physical custody schedule, there are many factors to consider. The closer the parents live to each other, the easier a 50/50 split physical custody schedule will work. Many parents are agreeing to a week on, week off schedule, or an alternating 2-2-3 schedule. These scenarios work well if the parties live in the same school district/neighborhood and if the parents’ work schedules permit.

If a true 50/50 schedule will not work, there are ways that a parent can have more physical time with the children. A parent could transport the children to and from school daily to have some time with the children. The non-custodial parent could have dinner with the children a few nights a week.

It is important to have a good understanding of the children’s school calendar, noting holidays, teacher workdays, and breaks. School breaks and holidays can give each parent an opportunity to have quality time with the children.

An effective planning tool is for parents to utilize a family time app on their phones that can allow a school calendar to be uploaded so that the parents can easily see school time and plan accordingly. Extracurricular activities can be uploaded as well so that both parents can attend practices, games, and events.  Parents can also share time taking the children to the doctor or dentist.  Both parents should be involved with teacher meetings and school related activities.

Parents can agree to have a “right to babysit” type clause in their separation agreement. If the custodial parent needs a sitter, the other parent gets the right of first refusal so to speak to watch the child.

Parents should take advantage of technology as well. It is easy to face time or zoom with child. It might not be the same quality time as actually being in the same room or house, but it is becoming a popular method of communicating.

The court system is embracing more ways to increase a parent’s involvement in their children’s lives, parents should embrace those changes as well. Both parents should always be thinking about what is in the child’s best interests, just as the court will think.

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