Child custody and child support are some of the most contested issues in Gaston County separations and divorce. Parents have to worry about their child or children's well-being, support, and safety. However, one other parent may be using child custody and support as a tool to punish the other parent. An experienced North Carolina family law attorney can help you make sure your children are protected and provided for while defending your rights as a parent.
Child Custody in Gaston County
Ideally, child custody issues should be determined by the parents based on a mutually acceptable agreement. Parents who can work together should come up with their own agreement on custody, provide consistent scheduling for visitation, plan ahead for vacation time, communicate when changes may be necessary, and be flexible in the best interests of the child.
When the parents cannot come to an agreement, the court will generally order the parents to go through mediation. Mediation involves a third-party mediator who works with both parents to facilitate an agreement. Most custody and visitation mediations in North Carolina are successful and do not require further court action.
Unfortunately, one parent may not be willing to work together, requiring taking the case to court. This may involve interference by individuals other than the parents who are looking to punish the other parent, including family members or a new spouse or significant other.
Determining Child Custody in Gaston County
If parents cannot come to an agreement on child custody, the court will make a determination based on “what will best promote the interest and welfare of the child.” Factors in determining child custody in North Carolina may include:
- The child's current living situation;
- The physical, emotional, and psychological ability of each parent to care for the child;
- The child's relationship with each parent;
- The wishes of the child;
- School and community;
- Stable home environment;
- Possible parents' substance abuse;
- Other people who would be in the same household as the child; and
- Any other relevant factors.
Child Visitation and Vacation Schedules
Like child custody, child visitation and vacation schedules should be mutually determined by the parents. When coming up with a visitation schedule, considerations should include:
- The child's school and social schedule;
- After-school, recreational, and sports activities;
- The parents' work schedules;
- Age of the child;
- Distance and transportation between parents;
- Availability of relatives to care for the child; and
- Communication with the child while the child is with the other parent.
Again, if the parents cannot come to a mutual agreement on visitation, the court will order visitation based on the best interests of the child.
Modifying Child Custody and Visitation
A change in circumstances may require modifying child custody and visitation schedules. Ideally, parents will communicate any changes and come to an agreement on a new child custody and visitation schedule. Otherwise, the parents may have to petition the court for a modification in child custody orders.
Issues justifying a modification in child custody orders may include:
- Moving out of state or far away;
- Remarriage or moving in with a new partner;
- Serious health issues;
- Parent violating child custody or visitation orders;
- Alleged physical or emotional abuse; or
- Substance abuse by a parent.
Parent Violating Child Custody and Visitation Orders
Parents should unilaterally change the child custody schedule or deny visitation. If a parent has concerns about the safety or well-being of the child, the parent can seek an emergency order to modify custody. However, self-help in violating the existing child visitation orders may result in contempt of court charges, or even criminal charges.
North Carolina Child Custody Mediation and Visitation Program
Under North Carolina law, all cases involving contested child custody and visitation will go to the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program before the issues are heard in family court. Issues involving alimony and child support are generally not referred to mediation.
According to North Carolina General Statute § 50-13.1, the purposes of mediation in child custody disputes include:
- Reduce acrimony that exists between the parties to a dispute involving custody or visitation;
- Development of custody and visitation agreements that are in the child's best interest;
- Provide the parties with informed choices and give the parties the responsibility for making decisions about child custody and visitation;
- Provide a structured, confidential, nonadversarial setting that will facilitate the cooperative resolution of custody and visitation disputes and minimize stress and anxiety; and
- Reduce the relitigation of custody and visitation disputes.
Your Family Law Attorney During Mediation
During custody and visitation mediation, the attorneys are not the ones communicating with the mediator. Parents can consult with their attorneys before mediation and after mediation. However, under the local Gaston County court rules, in custody and mediation matters, the parties have the ultimate decision-making authority.
In general, you should talk to your lawyer before mediation to make sure you bring up important matters and are not leaving out important issues. After mediation, and before deciding whether to accept the agreement or not, you should also consult your attorney to make sure the agreement addresses all your concerns. Your attorney can then communicate whether the agreement is acceptable or you wish to return to mediation.
Gaston County Family Court
Most child custody and support hearings take place at the Gaston County Courthouse. The area Custody Mediation and Visitation Program is also scheduled through the family courthouse in Gastonia. The Gaston County Family Court is located at:
325 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Gastonia, NC 28052
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Friday: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Parking and Directions:
The Gaston County Courthouse has a parking lot just off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, north of Long Avenue in Gastonia. The parking lot has paid parking spaces for the public. There is generally free parking available one block north at West Walnut Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Child Support in North Carolina
Parents in North Carolina are obligated to provide financial support for their children. Even if the parents separate or one parent has limited contact with the child, both parents are still responsible for providing support.
When parents are separated or get a divorce, the non-custodial parent is generally ordered to pay child support to the parent who has primary physical custody. Child support may also be ordered for parents with a joint custody agreement.
Amount of Child Support
The amount of child support ordered is based on specific North Carolina child support guidelines. Factors in determining child support amounts include:
- Combined adjusted gross income of both parents,
- A child's individual mental, physical, and emotional condition,
- Past, present, and future expenses required for the raising of a child (including basic essentials like food, clothing, shelter, daycare, education, healthcare, and dental expenses),
- The child's accustomed standard of living prior to a divorce, split, or separation,
- Amount of time spent with each parent,
- The number of children both parents have, together or apart,
- Extraordinary expenses, including expenses for traveling between parents and special or private education, and
- The specific needs of a child.
Any payment of alimony is not deducted from gross income but may be considered as a factor in determining the child support obligation.
High-Income Child Support
When one or both parents have a high enough income, the child support amount will not be based on the standard child support schedule. When the combined adjusted gross income is more than about $360,000 per year, the court will set support in an amount to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, including consideration of the accustomed standard of living of the child.
Child Support Changes and Loss of Job
A major life change may result in a parent not being able to afford child support. This includes job loss, natural disaster, or major medical emergency. After being laid off or terminated, a parent can file a motion to modify child support. A modification to child support is generally not retroactive, so this should be done as soon as possible after a change in your financial situation.
A reduction in salary or small change in income is generally not enough to qualify for modification. A modification generally requires a situation that would change child support by 15% or more. Similarly, the other parent could request a modification based on a significant increase in salary.
Experienced Gaston County Child Support and Custody Lawyers
Child custody disputes can be complicated and a simple mistake can mean losing out on primary custody. A parent dealing with a separation or divorce can benefit from the experienced legal advice that the skilled attorneys at Caulder & Valentine have to offer. We are here to help you protect your parental rights and the well-being of your children. Contact us today for a consultation.