How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in North Carolina

In North Carolina, domestic violence may affect custody and visitation orders.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

The devastating effects of domestic violence on children, whether perpetrated against them or against a parent, have been well documented. When a couple divorces, the judge will carefully consider any acts of domestic violence in determining child custody and visitation.

An abusive parent may not necessarily be denied visitation with a child. However, a history of domestic violence can determine which parent receives primary custody. Moreover, in families where there is a history of domestic violence, an abusive parent may have significant limitations put on visitation rights. This article provides a general overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in North Carolina. If you have questions after reading this article, contact a North Carolina family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Child Custody Orders in North Carolina

In North Carolina, judges weigh several factors to determine what type of custody and living situation would best serve a child's physical and emotional needs. The goal of any custody case is to determine what type of physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who will have decision-making power on behalf of child) would provide the safest and most stable environment for the child. Although an abusive parent does not automatically lose custody rights in North Carolina, a parent's history of domestic violence may preclude that parent from receiving sole physical custody of his or her child. Read more about Child Custody in North Carolina.

Domestic Violence Basics

Domestic violence ranges from physical violence and sexual assault to emotional abuse and its resulting invisible wounds. In North Carolina, domestic violence is considered actual bodily injury, sexual assault, or threats to injure a person with whom the abuser has a personal relationship. For purposes of North Carolina's domestic violence law, a person with whom the victim has a personal relationship can include the following:

  • current or former spouse
  • current or former opposite sex partner
  • person who shares child with victim
  • grandparents
  • current or former household member, and
  • current or former boyfriend or girlfriend.

Seeking a Protective Order

Too many incidents of domestic violence go unreported, some with tragic consequences. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, seek help immediately through Legal Aid of North Carolina.

A protective order requires the abuser to stop the abuse, and to stay a certain distance away from you and places you frequent (such as your home or school). Protective order forms are available on the Legal Aid website and legal assistance may be available to those who qualify. If a judge determines that domestic violence has occurred in your case and there is a likelihood that domestic violence will occur in the future, your protective order will be granted.

Additional Domestic Violence Resources

If you or a child is a victim of domestic violence, help is available. The North Carolina Council for Women/Domestic Violence Coalition provides shelter information and resources for domestic violence victims. Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Justice maintains a program to keep the addresses of domestic violence victims confidential. For more information, call (919) 716-6785.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Orders in North Carolina

Although North Carolina law does not prohibit an abusive parent from visiting with his or her child, a parent's history of domestic violence will affect a custody decision. North Carolina law requires a judge to consider a parent's history of domestic violence in making a custody decision and to ensure that any custody order takes into account the safety of the children involved. In cases involving abuse, certain limitations may be placed on an abusive parent's custody rights to ensure a safe environment, including supervised visitation, and, in extreme circumstances, a termination of parental rights.

Supervised Visitation

Supervised visitation is visitation that takes place between a parent and child in the presence of an authorized adult or at an agency. Supervised visitation may be a temporary or permanent requirement as part of a custody order. However, often a supervised visitation requirement can be lifted if an abusive parent proves that normal visitation would serve the child's best interests and that abuse is not likely to occur in the future.

Termination of Parental Rights

Unlike supervised visitation, a termination of parental rights is a permanent decision by a judge that cannot be undone later on. However, a court will terminate rights only in the most extreme cases of abuse or neglect. Situations that may result in a termination of parental rights include:

  • chronic abuse of the child or sibling of the child
  • sexual abuse of any child
  • murder or attempted murder of a sibling of the child or other child residing in same home
  • murder or attempted murder of the child's other parent
  • felony assault resulting in serious bodily harm to the child or sibling of the child, or
  • felony assault resulting in serious bodily harm to the child's other parent.

Once a court terminates a parent's parental rights, the decision is permanent and that parent cannot have his or her rights reinstated, even with good behavior.

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