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Child Custody


Child custody decisions are often the most important and difficult part of a divorce.  Because our divorce lawyers appreciate the value of family, we do our best to carefully guide clients through the process and help them maintain stability and continuity for their children each step of the way.  We view our role as an advocate for our clients in making those decisions to help them protect and further their children’s best interests. We are focused on gaining a complete understanding of a client’s unique situation and developing a reasonable plan to assist in the transition to a healthy, single-family home.  Success in our attorneys’ eyes includes seeing our clients and their children move forward as a family after a divorce.


“Emily Jeske helped me to settle my divorce case. She was responsive, prompt and courteous. She helped me to navigate a complicated process and advocated for what was in my children’s best interests. I found the front desk staff helpful and I could not have asked for a better experience with the divorce itself, all thanks to Emily (I ended up working with Emily after two other lawyers couldn’t help me) “
– Erin B.


Contact Smith Debnam Today

From our office in Raleigh, we serve clients throughout central North Carolina. To schedule a consultation with a Raleigh child custody attorney at our firm, call  919.250.2000.

How can I make sure my child’s emotional needs are being met through this process?

Children react differently to the transitions surrounding a divorce. It is common for them to feel abandoned or that the divorce is their fault. It is important to be aware of a child’s behavior during this time and to avoid placing the child in the middle of a dispute regarding the other parent. Aside from refraining from words or actions that would disparage the other parent to the child, it may be appropriate to seek the advice of a counselor or other professional to make sure the child’s emotional needs are being met through this process. An attorney or pediatrician should be able to recommend a good professional counselor or psychologist.

What kinds of custodial schedules are possible?

Any custodial schedule that will serve the child’s best interests can be considered. Traditionally, one parent may have had primary physical custody and the other parent may have had visitation with the child on alternating weekends. These traditional kinds of schedules still occur in a number of cases, but more equal custodian arrangements are not uncommon. In very few cases based on extreme facts, one parent may have physical custody of a child and the other parent may have supervised visitation or no visitation at all.

What are a parent’s rights regarding custody when there is no agreement or order in place?

Absent an order or agreement, the parents of a child generally have equal rights as to the custody of their child. It is ultimately better to have a written understanding about each parent’s rights to not only clarify expectations, but also to provide clear direction to the child’s schools and doctors.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Legal custody determines who makes the major decisions for the child. Major decisions include health, welfare, education and religion. Physical custody determines where the child resides and the custodial schedule between the two parents. In most cases, regardless of the physical custody agreement, parents have joint legal custody, meaning that making major decisions regarding the child is a shared responsibility.

What about grandparents’ rights?

Grandparents have limited rights regarding custody. In some circumstances, grandparents may intervene in pending custody actions to ask for visitation. In very limited cases, it may be appropriate for grandparents to ask for custody of their grandchild where the child’s parents have chosen, in some way, to ignore their right to parent, have delegated to a third party the right to parent the child or when the parents are determined by the court to be unfit.

Can a parent take his or her child out of the state?

Assuming there is no formal agreement or court order either allowing or prohibiting out-of-state travel or relocation, taking a child out of the state depends on the particular facts of the case. In some instances, taking a child out of the state with the intention of relocating that child may have a negative effect on a case. It is important that when issues of out-of-state travel or significant relocation within the same state arise, that a client consults with an attorney to discuss how to best handle those issues in the least problematic way.

What age can a child decide which parent to live with?

The law does not specify an age for a child to decide with which parent he or she wants to live. A child who is of a reasonable age and level of maturity may express his or her desires to the court, and the court may consider that child’s desires in reaching a decision about custody. However, the court is not bound by the child’s comments.

How is child custody determined?

Child custody can either be agreed upon by the parents, or a court can make a decision about child custody. When a court has to make a decision about child custody, it must decide all custody issues based on what is in the child’s best interests. In determining what custodial arrangement is in the child’s best interests, the court may consider who has been the primary caregiver of the child, what has been the previous custodial arrangement, and whether there are any special needs or extenuating circumstances surrounding the child or the family. These factors are just a few of the many criteria a court can consider in custody cases.

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