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How Do Courts Decide What’s in a Child’s Best Interests?

When courts issue a child custody order, they must consider which services and parenting arrangement best serve the child’s unique needs. This isn’t a simple, cut-and-dry process. Because custody decisions can profoundly affect a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, courts weigh a variety of factors and might even call in specially trained experts.

In this blog, the child custody attorneys at Myers Law Firm will outline some of the factors that go into determining what is in the child’s best interests in North Carolina.

What Is the Definition of the “Best Interests of the Child?”

North Carolina’s courts must always focus on the child’s best interests when making child custody decisions. That means that the judge’s top priority should be the minor child’s health, welfare, and safety. This doesn’t just cover their physical wellbeing—it also involves their mental health, emotional needs, and intellectual development.

While there’s no universal definition of “best interests of the child,” there are certain factors that courts consider when deciding what types of actions, services, orders, and decisions will preserve a child’s emotional wellbeing during a divorce. By considering factors that impact a child’s circumstance and a parent or guardian’s ability to care for them, courts, judges, attorneys, and parents aim to reach an agreement that puts the child’s safety and wellbeing first.

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What Do Courts Consider When Deciding a Child’s Best Interests?

When determining a child’s best interests, the court will consider multiple factors. Some of these factors carry more weight than others, but the goal is to reduce stress on the child, avoid needless litigation, and make sure they’re in the best possible home arrangement.

Here are a few of the elements a court may consider:

Reducing Stress and Prioritizing Emotional Bonds

Divorce is never easy. In North Carolina, the priority is making sure any children involved endure the least amount of stress possible. This means staying with the parent or guardian with whom the child has the strongest emotional connection. This is usually the primary caregiver, but not always.

What the Child Wants

Judges in North Carolina don’t have to ask the kids what they’d prefer. However, some judges will ask older children for their opinion on what they believe is in their best interest.

Domestic Violence

North Carolina law requires domestic violence between ex-spouses to be included in the process to ensure children are safe and protected. If you have questions about how instances of domestic violence might impact your child custody case, it’s best to speak with an experienced lawyer as soon as you can.

Parental Infidelity and Misconduct

While this factor does not carry as much weight as others in this list, past sexual misconduct is something the courts look at when assessing what will best serve the child. Parents to focus on their children’s best interests and not their personal grievances when making custody decisions. Committing adultery might make someone a bad spouse, but it doesn’t automatically mean they’re a bad parent. If the child is safe, secure, and emotionally connected to the parent that “cheated,” the court will be less likely to remove them from that parent’s care.

Keeping Siblings Together

To protect kids’ emotional bonds, keeping siblings together is a priority for many courts and judges in North Carolina. Some exceptions would allow the children to be split up, including the children being far apart in age or one child has a stronger emotional bond with one parent over the other.

Religious Beliefs

Courts cannot discriminate against one parent over the other based on their religious beliefs. Instead, the priority is making sure children have what they need to be spiritually healthy and cared for.


The court may take the neighborhood a parent lives into consideration, but only related to preserving the child’s status quo. It’s important not to give a wealthier parent preference over the other. So, a court may consider neighborhood if it offers the community, playmates, school, and emotional bonds the child is used to, rather than simply making the decision based on which parent has the most material resources.

Above all, the court’s focus is on preserving children’s emotional bonds and maintaining the status quo as much as possible.

Above all, the court’s focus is on preserving children’s emotional bonds and maintaining the status quo as much as possible. The weight given to these factors can vary from case to case, so if you have questions about your situation, don’t wait to contact an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand your options.

A Guardian Ad Litem Can Help Identify Your Child’s Best Interests

In some child custody cases, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL). This individual is specially trained to help identify and articulate your child’s best interests. They will get to know you, your child, and the other parent. The GAL may also interview teachers, coaches, and other professionals to understand your child’s needs and priorities. They will then report their findings to the court, suggesting what is in your child’s best interests. Because guardians ad litem are objective professionals, many courts give significant weight to their recommendations.

While guardians ad litem are most often used in contentious custody disputes and cases involving abuse or neglect, they are an option in any child custody case.

RELATED: What Do My North Carolina Child Support Payments Cover?

Facing a Child Custody Case? Get Support From a Family Law Attorney

Understanding your options as a parent facing divorce and a custody battle can be an emotional, confusing experience. At Myers Law Firm, we believe that no one in this position should walk alone. We’re committed to helping parents and families like yours find the best possible solution for their children and new family structure.

With over 40 years of experience supporting families in North Carolina, we understand custody laws and the details that go into crafting successful cases. We support every client with empathy, practical solutions, and child-centered advocacy.

Myers Law Firm: Supporting Families Every Step of the Way

If you need help understanding your child custody options or how to protect your children in a divorce, don’t wait to contact the team at Myers Law Firm. To schedule an initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys, please call our Charlotte office toll-free at 1-888-376-ATTY (2889) or use our online contact form.


The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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