Navigating Temporary Child Custody Orders In NC: A Comprehensive Guide

Smith Debnam Narron Drake Saintsing & Myers, LLP

Smith Debnam Narron Drake Saintsing & Myers, LLP


When a marriage approaches separation, one of the most pressing concerns for parents is determining the custodial care and visitation arrangements for their children. This pivotal decision often leads to disputes, as each parent may believe they are the better caregiver. Factors like housing, school locations, transportation, work schedules, pets, and neighborhood friendships further complicate the situation. In such emotionally charged times, legal guidance becomes essential. This article explores the intricacies of temporary child custody orders, offering insights into their significance and potential evolution into permanent arrangements.

Temporary Custody Orders: A Brief Overview

Navigating custody arrangements during separation can be challenging, particularly when emotions run high. In many cases, parents enlist the help of attorneys to establish temporary agreements until a more permanent solution can be reached through mediation or negotiation. However, if these efforts prove futile, one party may resort to legal action by filing a custody complaint in District Court.

The Need for Structure and Stability

When no agreement or order is in place, one parent may withhold the children out of fear that the other parent will not return them, exacerbating the uncertainty and emotional distress for the entire family. Recognizing the importance of stability and consistency for children during separation, the court system utilizes temporary custody hearings to provide structure to the evolving environment and alleviate concerns about the children’s safety and well-being.

Temporary Custody Hearings: A Closer Look

Temporary custody hearings are typically scheduled within 45 days of filing a complaint in most North Carolina counties. These hearings are relatively brief and can include testimony from parents or other parties seeking custody, as well as written affidavits. The court carefully assesses the evidence presented and issues a temporary order in the best interests of the child or children involved.

What Makes an Order Temporary? What to Look for in the Order:

  1. Does the order reference a scheduled hearing for another date and time?
  2. Does the order fail to address all the issues of custody and visitation?
  3. Was the order entered without prejudice to either party?
  4. Does the order provide for regular review?

Understanding Temporary Orders

Temporary custody orders serve as an interim solution during separation, but they can raise questions about their duration and possible transition into permanent orders. The law does not define a specific timeframe for how long a temporary order remains temporary. Even if a judge initially designates it as temporary, this designation does not necessarily dictate its permanency.

Transitioning from Temporary to Permanent Orders

After a year or more with a temporary order in place, most attorneys argue that it should be considered permanent. However, the final determination often hinges on individual circumstances and legal strategies. Parties wishing to modify a temporary order do not need to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances, while those dealing with a deemed permanent order must first prove a substantial change is warranted before showing that a modification would be in the best interest of the minor child.

Ex Parte Temporary Orders

In exceptional circumstances, temporary orders can be issued ex parte, meaning without notice to the other party. Under N.C.G.S 50-13.5(d)(3), this is allowed when a child is at risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse or is being removed from the state to evade the court’s jurisdiction. These orders are typically valid for ten days, and a hearing before the court is scheduled within the 10-day period to determine if there is substantial evidence that meets the criteria under 50-13.5(d)(3) or deny the request on its face if it does not meet the emergency hearing requirements.

Conclusion: Providing Stability Amidst Uncertainty

Temporary custody orders play a vital role in offering guidance and structure for parents navigating the complexities of separation. They evolve over time and can take on characteristics of permanency. To ensure a more lasting resolution and minimize emotional turmoil, it is advisable to schedule a hearing shortly after obtaining a temporary order if you seek a permanent custody and visitation arrangement. By prioritizing the best interests of the children involved, parents can work towards a smoother transition during a challenging period in their lives.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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Smith Debnam Narron Drake Saintsing & Myers, LLP

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