There was a time when family law judges in North Carolina and around the country almost always awarded mothers full custody in divorce cases, but that is no longer true. Shared custody has become far more popular and more common, and judges are now likely to encourage this kind of arrangement. Many courts presume joint legal custody when approaching these issues, and they are generally receptive when petitioned for joint residential or physical custody.
In 2014, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that mothers were granted sole custody of children 80 percent of the time in divorce cases in 1980, but that figure had fallen to just 42 percent by 2008. During the same period, the amount of times judges ordered shared custody arrangements increased from just 5 percent to 27 percent. Equal shared custody gives parents an equal number of nights with their children each month.
The way family law judges approach child custody issues began to change when researchers found that the children of divorce fare better when they are able to spend quality time with both of their parents. The welfare of the child was and remains the most important consideration in these cases, but before this research was published, it was widely believed that having a single parent responsible for child care led to more favorable outcomes.
Experienced family law attorneys may encourage divorcing parents to resolve child custody disputes amicably by explaining what will likely happen if these decisions are left up to a judge. Divorce negotiations are often contentious, but even parents who find it difficult to be in the same room as one another are usually able to put their differences aside when the welfare of their children is at stake. When traditional negotiations are unsuccessful, attorneys may suggest alternatives to court such as mediation or collaborative divorce.