What Should Parents Know To Gain & Maintain Child Custody During Divorce?

Dr. Tara Egan is the founder of Charlotte Parent Coaching, and host of her parent-focused podcast, “One Day You’ll Thank Me”. Partner, Paul A. DeJesse Jr. sat down with Dr. Egan to educate listeners with information regarding child custody during a separation/divorce.

About Paul A. DeJesse Jr.

Paul A. DeJesse Jr. is a board certified specialist in family law, AAML Fellow, and a Martindale-Hubbell AV rated lawyer. He has been Partner at Hatcher Law Group for over 15 years. Prior to his work in NC, he was partner in a New York-based family law firm for over 10 years.

His child custody related speaking engagements and publications include:

  • Author: “How to Protect Your Client from a Biased Child Custody Evaluation Report”, published in Trial Briefs Magazine, 2019.
  • Cited at the 2019 National AAML-AFCC Conference on “Advanced Issues in Child Custody: Evaluation, Litigation and Settlement”, breakout session “Attacking the Unfavorable Child Custody Evaluation”, San Diego, California.
  • Speaker: “Child Custody and Visitation Rights,” Asheville, N.C., August 1, 2017.
  • Speaker: “Child Custody Overview,” Charlotte Christian School, Charlotte, North Carolina, January 11, 2007

About Dr. Tara Egan

Dr. Egan is a child and adolescent therapist, founder of Charlotte Parent Coaching, podcast host, an author and public speaker. She has specialized training in counseling and family-school relations for over 20 years.

She has written the following books:

  • Better Behavior for Ages 2-10,
  • Adolescence: A Parent’s Guide
  • First-Time Mom’s Toddler Discipline Handbook

Below are some of the takeaways:

When determining custody, what factors do Judges consider?

  • Parenting roles before physical separation and parenting roles after physical separation
  • How involved each parent was
  • Ages of children
  • Schedules of the parties- if they have flexibility in their work schedules
  • Capability to care for children’s physical and emotional needs, including if a child has special needs or a disability
  • If the parent has substance or domestic violence issues that can impact the children

How is shared custody determined?

Paul outlined the standard baseline for determining shared custody, “In North Carolina, if a parent has 123 overnights then that is considered shared custody. Many clients say, ‘I spend all day with the kids.’, it doesn’t matter to the court for purposes of calculating child support, they are looking at the number of overnights.” The term “overnights” is the action of a child sleeping over at either parent’s house overnight.

How does the income of both parents affect child custody?

Paul outlines the child support threshold, “The child support guidelines apply when the parents combined income is less than $360,000.” For parents that fall within the child support guidelines, certain childcare expenses would be factored into each parent’s financial responsibilities. For example, this could include work-related childcare expenses or the child’s health insurance.

Are there any “deal breakers” or “red flags” that judges rely on when allocating custody time? 

Dr. Egan raised the question she often gets from her clients, “How are accusations handled in court?”. Paul responded, “Depending on the circumstances there may be a need for a third party witness, physical documentation, medical records, therapist testimonials, police reports, or corroborations via email, text, social media”.

In this technology-driven age, Paul cautions parents about the legal ramifications of social media, “You have to be careful about posting on social media, even with the best of intentions and serving a good cause or not, it can still be used against you”.

What is a “Child Custody Evaluation”? When is the Child Custody Evaluation warranted? 

When Paul was asked how the evaluation is conducted, he responded, “A psychiatrist or psychologist will interview the parties; they will conduct psychological testing of the parties to see if there are certain mental health issues that affect parenting of child and they will observe the parent with the child. They can also reach out to therapists, parents, teachers, friends to corroborate what is being alleged to offer a credible report”.

Dr. Egan pointed out that this is the stage where she typically gets involved, when there is a court ruling that there should be co-parenting counseling or parenting support. Often her role is to help give parenting skills to those who have had less of a parenting role in the past.

What can mental health clinicians do to support family law cases?

Paul reiterated the importance of putting children’s best interest first, “Mental health professionals meeting with a child and providing expertise to court to assist them in doing what is best for the child. When you have a situation where one parent is harming the child, a professional’s willingness to say ‘this is what’s going on, this is why it needs to be stopped, and we need to think of a plan to assist the parties and help them.’”

Consult with an attorney for your specific case

According to Paul, “A lot of things are what the client isn’t saying, meaning that they talk to family and friends and have their circumstances, however, there is a bunch of things they either directly or indirectly didn’t consider to be very important, as it impacts their custody case that an attorney can draw out. That is why it is important to have facts of your particular case considered and evaluated”.