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Legal Information: North Carolina


Laws current as of December 22, 2023

If a custody order is already in place, how can I change it?

Since custody is decided in the best interest of the child, an order is not usually permanent.  If you have a custody order already in place, you can petition the court to make changes to it (modify it).  Generally, you can only ask to have a custody order modified if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.”1  Some examples of “substantial change in circumstances” could be if one of the parents is arrested, if the child is being abused, etc.  In North Carolina, a finding by a judge that domestic or family violence has occurred since the last custody determination could be considered a change in circumstances.

To modify a custody order, you will need to go to the court that issued the order, even if you have moved.  Generally, once a court has power over a case (jurisdiction), that court will keep jurisdiction, even if you move to another state.  If you have moved, you can ask the court to change the jurisdiction to the new state that you are in.  This is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  Go to the NC Finding a Lawyer page to find legal assistance.

1 NCGS § 50-13.7(a)

Can I change the state where the case is being heard?

If you, your child, the other parent, and anyone acting as parent have all moved to another state, you may be able to change the state where the custody case is being heard.  If the judge finds that the child, the parents and anyone acting as the parent does not have significant contact with the original state, or if they are not presently living in the state, s/he will consider changing the state where the case is heard.  For more information about modifying an order in a new state, see Changing a final order.

Also, if you are a victim of domestic violence, North Carolina allows the judge to consider this factor in deciding if a particular state is no longer appropriate for the case.1  You will have to ask the judge who is hearing the case to consider allowing the case to be heard in another state.  This is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  To find a lawyer, free or paid, go to our NC Finding a Lawyer page.

1 NCGS § 50A-207(b)(1)

If there is a custody order in place, can I take my kids out of the state?

The custody order may allow you to take your kids out of the state, prohibit you from taking the kids out of the state, or not address this issue.  The judge may require that you post money (a bond) or other security conditioned upon the return of the child to the state.  If either you or the other parent take a child out of the state with the intent of violating the custody order, either of you may be charged with a felony.1

If your order says you cannot take the child out of state or doesn’t address it, you may have to return to court to get permission to leave the state with the child, depending on how long you plan to be outside of the state.  We strongly suggest that you talk to a lawyer who can review your custody order and advise you on what steps you need to take. Go to NC Finding a Lawyer for free and paid legal referrals.

1 NCGS § 14-320.1

Can a parent who does not have custody have access to the child's records?

In North Carolina, unless there is a court order stating otherwise, both parents have a right to access the child’s education and health records.  Even if one parent has sole custody, unless the court order specifically prohibits the non-custodial parent from accessing the records, the non-custodial parent has a right to access those records.1  Therefore, if you believe that you or your child might be in danger if the abuser can see your child’s records becuase your confidential address is listed in those records, for example, you may want to ask the judge for an order stating that the abuser cannot have access to the records.  For advice on when this type of order is usually granted, you may want to talk to a lawyer.  You can find free and paid legal referrals on our NC Finding a Lawyer page.

1 NCGS § 50-13.2(b)