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Legal Information: North Carolina


Laws current as of December 22, 2023

In which state can I file for child custody?

The general rule is that North Carolina state courts have power (jurisdiction) to hear a custody case if North Carolina is considered your child’s “home state.”  A child’s “home state” is the state where the child has most recently lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months.  In the case of a child less than six months old, the “home state” is the state where the child has lived from birth. (Temporary absence from the state does not change anything.)

If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months. Until then, either you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state in which your child most recently lived for at least six months.  There is an exception to this rule – if you or the child or a sibling of the child is in danger, you may be able to file for temporary emergency custody in North Carolina even if you have been in North Carolina for less than six months.  See Can I get temporary emergency custody? for more information.

Example:  If a family has lived in North Carolina for the past year, North Carolina is the home state.  If the same family lived in North Carolina for one year and then one parent moved to South Carolina with the children and filed in South Carolina after living there for only four months, North Carolina is still the home state.

There are exceptions to the home state rule.  In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have “significant connections” to the state.  Usually, however, you can only do this if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state decide the case.1  This can be complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this.

For a list of legal resources, please see our NC Finding a Lawyer page.

1 NCGS § 50A-201