In North Carolina and around the country, child custody and visitation arrangements are made by judges who are acting according to the legal standard of the “best interests of the child.” While there isn’t a definitive list of factors that judges can consider when making those decisions, typically judges look at:
- The mental and physical fitness of both parents
- Any special educational, developmental or social needs the child may have (e.g. learning disabilities, physical challenges or mental illnesses)
- The housing situation of both parents
- The express wishes of the child (provided the child is of sufficient age and mental capacity to have his or her preferences considered)
- Income and job status of both parties
- Evidence that one or both parties is alcoholic or abuses drugs
- Social/familial support system available to each parent
- Environment of each parent’s home (cleanliness, availability of private space for the child, whether or not the child will be exposed to secondhand smoke, etc.)
In the past, the court’s source of this information about the viability of each party as a positive parental figure for a child was primarily anecdotal, either discovered through witness testimony/depositions or gleaned through visits with court agents like social workers, guardians ad litem and attorneys.
Now, though, those same people bringing evidence to the judge’s attention have access to a wealth of information about parents seeking child custody and visitation arrangement schedules or modifications — the Internet. Parties can search online for pictures of each parent (particularly if the pictures show the party participating in unsavory or illegal activity), images of their children without adequate supervision (or engaging in something inappropriate) or revealing information about the parental home (like someone smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol in the presence of a young child).
The information discoverable online — particularly that posted in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter — is staggering to most people, and few realize that statements besmirching the other parent, years-old pictures of drunken antics or otherwise innocent pictures of a custodial parent enjoying a night out with a new romantic partner can all be problematic when viewed in the eyes of a North Carolina family court judge. If you are — or you anticipate you will be — involved in a custody dispute, particularly if you are seeking full custody, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights as a parent.