North Carolina Custody
Filing for Custody or Visitation Without a Lawyer
The resources made available through this web page are provided as a public service by Legal Aid of North Carolina. They are intended for use by low- and moderate-income people who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. We hope that you will find them useful but make no guarantee that they will produce the results you want.
The video on the right explains how to file the court papers and what happens next. For more information or to ask questions of an attorney, you may attend one of the regular custody clinics offered in Legal Aid of North Carolina offices across the state.
The North Carolina Bar Association has prepared two follow-up videos: How to Prepare for a Custody Trial in North Carolina and Custody Trials in North Carolina.
You can use an online interview program to prepare the forms needed to file for custody in North Carolina. It uses a simple question-and-answer format to gather the required information and to display the completed forms on the screen. The forms can then be printed or saved to a hard drive or other external drive. There are two different interviews, one for a parent and one for a non-parent (such as a grandparent).
Click on a link below to access the online interview. The link will take you to a special site called LawHelpInteractive.
There are two versions. One is for a parent who wishes to file for custody or visitation against the other parent. The other version is for non-parents (such as grandparents) who wish to file for custody against the children's parents.
North Carolina Custody Overview
Before you file a court action for custody, you need to learn about court procedures and about North Carolina custody laws. This information will help you avoid mistakes that could hurt your case or even have it thrown out of court.
In North Carolina, the law gives judges in the district courts the right to decide who has custody of minor children. Once a custody case is filed, the Judge has the power to make the decision about where the child lives and who will get to make decisions for the child.
The Judge, in trying to figure out who should have custody and/or any visitation, will try to decide what is in the "best interest of the child."
The Judge will look at all the information affecting the child's life to make certain his/her decision is based on the best interest of the child. It is important that you raise all facts that will assist the Judge in making his/her decision.
This site contains more information about filing for custody in North Carolina on your own without a lawyer. To view or print, click on a topic link.
- Legal Definitions: Legal Custody, Physical Custody, Visitation, Plaintiff, Defendant
- What forms you will need, where to get copies, and where to file
- Practical filing tips
- Giving notice to ("serving") the other side
- Mediation (required in most NC custody cases)
- Tips for successful mediation
- Special situations where legal advice may be needed
When to Seek Legal Advice Before Filing
In some situations, it is strongly recommended that you get advice from a lawyer before deciding to file a custody case on your own without a lawyer. Additional steps may be required, or you may not be allowed to file for custody in North Carolina.
Where to Find Legal Help
The custody clinics offered by Legal Aid of North Carolina include a general question-and-answer session with an attorney. Visit the Legal Aid Self-Help Clinics page to find out when and where the next clinic will be held.
The North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) administers the Lawyer Referral Service, providing the names of attorneys in your area with experience in custody matters. These attorneys will provide up to one-half hour's consultation for no more than $50. Contact the NCBA at 1-800-662-7660 or go to their website.
If your case involves domestic violence, you may be eligible for free representation by an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina. Apply online here.