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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody Modification – Starting Preschool

Where the parties’ child is starting preschool, this constitutes a substantial change in circumstances, and it is self-evident that such a change affects the child.

We affirm the trial court’s order modifying custody to grant primary physical custody to the plaintiff-father.


The defendant-mother is a police officer in Edgecombe County. The plaintiff-father is a school teacher in Mecklenburg County.

The parties’ original custody arrangement called for the mother to have primary custody and for the father to have visitation at least once a month from Thursday to Sunday. The father moved to modify custody because the mother had started making excuses as to why he could not visit with the child. The mother filed a countermotion, alleging that the child was starting preschool, so the current visitation schedule would become unworkable.

After reviewing evidence about the Cannon School, at which the father works and receives a significant tuition reduction, the trial court granted primary custody to the father and visitation to the mother. The mother appeals.


Despite the mother’s contrary argument on appeal, the trial court could agree with her trial-level contention that the transition between day care and preschool is a substantial change in circumstances. Furthermore, the effect of the changed circumstance on the child is self-evident; his new stage of life and eligibility for educational opportunities makes placing primary custody with the father beneficial to him and in his best interest.

As the mother asserted in her countermotion, the existing custody order, granting the father visitation at least once a month from Thursday through Sunday, would interfere with the child’s pre-kindergarten classes at either parent’s residence.

The trial court found, “It is in the best interests of the minor child … to attend the best school possible … and that Cannon School … is the best scholastic opportunity for [the child].” Evidence was presented at trial detailing the education the child would receive at Cannon School, including the rigorous academics, focus on emotional and moral development, enrichment opportunities, and physical development.

In addition to the benefits for the child of attending Cannon School, it is also in his best interest to have a workable custody schedule to provide stability. As all parties agreed, the current schedule does not take into account the substantial change in the child’s schedule due to starting school.


Drakeford v. Baez (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-162-18, 9 pp.) (John Tyson, J.) Appealed from Mecklenburg County District Court (Kimberly Best-Staton, J.) No brief for plaintiff; Simoné Williams for defendant. N.C. App. Unpub.


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