Megan E. Spidell
DSS, Custody, and Your Children: What You Need to Know
Updated: Mar 29
When parents are in the throes of a bitter divorce, they often make decisions based on emotion. One example? Calling the Department of Social Services (DSS) to file an unfounded complaint against their ex. While this move seems like a good way to gain the upper hand, it often complicates an already complex process. So, keep reading to learn the basics about North Carolina DSS, custody, and divorce so you can avoid unnecessary stress and surprises.
The Impact of a DSS Complaint on Your Child Custody Case
When the DSS receives a complaint, they open an investigation to explore the allegations of abuse or neglect. Then, through interviews, visits, evaluations, and observations, they determine whether there is reason to believe the child's health or welfare has been adversely affected.
They may screen out a case if they don't find sufficient evidence of abuse. However, if DSS finds evidence of abuse or neglect, they may remove the children from the home, place them with relatives, offer a safety plan to parents or file a petition with the court, which may result in the children being placed in foster care.
In either instance, the process can take months. Once DSS is involved, even if they never take custody of the child, the investigation could delay your custody case going to trial and add otherwise unnecessary steps, such as drug testing or mental health evaluations.
So, at best, when DSS is involved, you can expect delays in your divorce proceedings and custody case. And if DSS does not find evidence to substantiate your claims, the court may view this negatively and consider it when they make any final custody decisions.
How Is Custody Determined?
How might a DSS report play a role in your case? And how does a judge make custody decisions? The court will consider these factors as they determine custody arrangements for your child(ren).
● Which parent can provide a more stable upbringing for the child
● The child's wishes (if they are old enough to express them)
● Your parenting history
● Your ability to work together as parents
The court may award joint legal custody, joint physical custody, sole legal custody, or sole physical custody.
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NC DSS, Custody and Divorce FAQs
Still curious about the role that NC DSS might play in your divorce and custody agreements? First, it’s important to know that DSS plays an important role when children are legitimately in danger. And second, here are the answers to two commonly asked questions about getting DSS involved in a child custody case.
Who Is a Mandatory Reporter?
North Carolina law requires anyone 18 or older who knows a juvenile has been or is the victim of a violent offense, sexual offense, or child abuse to report such abuse to DSS.
Are DSS Cases Public Record?
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to preserve the confidentiality of all reports and records to protect the child's privacy rights. However, there are some exceptions. As a result, the following parties may be granted access to DSS records.
● Medical examiners
● Judges and other court personnel
● The person who is the subject of a report (a person who was an alleged child victim)
● The parent/guardian
● The parent/guardian's attorney
● The child's physician
Don't Let an Unfounded DSS Complaint Hurt Your Child Custody Case
The bottom line? Parents should do everything in their power to protect their children, but filing an unfounded DSS complaint against an ex during a child custody case only hurts the parent who files it—and the child. So, when possible, disagreements about parenting styles are best handled out of court. If you need help, here are some excellent co-parenting resources. And as always, please consult your attorney before making any decisions in your child custody case.