Quality, Responsive and Trustworthy Family Law Services
We offer clients a strong work ethic combined with prompt and personalized client care.

Posts by aedwards

Arbitration: Family Law’s Best Kept Secret (Part 1 of 2)

Arbitration: Family Law’s Best Kept Secret (Part 1 of 2)

Arbitration: Family Law’s Best Kept Secret (Part 1 of 2) Court is slow, public, costly and often hostile. There are many reasons that litigation is rarely a Plan A, especially in family law cases. There are too few judges, and too many cases. The trend in recent years is for the over-burdened court system to encourage people to try alternatives, such as arbitration.  It isn’t at all unusual for a case to take at least a year or more. The NC Family Law Arbitration Act states “It is the policy of this State to . . .  provide for arbitration as an efficient and speedy means of resolving these disputes . . .”[1] This article is part 1 of 2 on the topic of arbitration. What Is Family Law Arbitration? Arbitration is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), meaning it is an alternative to the traditional process of court to settle disputes. ADR can be used only if both parties agree to use it. Unlike other types of ADR such as mediation or collaborative family law, when parties ultimately decide whether to settle their case, those who choose arbitration hire a third party who makes the decision for them as a judge would. Courts enforce written agreements to arbitrate if a party tries to back out of it. If a lawsuit is already underway, parties can still agree to use arbitration. In contrast to a trial in the courtroom, parties who choose arbitration usually hold the proceedings in an office of one of the attorneys. What Issues Can You Arbitrate? All “issues arising from a marital separation or divorce, except for the divorce itself” can be submitted to an arbitrator.[1] This includes alimony, child custody and support, and equitable distribution of marital property. Even though the arbitrator can rule on custody and child support, the court always has the final say if a parent later files a motion with the court. Disputes about changing child support or alimony can also be arbitrated. In fact, future spouses can even agree to participate in family law arbitration before they get married except for child custody and support and the divorce itself.[2]  The divorce in our state requires only a one year separation and it is extremely rare for that to be contested. Technically, it requires a lawsuit even if it is uncontested.  Arbitrators Arbitrators are typically chosen by both parties,...

read more

The Life Span of a Typical Case in Pitt County

The Life Span of a Typical Case in Pitt County

The Life Span of a Typical Case in Pitt County Although the term “typical case” is a misnomer, there are certain goals to be met as you wind your way through the local court process. I say goals because the judge has the discretion to adjust the times as may be necessary in each unique case. Life is messy and court is messier, sometimes not fitting into a specific timeline. We’re fortunate to have an official Family Court in Pitt County, staffed with three individuals. They keep the process moving along, by means of local court rules, the development of certain standardized forms to use in routine administrative matters and expedited communication with the judges concerning the most efficient way to handle issues that crop up as the case moves forward. The court expects the case to be resolved within a year if possible. Phase One: File the Lawsuit A family law case is filed at the courthouse by a Complaint, followed by an Answer and Counterclaims in response, and other filings. This process of putting the court and the other party on notice of what relief each party seeks can take up to 6 months after the case is filed. In the meantime, the court might hold hearings on temporary (until the case is finished) child custody, child support or alimony within 2 months after the case is filed. The parties might also choose to use discovery, which might require a deposition, paperwork to be exchanged, or written answers to specific questions by the other party. Discovery by one or both parties can easily take 2-3 months. The party who files for equitable distribution, the division of marital assets, first must complete a very detailed listing of assets and debts called an EDIA, and the other party then files his or her version. This process takes at least 4 months. Phase Two: Negotiation and Mediation Although clients usually know what property and debt there is, and the income of each party, the attorneys don’t really know until he or she reviews the actual evidence (the tax returns, pay statements, self-employment, etc.). Once the attorneys have a general idea of the scope of the marital estate and what the actual disputes are, they can each then decide the best strategy to use. Another fundamental task is to figure out whether the parties already agree on certain matters, such as...

read more

The History of Moms and Child Custody Laws in NC

The History of Moms and Child Custody Laws in NC

The History of Moms and Child Custody Laws in NC By Amy A. Edwards The subject of whether moms have some advantage in child custody cases is a much-debated topic among family law attorneys, as well as the parents who later become clients in child custody battles. The U.S. Census Bureau records indicate that only about 17% (1 in 6) of the custodial parents are fathers.[1]  Why does that happen? There isn’t a simple answer. But a brief history of the child custody laws in North Carolina gives us a context, telling us how we got here in the first place. Where It All Began: Tender Years Doctrine Imported from England, our courts used what was called the “Tender Years Doctrine” in child custody cases. It was a built-in default rule called a legal presumption, meaning the mother was always presumed to be the most appropriate parent to have custody unless there was a reason justifying otherwise. The NC Supreme Court in 1973[2] defined it as follows:   “It is universally recognized that the mother is the natural custodian of her young. . . If she is a fit and proper person to have the custody of the children, other things being equal, the mother should be given their custody, in order, that the children . . . may have the advantage and benefit of a mother’s love and devotion for which there is no substitute. A mother’s care and influence is regarded as particularly important for children of tender age and girls of even more mature years.” Marital Status Marital status between the parents did (and still does) matter. Historically, an unmarried mother had exclusive sole custody, including whether to place a child for adoption. If an unmarried mother decided to place the child for adoption, the father generally had no rights because there was no “legal father.” Although that is not currently the law in adoption cases, there are still significant differences between the rights and obligations of married fathers and unmarried fathers. Current adoption laws for unmarried fathers remain controversial among those in the legal profession. An excellent discussion of this topic is found in Rosero v. Blake.[3] Where Did the Tender Years Doctrine Lead? In 1977, the state abolished the Tender Years Doctrine by statute.[4] Instead of defining custody as a right exercised by one parent over another, the new statute required judges to rule based...

read more

Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend

Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend

Guest Feature: Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend By Jennifer Jackson Bell * Whoever said “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” obviously never owned a pet. Many people, myself included, think of their pets as their fur-babies or fur-children and dote on them as such. There is no doubt that pets hold a special place in our hearts but they also hold a special place in our wallets as well. Owning and caring for a pet takes love, and time, as well as financial responsibility. After we are no longer capable of caring for our beloved fur-children we want to make sure they are taken care of, as we would our human children. However there is one major problem we face: pets are seen as property in the eyes of the state, especially when dealing with wills and probate. This means that you cannot leave money or any type of property to your pet after your death. The only way to ensure that your fur-child is doted on and spoiled as much as he/she was when you cared for him/her is to create a Pet Trust. What Exactly is a Pet Trust? A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals (or fur-children) in the event of a grantor’s (owner’s) disability or death. A pet trust is created like every other form of trust, with a Grantor (the owner), Grantee and Trustee (the pet). Typically, you will appoint someone you trust first and foremost and whom you would want to love and care for your pet after your incapability as Trustee. The trustee will hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the benefit of your pet(s). The trust will continue for the life of the pet or until the death of the last living pet included in the trust. Why Should I Have One? Trusts are legally enforceable arrangements. A Pet Trust ensures that your wishes for your fur-children will be carried out, and any and all directions regarding your fur-children will be followed. A trust can be very specific.  For example, if your cat only likes a particular brand of food or your dog looks forward to daily romps in the park, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian four times a year, this can also be included. Since as pet...

read more

Is Your Custody Order Out of Date?

Is Your Custody Order Out of Date?

Is Your Custody Order Out of Date? When it comes to custody cases, most parents usually either sign a separation agreement, sign a consent order (order by agreement) or they go to court and have an order entered by the court after the trial. The drama dies down and hopefully life goes back to normal, at least as normal as things can get after a dispute of this nature. Life changes. As the years pass, children grow, parents get married or remarried and maybe a few more kids are added along the way. Especially when parents are young, they become more mature. Once the threat of on-going court battle is has subsided, parents may stabilize as co-parents and begin to trust each other. The best parents simply do what needs to be done. They might not rely on the custody order after a couple of years because they develop a co-parenting routine. As Time Goes By . . . Assume you and the other parent reach an agreement about your 4 year old son. It calls for him to be with you every other weekend from Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday night at 6:00 p.m., every other Wednesday night, and two weeks during the summer. For a number of reasons, when your son is 6 and starts school, both of you agree it would be in his best interest to live with you and reverse the visitation schedule. This works great for years. What’s The Problem? The problem is that the old custody order remains in effect as is unless and until it is changed, or it “expires” when a child reaches the age of 18. Now assume that your son is 11, and the other parent suddenly tells you he or she will now be going back to the court-ordered visitation schedule, and your son will be staying there full time until further notice. You rush home, dig up the custody order, blow the dust off and see that it only gives you visitation every other weekend and Wednesday nights. From that messy situation, it is obvious you have a real problem. If the order had been updated, this problem could’ve been avoided. When you no longer agree with the other parent, you risk being held in contempt of court if you fail to abide by the custody order. Ultimately, a judge has the ability to enforce the order by whatever means is...

read more