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A 529 Savings Plan allows parents to put aside money for their kids’ college expenses under tax-favorable conditions. How should trial courts classify the money in a 529 Savings Plan that is created and funded during marriage when a couple is getting a divorce?

In a recent North Carolina marital property appellate decision, a mother argued that contributions to a 529 Savings Plan were a gift to the children, rather than marital property to be divided. Alternatively she requested that the court carve 529 Savings Plans from the marital estate by creating a rule to treat the property differently from other marital assets.

The appellate court rejected her arguments, explaining that the beneficiaries of the plan didn’t have ownership of the funds, and the people participating in the plan could choose not to spend the money on education and after paying a penalty could spend it on something different. Accordingly, contributions aren’t gifts. The court also explained that it didn’t have the authority to create a way to carve 529 Savings Plans from the marital estate. It reasoned that the General Assembly was the governmental body with this authority, and that its role was to consider the purpose of marital funds to determine equitable distribution.

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In a recent appellate court decision that discusses an aspect of North Carolina custody law, a mother appealed from an order that granted her and the father joint custody of teenage children pending the start of a reunification program. The program was supposed to fix the kids’ relationship to their father, which the court determined was damaged by the mother’s alienating conduct.

The order gave the father primary physical custody of the children after starting the program, while the mother’s visitation with the kids would be temporarily suspended pending the program’s completion. The order also directed that the kids go to private or public school, instead of being homeschooled by their mother.

The case arose in connection with three children born from a couple’s marriage. The father demanded custody when they were older because the mother had committed adultery. The mother responded to the father’s complaint and letter by taking the kids to South Carolina and cutting off the father’s contact. The father filed a motion for emergency custody relief, claiming the mother had a relationship with someone in Sweden and that she planned to go there with the kids despite his objection. He was worried the mother would take the kids and not come back. The court granted him temporary exclusive custody of the children in an emergency order.

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by Tina Ray, Legal Assistant

Growing up in a tiny town near Greensboro, N.C., I can remember being a kid and playing in the yard, getting skinned knees and bee stings.  That’s what we did “back then.”  I remember picking up pecans and climbing trees and riding my bike.  We had a rotary dial telephone.  What is that you ask?  It’s a telephone that had a dial with holes in that had a handset attached to it with a curly cord, and the entire thing was attached to another cord that made it work!  We did not have air conditioning until I was about 12 years old.  Window fans were placed in our windows to draw the hot air out of the house, and indoor box fans blew hot air around inside the house.  We had a gravel driveway, and I sometimes had to help fill in holes in the driveway with a rake or a shovel so we wouldn’t blow a car tire driving in and out of it.  Listen to this; we did not have a weedeater!!!  I can, believe it or not,  remember using handheld clippers and having to go around the outside of the house and flower beds and trim the weeds BY HAND!!

My grandfather used to take my sister and me to a nearby store, and we got to pick a bottle of Coke out of the metal cooler and play pinball while he sat around and discussed world issues with the other locals.  Getting that Coke and playing pinball was the highlight of my week.  Grandpa would give me a quarter to clean his glasses with a paper towel and soap and water.  A quarter!  My other favorite thing was going to Woolworth and my mother buying me a 45 rpm vinyl record that I could play on my red, plastic record player that I worshiped.  By the way, I was only allowed to get the record if I had been good that week, and if I didn’t get one, I was devastated.  We hung our clothes on the clotheslines behind our house in the mornings and took them off the clotheslines in the afternoons, and if a storm sprung up, we had to run outside and snatch them off quickly, before the rain started.

I am not going to reveal my age but trust me; my upcoming birthday is a milestone birthday.   In my mind, I’m still that little girl, but when I look in the mirror, I get a shock!  Sometimes, people say, “you should be thankful to have a birthday, think about the alternative.”    I am very thankful.  I am also very thankful to have air conditioning, a washer and dryer, a paved driveway, a weedeater and a cell phone that can play music at the touch of a finger.

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by Carolyn Woodruff, Attorney

The custodial parent must not decrease the status of the other parent in the child’s eyes. That is fundamental.

Also fundamental: Do not place the child in the middle of the parent’s dispute.

Woncik versus Woncik, from the court of appeals in North Carolina is instructive on the two fundamental principles mentioned above. The plaintiff Darlene Woncik is the mother and Edward Woncik is the father. The case is 1986 North Carolina case but still instructive on child custody.

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by Carolyn Woodruff, attorney

What is the best way to get your visitation suspended? Alienate your child or attempt to alienate your child from the other parent.

A case that was filed September 18, 2018, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals illustrates this tragic error on the part of the mother. See Sneed vs. Sneed. The plaintiff, the father, is Jason M. Sneed. The defendant mother is Charity A. Sneed. The case is originally from Mecklenburg County. I must admit, I find Charity an interesting name for the mother, given her conduct.

Father, learning of the mother’s adultery, served a complaint for child custody on the mother in North Carolina, and mother immediately removed the children to South Carolina against father’s wishes and cut off all conduct with the father. Father petitioned the trial court to grant a temporary and exclusive emergency custody order, which ordered the mother to return the children to North Carolina. Upon the mother’s return, the parties agreed between themselves to an alternating week of physical custody. When the mother continued to refuse to comply with the agreed-upon schedule, the father then filed a custody evaluation motion to have a psychologist look at this situation. This mother also homeschooled the children and the father alleged that she was alienating the children from the father and that the father’s relationship was continuing to deteriorate.

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by Leesa M. Poag, Attorney

We are officially in the midst of the best season of the year.  No, I’m not referring to the pumpkin-filled days of Fall.  I’m talking about football season.  But as we don our team colors and cheer on our favorite players, the on-field battles aren’t the only ones that family law attorneys are seeing this time of year.  As concerns about the long-term effects of head injuries from football continue to mount, we are beginning to see football leaving the locker room and heading to the courtroom.

Most parents would agree that extracurricular activities are beneficial for children of all ages.  They often provide the opportunity for exercise and allow for the development of skills like teamwork, perseverance, and hard work that will certainly serve the child well as he or she grows older.  Typically, the main dispute family law attorneys see regarding custody and extracurricular activities involve scheduling – can one parent sign the child up for an activity that will take place on the other parent’s custodial time, and vice versa.

But as the studies continue to emerge regarding concussions and traumatic brain injuries resulting from football, some parents are beginning to throw a flag on their children’s participation in the game.

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By: Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney

As an attorney practicing in family law in the Piedmont, and a mother of two young children, my world can feel very hectic. It is easy to give in to the stressors of the moment, to be overwhelmed and to feel like you do not have control. Whether caring for my children, listening to others discuss their parenting struggles or helping clients prepare for court, a useful activity I have found to manage this stress is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness can simply be described as being fully aware of your present surroundings, and how it affects your thoughts, feelings, and body. The practice of mindfulness is focusing on the moment you are in, and regaining control. While this is a simple concept, using this technique takes some practice. While in the courtroom or on the witness stand clients will often become agitated, frustrated or emotional over what is transpiring around them. This happens in parenting situations as well. While these emotions are valid, they usually don’t help achieve our goals. While there is a multitude of online resources, below are basic steps for practicing mindfulness.

1) Take a deep breath. While it sounds trivial, a deep breath gets oxygen to your brain, helps to slow an elevated heart rate, and brings your focus to your body. It is a good way to start an inventory of your current physical and emotional state.

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by Leesa Poag, Attorney

As autumn begins to creep across the Triad, it seems that the temperature isn’t the only thing dropping. According to a study done by the University of Maryland, the number of divorces in the United States is also on the decline. And the reason being attributed for the impressive drop, eighteen percent over the past ten years, might surprise you.

Millennials. It’s not a term that’s often meant as a compliment. In fact, it tends to be associated by many with attributes like entitlement and laziness. But this oft-maligned group of twenty and thirty-somethings seems to have figured out how to make marriages work in a way that older generations never seemed to master.

So what exactly are millennials doing differently that’s allowing them to dodge the divorce bullet? One factor that has a major effect is that millennials are waiting until they feel more financially stable before walking down the aisle. Its often said that money is the root of all evil, and it tends to be the root of many divorces as well. Struggling to pay the bills, keep the lights on, and keep food on the table when incomes are limited, or even nonexistent, can cause a tremendous amount of stress, and often this stress can put a major damper on a couples’ wedded bliss. By delaying marriages until they feel they are able to stand on their own feet and live comfortably, millennials are eliminating this major stressor from their marriages.

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by Tina Ray, Legal Assistant

The following represents the personal and respected view of the writer and not the view of Woodruff Family Law Group.

 I am definitely not a political aficionado, nor do I follow politics terribly closely.  However, out of curiosity, I have found myself listening to and reading about the Kavanaugh case.  When I talk to someone about this issue, I feel like I have to really think about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it so that I don’t offend anyone.  With the #metoo movement in full force, anything that anyone says can easily cause offense or be twisted to mean something else whether spoken by a male or female.

By no means, am I condoning the actions of anyone that has assaulted, raped, molested or de-humanized another person.  As a female, I have had my share of unwanted advances, touches, verbal abuse, and completely uncomfortable situations.  In my teenage years, SOME of the boys were way more aggressive than others.  Although a smaller, thinner me, I was very clear about what was crossing the line and I would not hesitate to express my disgust and make it known that I would not put up with anything that I did not consent to.  One Saturday, while my best friend’s boyfriend was waiting for her at my house, I felt uncomfortable to the point of locking myself in the bathroom to get away from him.  Of course, I told my boyfriend about it, and it became a “he said, she said” situation. From that moment on, I avoided him at all costs.   At this point in my life, if this unnamed person was to run for a public office or some high-ranking position, would I tell anyone what happened back in high school?  My situation was not an assault, just an uncomfortable circumstance but could have turned into something much worse.   If he had gone on to be a consummate professional and adult, I’m sure I would not say anything.  Sometimes choices made as a teenager are just bad decisions or choices.  That does not mean that you will be a failure as an adult.

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Mark Griffin, M.E., Blog Writer

It’s summertime, and that means kids around Greensboro will be beating the heat. But they probably won’t be hanging out at the pool or lake like their parents did. It’s more likely they will be huddled around their electronic devices playing video games or watching YouTube. The World Health Organization has recently classified addiction to video games as a certified mental disorder. Our children are particularly susceptible during the summer months when they are out of school and have less structured activities.

The signs of video game addiction are disturbingly quite similar to other addictions such as exercise addiction or sex addiction. If your child has difficulty talking or even thinking about anything other than video games, then they might have a problem. The problem is exacerbated by the gaming designers attempting to make their games psychologically addicting purposely. As with drug and alcohol addictions, they may have such a compulsion to play that they let school work lag and their grooming and hygiene begin to suffer.

In the beginning, gamers may be satisfied to play one or two hours at a time; however as they become more addicted, they crave much longer sessions. Some children have to be physically removed from a game console, or they will play continuously. As the addiction worsens they frequently suffer from significant weight gain or weight loss, sleep disruptions, mood changes, sleep deprivation, Avoiding friends and family members. They may begin lying about the time spent playing video games and start skipping meals. Shoddy work and academic performance should also set off alarm bells.