Articles Posted in Appellate Law

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Leesa M. Poag, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has taken steps to hold medical professionals accountable when they become involved in legal proceedings.  Family law attorneys in North Carolina are familiar with the process of a custody evaluation performed by a licensed psychologist.  The Court of Appeals recently held that these licensed psychologists can be disciplined by their licensing board if their performance of the evaluation negatively affects clients, or even attorneys involved in a case.

Dr. Annette Baker was appointed by the court to complete a custody evaluation in relation to a modification of custody hearing.  Dr. Baker initially met with both the mother and father involved in the case, as well as the minor children.

Initially, Dr. Baker was in communication with both parents, as well as the father’s attorney, Archie Futrell.  When the evaluation began to drag out past the point that the parties had expected it to be completed, the mother, father, and Mr. Futrell all began what would be a long and arduous process of attempting to communicate with Dr. Baker.  As the months dragged on and the evaluation still had not been completed, all parties involved became frustrated with Dr. Baker’s lack of progress and lack of communication.  Mr. Futrell attempted to contact Dr. Baker via phone, emails and letters but received no meaningful communication from her through any medium.            Continue reading →

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Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

               Timing, as they say, is everything, and if you are appealing an Order in North Carolina, this is particularly true. Slaughter v. Slaughter, No. COA16-1153 was decided by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on July 18, 2017. While there were multiple issues on appeal, the issue that sticks out is the timing and issues allowed on cross-appeal.

Cross-appeals are not a rarity. However, the Court had an issue of first impression on whether a cross-appeal should have been dismissed by the trial court. In Slaughter v. Slaughter, the trial court entered an Order Equitable Distribution on March 31, 2016, and Orders on Child Support, and Alimony on April 1, 2016. The husband filed a Notice of Appeal from the Alimony and Equitable Distribution Orders on April 25, 2016, within the thirty-day window for filing.

Wife filed a Notice of cross-appeal on May 3, 2016, from the Child Support Order and the Equitable Distribution Order. While Wife was within the ten-day window for filing a cross-appeal, Husband filed a Motion to Dismiss her cross-appeal regarding the Child Support Order. Husband argued that the ten-day window for filing a cross-appeal under NC Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c) should not apply as Husband did not appeal the child support order. Husband’s Motion to Dismiss was denied by the trial court, which Husband appealed.

Husband’s argument on Appeal is that firstly, Wife was outside of the thirty-day window to appeal the Child Custody Order, and secondly, that since Husband had not appealed from the child custody order in his timely appeal, Wife should not be allowed to cross-appeal the Child Support Order. It was a matter of first impression if a Notice of Appeal is limited to only the Order specifically designated in the Notice, where a single proceeding has resulted in multiple Orders. It was also a matter of first impression if a cross-appeal is similarly limited to only the Order specified in the original Notice.

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By: Ben N. Neece, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

            At the heart of many family law related disputes lie arguably the most difficult decisions regarding the children and their futures.  At times it may seem unlikely that individuals in the midst of a divorce will ever agree on anything; fortunately, ensuring that any children involved receive a quality education is usually a top priority for everyone.  Setting aside differences for what is in the children’s best interest saves not only time but may also preserve important financial resources that may be reallocated to ensuring the children’s futures are preserved. “Agreements” as they are so appropriately called, may avoid costly litigation procedures, and provide the parents with the opportunity to freely discuss, negotiate, and formulate what they mutually believe to be a plan that will best serve the interests of their children.

The freedom to contract is an important legal principle and when utilized correctly, can be both an effective and efficient means of resolving issues. A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case, New v. New, discusses the implications and consequences where parents utilize this right to resolve how to care for their child as they confront arguably the biggest step of any child’s life: attending college. In New, the parties agreed to pay off their children’s “ordinary and necessary” college expenses. When it came time to pay up, “ordinary and necessary” became a point of contention.  Language in any agreement is crucial, and given the general stance that parties are free to negotiate how they see fit, it is imperative that any ambiguities are either understood and accepted or limited and clarified during formation.  Here, the parties initially worked together, saving time and money in coming to an agreement, only to end up right back in a courtroom, litigating a language based issue that could have been potentially resolved at negotiations.

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By Sade Knox, Intern, Woodruff Family Law Group

King v. Giannini-King, 784 S.E.2d 237 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016).

Facts: In October 2001, Plaintiff (father) and Defendant (mother) were married and then separated, about seven years later, in early June 2008. Two minor children were born to the parties’ marriage. After the separation, Defendant relocated with the minor children. Subsequently, to Defendant’s relocation, Plaintiff brought an action for divorce from bed and board, child custody, and equitable distribution. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, a motion to strike, in addition to a counterclaim for custody, child support, alimony, etc.

The trial court initially granted both parties temporary joint legal and physical custody of the minor children. The trial court, nearly a year later, entered a custody order, granting Defendant permanent legal and physical custody of the minor children, and permitted Defendant’s relocation of herself and the minor children to Wilmington, N.C.

Plaintiff was granted visitation rights and relocated to Southport, N.C., where the parties began to modify their custody schedule. Plaintiff later remarried and returned to Person County. Soon after, Plaintiff filed motions alleging a substantial change in circumstance, which resulted in the trial court transferring primary physical custody of the minor children to Plaintiff, temporarily, and allowed Plaintiff to relocate the minor children to Person County.

Defendant filed a motion asking for a new trial, or set aside the temporary order, shortly thereafter, which the trial court denied.  Finally, in mid-December 2014, the court entered a permanent order that granted both parties joint legal and physical custody of the minor children. Defendant appealed arguing the trial court had erred in their custody orders.

Issue: Whether Plaintiff’s argument concerning the temporary custody order was appropriate for appellate review. Was there enough evidence to support a substantial change in circumstance?

Answer to Issue: No. Yes. Continue reading →

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By Sade Knox, Intern, Woodruff Family Law Group

Chafin v. Chafin, 791 S.E.2d 693 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016)

Facts: In late 1988, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a marriage that lasted about twenty years before the parties separated in June of 2008. During the years of the marriage, Defendant was an owner of a close to non-profiting auto-sales company in North Carolina. The company operated during the marriage up until the date of separation between the parties, which was when the company had dissolved, in 2008. That following year, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking equitable distribution of the marital and divisible property and provided inventory affidavits listing the assets of the marital home shared by the parties and the company that Defendant owned. The company’s assets mainly included the bank accounts, vehicle inventory, and Cash on Hand. Defendant failed to follow the trial court’s order to serve his equitable distribution inventory affidavit but, later served an affidavit in response to the proposed pretrial order, objecting to Plaintiff’s classification of the company’s assets.

Because of the evidentiary support provided by Plaintiff, the trial court found that the assets in question were marital property and awarded Plaintiff a lump sum that Defendant was required to pay in monthly payments. Though Defendant argued otherwise, the court found that due to Defendant’s income and assets from his employment, he was capable of distributing award to Plaintiff. Defendant went on to file four motions that were denied, but eventually, the court allowed Defendant’s motion to preserve the record in which evidence was offered to show that not all vehicles listed on the pretrial order were on the auto company’s lot on the date of the parties’ separation. Defendant appeals the trial court’s other findings.

Issue: Whether all the mentioned assets of the auto company and the shared home were marital and divisible property and correctly stated.

Answer to Issue: Yes.

Summary of Rationale: All personal and real property acquired by either spouse, during the marriage up until the date of separation is marital property. Defendant, owner of the auto sale company, deemed the company as personal property and the shared home was real property, both of which were acquired by the Defendant during the period of the parties’ marriage, classifying both the company’s assets and the home as marital property.

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By Sade Knox, Intern, Woodruff Family Law Group

Kelley v. Kelley, T.C. Memo. 2017-798, 2017 WL 1251018

Facts: Husband and wife were married in 1982. They later entered into a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement upon their separation in 1994 (the “1994 agreement”). The two later divorced in 1999. The 1994 agreement resolved several issues between the two such as child support, alimony, and equitable distribution, but most importantly, the agreement contained a “Modification and Waiver” clause. In 2003, approximately nine years after the parties separated and four years after their divorce, the parties allegedly signed a document titled, “Amendment to Settlement Agreement.”

The ex-wife, approximately eleven years after the parties entered into the 2003 Amendment, filed suit against ex-husband alleging he had breached the 2003 Amendment. Ex-husband responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. Ex-husband appeals to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Issue: Whether the ex-husband breached the 2003 Amendment.

Answer to Issue: No.

Summary of Rationale: Within the 1994 agreement, the “Modification and Waiver” clause explained that any modification or waiver of the agreement shall be consistent with the original formality of the agreement and reduced to a writing. In addition to being reduced to a writing, modifications also needed to be acknowledged by both parties before a certifying officer.

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