Articles Posted in Child Custody

Published on:

Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

          One thing that parents from all walks of life can commiserate over is the struggle to find child care. If you are a new parent, expecting your first child, new to the area, or just considering a change in care, there is a lot to consider when choosing a child care provider. There are several crucial criteria to keep in mind when searching for a daycare or preschool: curriculum, ratings, and your gut.

Curriculum

          Some daycares are just that – care for the child during the day. At the daycare, there may be a schedule for naps, feeding, and playtime, but no set curriculum. What differentiates a daycare from a preschool is the curriculum. While it may sound ludicrous, it is important that all children (yes, even infants) have a curriculum. So, when I first heard of this concept, all I could picture was a child who could barely speak taking a pop quiz on shapes, colors and the alphabet. But this is not what curriculum is all about.

The primary purpose of a curriculum is to identify when teachers should be introducing new concepts, tasks, and challenges to your child at certain developmental milestones. For example, if your child is having trouble walking and is frequently stumbling then the curriculum would address your child’s gross motor skills. Teachers can provide the child with uneven surfaces to walk on or navigate to help your child’s balance and coordination develop. A curriculum is just a plan to help your child grow, and as a parent, you should never feel nervous asking a potential provider for a copy of their curriculum.

Ratings

          Parents who have a child already enrolled in a facility are likely familiar with the star rating system in North Carolina. The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education developed a star rating system for licensed facilities to help parents quickly identify the standards their provider is meeting. The star ratings range from one to five, with five stars being the highest rated licensed facilities. Facilities earn their stars based on their staff education and their program standards. The state also has a website where parents can search for a provider in their county and refine by special requirements. A link to this site is provided at the bottom of this article.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

            The name “Responsible Individuals List” may sound like an accolade to parents; however, this is a misnomer. For those unfortunate enough to find their family in the midst of an investigation of child abuse, neglect, and dependency the List is likely to be mentioned. It is important that anyone who finds themselves in this situation be aware of what the term means and the ramifications of being on this list.

The Responsible Individuals List and Consequences

            The actual list is comprised of the names of individuals who are found to be responsible for the abuse and serious neglect of a juvenile. The List was created by statute in 2006 in response to federal requirements under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The primary goal of the federal regulation was to create a child abuse registry that was accessible to certain authorized agencies which must determine the fitness of an individual to care for or adopt children.

In 2010, the NC Court of Appeals held that placement on the List impacts an individual’s Constitutionally protected liberty interest. In re W.B.M., 690 S.E.2d 41 (N.C. App. 2010). Placement on the List can prevent an individual from being able to care for children, whether it be through employment, fostering or adopting. Although the List can affect a person’s ability to care for children, the statutes do not address the length of time an individual is placed on the List. The statutes also do not provide for an expungement procedure after a specified period has expired.

The List and Caring for One’s Children

            Although placement on the List can prevent a person from adopting or fostering, the List does not necessarily prohibit an individual from caring for their child. There are currently no cases in North Carolina that address being added to the Responsible Individuals List and then being denied reunification with your children. Further, North Carolina statute, the North Carolina Administrative Code and the Department of Social Services Manuals only address using the Responsible Individuals List for employment purposes or foster/adoption/kinship placement determinations. Currently, it appears the impact of being placed on the Responsible Individuals List is limited to children who are not biologically your own.

Continue reading →

Published on:

by Benjamin Neece, Attorney

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air and it is a great time to express it to those who you care about most.  It is important that during this festive season that you remember that your children are the ones who need your love the most and we are here to help with some creative ideas on how to make the most of your time with them.  When it comes to time with your children, it is important to remember the deliberate nature in which you must approach each moment you have with them.  Visitation must become more than simply being together; it is of the utmost importance to engage your children, take part in new and exciting experiences with them, and create lasting memories that you can share together for years to come.  Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to express and grow the love between you and your children and it never hurts to have a few ideas in your back pocket to make your time together special.

For younger children Valentine’s Day is a big deal; a good way to keep within the spirit of the holiday is to set aside time for fun and celebration.  A trip to Charlotte, NC provides many options to accomplish this.  Charlotte is home to the Discovery Place Museum- a childhood utopia that is sure to keep everyone entertained while engaging in interactive learning.  Afterwards, crafting valentines to exchange with each other and even take home is a great way for kids to express their love to both parents in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Continue reading →

Published on:

Child

When a marriage breaks down, the question of child custody becomes inevitable. This can often be the most emotionally charged and even contentious part of a divorce. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our compassionate and hard-working North Carolina child custody attorneys will let you know your rights as well as your options during this difficult time.

In Heatzig v. Maclean, a biological parent of children conceived through artificial insemination disputed the rights of her former same-sex domestic partner. The couple lived together and took care of the children for three and a half years. The relationship ended and the defendant left the shared home and took the children with her. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking joint and physical custody of the children.

The court assessed the following factors:  i) the plaintiff and the defendant made a joint decision to create a family unit; ii) the defendant deliberately identified the plaintiff as a parent; iii) the sperm donor was chosen based on certain physical characteristics similar to those of the plaintiff; iv) the plaintiff’s last name was used as one of the child’s last names; v) the plaintiff was present throughout the pregnancy and took part in the child’s birth; vi) both the plaintiff and the defendant were identified as parents at the child’s baptism; vii) the plaintiff was listed as a parent on the child’s school forms; and viii) the plaintiff had the authority to make medical decisions for the child. The Court noted the defendant had been trying to get pregnant for a while before she began her relationship with the plaintiff.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Legal CustodyWhen the parents of minor children split up, they need to figure out how and if they will share custody of their children. North Carolina parents are free to agree upon any custody and visitation agreement they deem best for the family. If the parents decide on an agreement, they can do that without the need for a trial, if they get the approval of the court. However, if the parents cannot reach an agreement, a court decides the matter. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our seasoned North Carolina child custody attorneys have the skill, knowledge, and determination to handle your child custody case.

Under North Carolina law, there are two types of custody:  physical custody and legal custody. The parent with whom the child lives has physical custody of the child. The parent who has physical custody is responsible for the supervision and day-to-day physical care of the child. Legal custody pertains to the parent who has major decision-making powers over the child, specifically in the following ways:

  1. Regarding the child’s education, health care, and religion.
  2. Important matters regarding the child’s welfare and overall life.

Continue reading →

Published on:

LawyerWhen parents decide to split up, it can be extremely difficult for the child to adjust to the change. When a parent decides to move to another state, the change can be even harder to deal with. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our skilled North Carolina child custody attorneys understand the nuances of family law and can help you determine your legal rights and options.

In North Carolina, parents are free to decide on any custody arrangement they see fit. Child custody lawyers usually work with parents to create a routine for the children that works well for all parties involved. However, if parents are seen as unable to decide the custody or visitation arrangement, a judge will make that determination. North Carolina law requires judges to decide child custody matters using the “best interest of the child” standard.

If a parent needs to move to another state for a new job, new relationship, or other needs, a whole new custody agreement will need to be created. If you have an existing custody order in place, relocation out of the state can be a violation of that order, subjecting you to potential court-imposed sanctions, including contempt, an order to return the child, and possibly paying costs or attorneys fees. As a result, you would need to seek a modification of that order before relocating, and any changes that are made to the existing child custody agreement are required to be accepted by both parents.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Child

Life after divorce can be difficult and made even more challenging when custody disputes are involved. North Carolina law was designed for the reality that people’s circumstances can change from time to time, and they may need to modify existing custody orders accordingly. When parents cannot agree on which changes are appropriate, the court will decide whether a modification is necessary based on substantial changes in circumstances.

Substantial changes in circumstances can include serious changes, such as the loss of a job, remarriage, or relocation of one parent. Of course, there could be other factors that the court deems ‘substantial’ as well. Any time that a parent claims that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the court will likely require proof and documentation of that change.

In the case of Hibshman v. Hibshman, a judge initially entered an order changing primary custody of a couple’s children from the mother to the father, but the judge did not first decide that there had been a substantial change in circumstances.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

           JAC-200x300 I must confess, as a family law attorney I cannot help reading about celebrity relationships. I find that even though it feels like celebrities are untouchable and have very different lives than our own when a celebrity relationship ends the same scenarios arise. Separation and divorce are the great equalizers, and no one is immune. If you have followed the recent celebrity news, you may have seen that Brad Pitt filed a motion this month asking the court in California for an emergency hearing on sealing the court file containing the details of his separation from Angelina Jolie. His argument was that he wanted to protect the couple’s six children from intense worldwide scrutiny.

The court denied his request for an emergency hearing, but there will be a hearing in January on whether to seal the file. As an observer, you may wonder why the court would not grant an emergency hearing on such a motion. It seems like a reasonable request; a parent urgently wants to protect his children’s privacy from nosy reporters, paparazzi, and onlookers. However, this is not enough for the court to grant an emergency hearing or to seal a file.

With regards to sealing a file, the public has the right to view court records which arises under both the common law and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The rationale for this right is that the public monitoring of the judiciary is key to a functioning democracy. If judges were able to seal court files and close courtrooms freely, the public would have no way of monitoring the behavior of the judicial branch. Although the general presumption is that court records are open for public inspection and viewing, there are some ways to get a court file or at least portions sealed.

Continue reading →

Published on:

DocumentsIf you have an existing child custody order that you want to change, the process can be quite complex. A North Carolina parent cannot just unilaterally change any type of child custody agreement. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our seasoned family law lawyers can help you determine if your circumstances will permit a child custody modification. With years of experience, we are well versed in this are of law and can put our knowledge to use in your case.

In Pulliam v. Smith, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the evidence supported the trial court’s decision to modify an out-of-state child custody judgment and an award of exclusive custody to the former wife as a result of the former husband’s homosexual relationship and activities.

The court highlighted that a change in a custodial parent’s residence is not itself a substantial change in circumstances justifying a modification of the custody order. However, if the location is detrimental to the child’s well being, the change in residence of the custodial parent is a substantial change in circumstances and justifies a modification of custody.

Continue reading →

Published on:

By: Jennifer Crissman, Woodruff Family Law Group

            JACAs a parent, it is a nightmare even to imagine your child being harmed. But for some families in the Piedmont, this is a grim reality. The scenario turns even darker when there are allegations that your spouse harmed the child. This places the parent in a terrible position: trying to protect your child from harm, and to reconcile how your spouse could be responsible for the alleged conduct. The parent may not have been aware the abuse was occurring, but may still be called to testify about the facts and circumstances of the alleged abuse either in a juvenile proceeding, a custody trial or criminal proceedings. What is the innocent parent to do? The natural inclination may be to stand mute to try to hold the family together. However, this is not an option.

Those who have watched television courtroom dramas are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of spousal privilege. The general idea is that one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other spouse, that private communications made during the marriage are confidential. However, there are nuances to the privilege and how it is applied, especially as it relates to the abuse of a child. Due to the case of State v. Godbey, it now appears that the spousal privilege is not applicable in any North Carolina court where there are allegations of child abuse. State v. Godbey, No. COA15-877 (N.C. App. 2016). Spousal privilege is not permitted in juvenile, civil and criminal courts where there are allegations of child abuse.

Typically juvenile cases begin when a report of suspected abuse or neglect is made to the Department of Health and Human Services. This report triggers an investigation into the allegations. After an initial investigation, the allegations will either be substantiated or unsubstantiated. If the claims are baseless, then the case is closed out with no court action. If the allegations are substantiated there could be a hearing in Juvenile Court to determine whether the juvenile is abused, neglected and dependent, or even criminal charges filed. This, in turn, can affect civil custody cases involving the child and the parents.

Continue reading →