Articles Posted in Custody

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During and after a divorce, divorced fathers need to be vigilant in helping their children deal with the stress, insecurity, and bewilderment they are likely to feel. This is especially true for middle schoolers who are still susceptible to feeling a wide range of emotions about the divorce, simply because they may not truly understand all the circumstances. Divorced fathers who take the time to engage in a variety of quality activities with their middle schoolers will certainly make a tremendous positive impact and improve the chances of maintaining a healthy, positive relationship.

The State of North Carolina is a treasure trove of fun activities for all ages, and middle schoolers and their divorced fathers will find many things to do right in Greensboro and the surrounding areas of Guilford County.  In the summer in and around the Triad, there’s plenty of things to do both inside and outside. North Carolina is full of amazing parks and lakes, and many of them offer a multitude of activities that divorced fathers and their middle school children can enjoy. Some of the more popular parks in Guilford County include Gibson Park, Northeast Park, Southwest Park, Hagan-Stone Park…and many others.

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By Carolyn Woodruff, JD, CPA, CVA and North Carolina Family Law Specialist

The low conflict divorce might utilize a Bird’s Nest for Child Custody in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is particularly useful if that house won’t sell so no one has money for moving.

Dear Carolyn,

I just read about something that might work in my upcoming separation and divorce. I have two children who are ages eight and ten. We have to sell the marital residence for my husband and me to each buy separate residences. Therefore, we have to live together, I suppose, which is frustrating until we can sell the residence. The residence has been on the market and that we aren’t having a lot of lookers. I just heard about a “bird’s nest.” I am wondering what this is and would it work for us. My husband and I both have parents that live nearby with bedrooms each of us could use until our house sells. Can you explain this further?

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Can the court terminate a parent’s rights for willful abandonment of the children? Are there steps a parent estranged from his child can take to ensure this doesn’t happen? In a recent North Carolina appellate decision, the court considered willful abandonment and termination of parental rights. The case arose when the parents of two minor kids separated in 2010 just before the second child was born. The mother sued for custody, child support, and alimony. The father didn’t go to the custody proceedings, and the mother was given sole custody of the kids with reasonable visitation for the father who lived in a different state.

 

Several years after that, the mother sued to terminate the father’s parental rights based on abandonment. The lower court had a hearing and decided to terminate the father’s parental rights. It waited almost a year to enter its written order. However, the father appealed the written order.

 

On appeal, the father argued: (1) the lower court hadn’t entered the written order in a timely way, (2) there wasn’t enough evidence to show abandonment, and (3) termination of his parental rights wasn’t in the kids’ best interests.

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Can a lower court restrict your use of your passport in a North Carolina child custody order? In a recent North Carolina case, the defendant appealed from the court’s denial of his motion for reconsideration and relief from a 2015 child custody and support order. The defendant was a Poland-born American citizen. He and his wife had one minor child. They separated in 2013 and were divorced in a 2014 judgment.

The plaintiff filed a complaint asking for custody of their child, child support, alimony, post-separation support, equitable distribution and attorneys’ fees. After a hearing, the lower court awarded primary physical custody to the mother, with the parents getting joint legal custody. The lower court also established a visitation order and child support obligations. The lower court included a provision stating that the father couldn’t seek or be allowed to have a passport for the couple’s minor child.

The order gave the mother sole authority and decision-making with regard to any passport applications and in case a passport was issued to or for a child, the mother would have exclusive authority not only over the passport but any foreign travel. The father was not allowed to take the minor child out of the continental United States, except where the court provided written authority to do so. His passport had to be surrendered to the clerk and he had to apply to the court if he needed to travel with his passport.

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In North Carolina, custody can be modified when there is a substantial change of circumstances, but importantly, this change need not be adverse. A positive change can also be the basis for a modification of North Carolina child custody. In a recent appellate decision, the court considered modification of custody in a child’s best interest at a grandparent’s request. The case arose from the modification of a 2012 custody order. The plaintiffs were the paternal grandparents of two children, and the plaintiff’s son was the children’s father. The children’s mother had gotten married since an earlier order of the court and her interests were opposed to the father and grandparents’ interests.

An earlier custody order had given the father sole legal and physical custody of the children. The mother had visitation rights. The father and children lived with the grandparents at that time. The father had limited intelligence and education and needed to rely on his parents. However, the mother admitted to the father that she used drugs and alcohol excessively at one point, and that she was hanging out with a man who was later imprisoned for meth sales. She wasn’t able to keep a job and had to move multiple times due to an inability to pay rent and utilities.

When the kids were five and two, their grandmother found the house covered in trash and alcohol and one of the kids had cut herself due to glass being on the floor. She removed the child from the mother’s home.

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Sometimes parents disagree as to the best course of treatment for a child’s mental health or health condition, or with regard to education. These issues came up in a recent North Carolina child custody appellate decision, in which a father appealed the court’s order giving a mother primary physical custody of their child, while only giving him secondary physical custody. The court had given the parents joint legal custody but gave the mother final decision making powers with regard to education and healthcare while the father retained final decision making powers with regard to sports.

The father argued the lower court made a mistake in several ways. The appellate court reasoned that the lower court’s findings were enough to support its decision about what physical custody award would address the child’s best interests, but it did hold that the lower court’s findings weren’t enough to support an award of joint legal custody with a split in decision making powers.

The case arose when the parents had one child. They lasted as a family unit for a few years when the parents decided to separate. The father asked for custody of the child. The mother counterclaimed. The father appealed from the permanent custody order.

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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 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 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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Carolyn Woodruff, J.D., C.P.A, C.V.A.

Dear Carolyn,

I reluctantly entered into a consent child custody order with the mother of my child in 2013. We were never married and never actually lived together. The child is now five having been born in 2011. I get visitation under the 2013 order, but the court never heard any evidence in 2013. We simply agreed. Now, I am very concerned this mother is unfit. She continues to smoke around the child who has asthma. She also has been charged with drug possession in both 2012 and recently. She will not let me have a relationship with my kid. She threatens to move out of state. There are things I need to tell the court about from the child’s birth until 2013 (date of current custody order), but my attorney says I cannot use the 2011 to 2013 evidence in my motion to modify custody. I want primary custody with the mother having supervised visitation. Is there any way I can present the proof of what this mother was like from 2011 to 2013? I think the mother of my child is unfit. What can I do?

– Worried about unfit mother