Articles Posted in Custody

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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

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

Dear Carolyn,

I am the father of two children, ages 10 and 12.  The mother of the children lives in West Virginia, where she moved after our divorce. The children were born and always have lived in North Carolina. The North Carolina order for custody allows the children to travel to West Virginia for 5 weeks in the summer. Last year the mother did not return the children when she was supposed to at the end of the summer, and the court here held mother in contempt. She filed for custody in West Virginia last summer claiming fictitious abuse of one child, but that case in West Virginia was dismissed. Then, I got them back. I heard that this might be kidnapping under some federal law. Can you explain kidnapping and whether I have any right with regard to kidnapping if this happens this summer?

– Frustrated and Looking for Options

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

Dear Carolyn,

I am a father of a beautiful 8-year-old daughter and a handsome 10-year-old son.  I live here, but the mother lives in California.  The mother has custody, but the children will be visiting with me for the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August. While I don’t have much time given the distance between the mother’s house and mine, I really want to make the time count that I do have.  I can take two of the weeks off from work, but I have to work two of the weeks.  What suggestions do you have?

– Dedicated Dad

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

Dear Carolyn,

I have a two year old daughter and the mother and I are facing a custody trial. The mother, in my opinion, has some mental disorders and has been treated for long-term depression. The mother breast fed, and mother and daughter are close.  I feel, however, that I am the better custodial parent.  Will the daughter’s age and sex keep me from being a custodial parent until she is older? Will the court listen to me, or am I just out of luck until my daughter is older?

– Dad

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Hi, Ms. Carolyn

My wife and I need some advice. In 2009, we had to see a judge in a matter of a 50B taken out by my stepson’s father based upon alleged child abuse. The 50B judge said that we would revisit the 50B issue after DSS finished their investigation, but it was never resolved. The father of my stepson let him stay with us after it happened.  We waited a month, and the father’s lawyer withdrew. The Judge dropped the 50B case due to the father not moving forward with the 50B. I checked a box on a DSS form saying that I was not admitting any guilt with DSS.  DSS never did an investigation. DSS apparently found abuse in the home because a year before (2008) my wife got mad, and took out a 50B on me. My wife then dropped the 50B. Then, my stepson’s father got a hold of the 50B my wife filed and dropped and DSS went with the decision based on my wife’s 50B.  Can DSS base a case on my wife’s dropped 50B?

Carolyn Answers….