Articles Posted in Custody

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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….

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Dear Carolyn,

My ex is all over Facebook about what she did with the kids during Spring Break. She apparently took some young woman with her to babysit so she could spend more time with her boyfriend on the Florida beach. She posted my little boy “buck naked” on the beach on Facebook. She posted her “babysitter—young woman” drinking beer with at least a dozen empty beer cans in the background. She posted a picture of her boyfriend and her entwined on the beach on a blanket. And to top it all off, she posted a picture of her new engagement ring from him, and we are not even divorced. I have filed for custody of the two children. She wants alimony. Are the pictures I downloaded from Facebook admissible? Can I make her remove the nude picture of my son as I am worried about perverts? Do these Facebook pictures help me in my quest for custody and no spousal support? I am frustrated with the whole process.

Dear Frustrated,

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Dear Carolyn,

I believe I am the Father of a son, but the Mother is married to someone else.  I dated Mother while she and her husband were separated, but now they are back together.   We had sex during the time we were dating and the child was born 9 months later—perfect timing for the child to be mine. Mother and Mother’s husband will not let me see the child, and quite frankly, hide him from me.  I want to see my son.  What can I do?  I do not have any other children.

~ Bewildered Father

 

Dear Bewildered,

You have a chance for visitation, and here’s what you will need to do.  North Carolina has a very strong presumption that a child born of and during a marriage is the child of the Husband to the marriage.   You will have to file a lawsuit asking for visitation and asking that the presumption be overcome.

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Dear Carolyn,

I have been reading the horrid stories about children being left in hot cars. I also have been troubled by my next door neighbor leaving her seven-year-old son alone this summer while she goes to work. I have seen this mother lock the door when she leaves in the morning with the child apparently inside. I do think the seven-year-old has a cell phone.  I don’t like this situation for the seven-year-old who just finished first grade. Is there anything I can do?

~ Danger Lurking Next Door

 

Dear Danger,

Ohhhhhh! It is a crime for someone to leave a child under eight years of age unattended. Further, a child under age eight cannot be left locked up, as this is also a crime. Children under eight years of age must be left with a supervisor of suitable age and discretion. The parent can and will be prosecuted. The placement in the law of this statute is interesting as it is presented as a “fire protection” for little children. However, I do believe that leaving an unattended child under eight in a car would be a crime under this statute as well. (North Carolina General Statutes 14-318.)

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Dear Carolyn,

I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, and I am separated from their Father.  I am filing for custody and divorce.  I hear I am going to have to go to mediation with the Father, and I really don’t want to see him. I am not exactly afraid of him, but it sure is unpleasant being around him.  Do I have to go to mediation, really?

~ Curious

 

Dear Curious,

You are likely going to have to go to a court ordered session of mediation to see if you can settle custody and visitation of your children with their Father.  Hopefully, the mediation process will end with a settlement and improve the situation with the children’s Father.  Do not worry as you will not

Mediation was added by the legislature to the custody statutes with five aspirational goals: (1) reducing acrimony; (2) developing custody solutions in the best interests of children; (3) providing parents with informed choices; (4) providing a structured, confidential and cooperative facility for discussion of co-parenting; and (5) reducing litigation and litigation of custody cases.

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CarolynDear Carolyn,

Now that summer is almost over and school will be starting back, I am reflecting on the summer trip with my two children, who are 9 and 11.  Their mother and I are divorced, and I am trying to make summer memories with them that will last a lifetime.  This summer we ventured to the West Coast to see the sites.  While in Flagstaff, Arizona, we saw advertisements for a place called “Bullets and Burgers” in Arizona. That reminded me of the headlines about a nine-year-old girl from New Jersey, who killed her Uzi instructor in a place like this.   I am just curious if this could happen in North Carolina.  What are the North Carolina laws on this?  Do we have places like “Bullets and Burgers” in North Carolina?  My ex is dating a guy who owns a lot of guns.  Could he take my children to such a place?

~ Curious and Concerned

 

Dear Curious and Concerned:

You are referring to a story of a 9-year-old girl from New Jersey who was on a family vacation in Arizona. This story received lots of attention in the legal arena and in legal publications.  Her family took her to the place called “Bullets and Burgers.”  She was assigned an instructor and shot a single shot weapon without any trouble.  The instructor then let her shoot an Uzi automatic weapon that shoots 600 rounds per minute. She lost control of the Uzi, shooting and killing her instructor, inadvertently.  No charges were filed and the accident was ruled to be an “industrial accident.”             Continue reading →

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Dear Carolyn,

Visitation exchanges are almost always awful for my eight-year-old when the exchange is not at school.  I am a Father with fifty-percent custody.  I have Mondays and Tuesdays overnight.  My ex has Wednesdays and Thursdays overnight. We alternate weekends.

When school is out, we do the exchange at a local fast food restaurant.  My ex almost always brings her new boyfriend with her, and he almost always says something “smart” or derogatory toward or about me.  I have emailed my ex to stop these and I have asked her not to bring him.  My eight-year-old hears this nonsense.  What should I do?

~ Exchange Woes

 

Dear Exchange Woes,

It is obvious that it is not in the best interest of your child to hear the adults around him or her bickering during visitation exchanges. Your child is part of both you and your ex, and as such, he or she probably is stressed to hear derogatory comments about his or her father. Visitation exchanges should be happy for the child preparing to spend time with the other parent.

In Randolph County, several years ago, the news reported a tragedy at a visitation exchange from which we can learn.  Mom and Dad both had someone else with them at the visitation exchange.  The two other people got into an argument at the exchange, and one of the two other people at the exchange shot the other one (non-fatal shooting).   Apparently, the child apparently witnessed this shooting.

So, what should the rules be for visitation exchanges when the parents just do not get along, or there are other troublemakers, such as your ex’s new boyfriend?

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Carolyn

Dear Carolyn,

I am in a custody battle with my ex-husband.  My nine-year-old wants to live with me.  Can my nine-year-old simply tell the judge this, and then we are done with this mess?  I have heard a child can talk to the judge in “chambers,” but I am not sure what this means.

 

Carolyn Answers:

I am sorry that you and the Father were unable to decide together as the parents what is best for your child.  But, if the parents cannot decide, a person in a black robe will make the decision on what the “best interests” of your child is.

First, and I want to say this gently to you, a nine-year-old does not have the maturity to make the decision of where he or she should live and what is in his or her “best interests,” generally. Cases of abuse and neglect are perhaps different, but you do not mention that the child is being abused or neglected by the Father. This answer assumes that there is no abuse or neglect of your child by the Father.

Second, the court does not give “final say” to anyone. The court hears the evidence and judges the credibility, maturity, and objectivity of witnesses, and then the court, in its wisdom, renders a decision. Given the age of your child, in my experience, the judge would give little weight, most likely, to the opinions of a nine-year-old on what living arrangement is best for the child. The court may even consider whether you were influencing the child against the Father, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and give the Father even more time to offset your influence.

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Dear Carolyn,

The court has just ordered me to participate in a child custody evaluation with a local psychologist.  My children are seven and thirteen. I am a concerned Father, and the Mother has a new boyfriend that is “no good”. This new boyfriend is terrible around my children, and he is even spending the night with the Mother while the children are there. I disapprove of this. I also think the boyfriend is drinking and driving with the children in the vehicle.

What is a child custody evaluation?

 

Carolyn Answers:

A legitimate child custody evaluation is a complex process performed by a North Carolina licensed psychologist (PhD) under guidelines established by the American Psychological Association (APA).  The APA adopted and published Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings in 1994, which were updated in 2009.

Here are the typical stages of a child custody evaluation, where there are no sexual abuse or other abuse allegations.

  1. Initial interview of each parent and general information gathering: The psychologist has an initial meeting with each parent and receives information from the parent, which includes general background, education, employment, family of origin, education, medical issues, stressors, and anything else of general relevance to the matter. Information gathering might be police reports, letters from attorneys, previous psychological evaluations, mental health records, school records, and similar information. Be sure to tell the custody evaluator about the boyfriend, the drinking, and your concerns in your first interview. The psychologist may decide to seek an interview with the boyfriend, and certainly the psychologist will gather information from the Mother and the children on this boyfriend.
  2. Test Administration to the Parents: Most typically in our area, the psychologists use the MMPI-2 for objective testing. This test is comprised of 567 true-false questions. While there is much research regarding how to interpret the results, the test remains controversial for use in child custody evaluations, so the evaluator has to be careful with regard to the use of any objective testing. Continue reading →