Articles Posted in ClientVille

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In a recent unpublished opinion of a North Carolina child support decision, a court considered a child support order involving a mother who was voluntarily unemployed. The father had appealed from the lower court’s child support order claiming that the lower court had made a mistake in concluding as a matter of law that only the defendant father owed the obligation to give support to the couple’s minor children and by failing to impute income to the mother who was voluntarily unemployed.

The couple had married in 2003 and divorced in 2015, after having two kids. They had equal physical custody. The mother had more income than the father did, but she didn’t pay support to the father. However, she remarried and got pregnant with another child. She’d been working full time as a registered nurse throughout her pregnancy in 2015, but after her daughter was born in 2015, she got a new job as a registered nurse and worked three shifts each week. When she became pregnant with twins, the pregnancy was considered high-risk and she stopped working. The babies were born five weeks premature and she didn’t go back to work as a nurse.

The county Child Support Enforcement Agency brought an action on behalf of the mother asking for child support from the father. The lower court deviated from the state child support guidelines and ordered the father to pay child support each month and provide health insurance coverage for the former couple’s two kids. He also had to pay arrears. The lower court found the mother had no income and no support obligation. It didn’t find the mother had acted in bad faith.

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Often people assume that if alimony is awarded, a husband will have to pay it to his ex-wife. However, based on consideration of certain statutory factors, alimony can also be awarded to an ex-husband and a wife may be required to pay it. In a recent North Carolina alimony appellate decision, a wife appealed from the court’s award of alimony to her husband. The couple had met online. The husband lived in India but moved to the U.S. to be with the wife. They married in India, but separated while living in the States. During the marriage, the wife allegedly subjected the husband to emotional and mental abuse.

The husband sued for divorce and alimony. In 2015, the appellate court had affirmed the lower court’s grant of divorce but reversed its award of alimony. In 2016, the lower court entered an order that awarded the husband alimony, among other things.

The wife appealed the award of alimony. She argued there was no subject matter jurisdiction for the alimony award, claiming that the lower court was required to recognize the annulment she got in India in 2011, one month after the husband sued for divorce. The appellate court explained that neither of the spouses was domiciled in India when she got the annulment, and so the lower court hadn’t made a mistake in not recognizing the annulment. In North Carolina, foreign divorces and annulments don’t need to be recognized where neither party had domicile in the jurisdiction that granted the annulment or divorce. It noted that domicile describes someone’s established and permanent home, and that even if someone has more than one residence, there is only one domicile. Domicile is changed by actual abandonment of some other domicile, intent to stay in a new place indefinitely or permanently or physical residence in a new place.

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A 529 Savings Plan allows parents to put aside money for their kids’ college expenses under tax-favorable conditions. How should trial courts classify the money in a 529 Savings Plan that is created and funded during marriage when a couple is getting a divorce?

In a recent North Carolina marital property appellate decision, a mother argued that contributions to a 529 Savings Plan were a gift to the children, rather than marital property to be divided. Alternatively she requested that the court carve 529 Savings Plans from the marital estate by creating a rule to treat the property differently from other marital assets.

The appellate court rejected her arguments, explaining that the beneficiaries of the plan didn’t have ownership of the funds, and the people participating in the plan could choose not to spend the money on education and after paying a penalty could spend it on something different. Accordingly, contributions aren’t gifts. The court also explained that it didn’t have the authority to create a way to carve 529 Savings Plans from the marital estate. It reasoned that the General Assembly was the governmental body with this authority, and that its role was to consider the purpose of marital funds to determine equitable distribution.

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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 Tina Ray, Legal Assistant

Growing up in a tiny town near Greensboro, N.C., I can remember being a kid and playing in the yard, getting skinned knees and bee stings.  That’s what we did “back then.”  I remember picking up pecans and climbing trees and riding my bike.  We had a rotary dial telephone.  What is that you ask?  It’s a telephone that had a dial with holes in that had a handset attached to it with a curly cord, and the entire thing was attached to another cord that made it work!  We did not have air conditioning until I was about 12 years old.  Window fans were placed in our windows to draw the hot air out of the house, and indoor box fans blew hot air around inside the house.  We had a gravel driveway, and I sometimes had to help fill in holes in the driveway with a rake or a shovel so we wouldn’t blow a car tire driving in and out of it.  Listen to this; we did not have a weedeater!!!  I can, believe it or not,  remember using handheld clippers and having to go around the outside of the house and flower beds and trim the weeds BY HAND!!

My grandfather used to take my sister and me to a nearby store, and we got to pick a bottle of Coke out of the metal cooler and play pinball while he sat around and discussed world issues with the other locals.  Getting that Coke and playing pinball was the highlight of my week.  Grandpa would give me a quarter to clean his glasses with a paper towel and soap and water.  A quarter!  My other favorite thing was going to Woolworth and my mother buying me a 45 rpm vinyl record that I could play on my red, plastic record player that I worshiped.  By the way, I was only allowed to get the record if I had been good that week, and if I didn’t get one, I was devastated.  We hung our clothes on the clotheslines behind our house in the mornings and took them off the clotheslines in the afternoons, and if a storm sprung up, we had to run outside and snatch them off quickly, before the rain started.

I am not going to reveal my age but trust me; my upcoming birthday is a milestone birthday.   In my mind, I’m still that little girl, but when I look in the mirror, I get a shock!  Sometimes, people say, “you should be thankful to have a birthday, think about the alternative.”    I am very thankful.  I am also very thankful to have air conditioning, a washer and dryer, a paved driveway, a weedeater and a cell phone that can play music at the touch of a finger.

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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 Carolyn Woodruff, attorney

What is the best way to get your visitation suspended? Alienate your child or attempt to alienate your child from the other parent.

A case that was filed September 18, 2018, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals illustrates this tragic error on the part of the mother. See Sneed vs. Sneed. The plaintiff, the father, is Jason M. Sneed. The defendant mother is Charity A. Sneed. The case is originally from Mecklenburg County. I must admit, I find Charity an interesting name for the mother, given her conduct.

Father, learning of the mother’s adultery, served a complaint for child custody on the mother in North Carolina, and mother immediately removed the children to South Carolina against father’s wishes and cut off all conduct with the father. Father petitioned the trial court to grant a temporary and exclusive emergency custody order, which ordered the mother to return the children to North Carolina. Upon the mother’s return, the parties agreed between themselves to an alternating week of physical custody. When the mother continued to refuse to comply with the agreed-upon schedule, the father then filed a custody evaluation motion to have a psychologist look at this situation. This mother also homeschooled the children and the father alleged that she was alienating the children from the father and that the father’s relationship was continuing to deteriorate.

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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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by Leesa Poag, Attorney

As autumn begins to creep across the Triad, it seems that the temperature isn’t the only thing dropping. According to a study done by the University of Maryland, the number of divorces in the United States is also on the decline. And the reason being attributed for the impressive drop, eighteen percent over the past ten years, might surprise you.

Millennials. It’s not a term that’s often meant as a compliment. In fact, it tends to be associated by many with attributes like entitlement and laziness. But this oft-maligned group of twenty and thirty-somethings seems to have figured out how to make marriages work in a way that older generations never seemed to master.

So what exactly are millennials doing differently that’s allowing them to dodge the divorce bullet? One factor that has a major effect is that millennials are waiting until they feel more financially stable before walking down the aisle. Its often said that money is the root of all evil, and it tends to be the root of many divorces as well. Struggling to pay the bills, keep the lights on, and keep food on the table when incomes are limited, or even nonexistent, can cause a tremendous amount of stress, and often this stress can put a major damper on a couples’ wedded bliss. By delaying marriages until they feel they are able to stand on their own feet and live comfortably, millennials are eliminating this major stressor from their marriages.

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Mark Griffin, M.E., Blog Writer

It’s summertime, and that means kids around Greensboro will be beating the heat. But they probably won’t be hanging out at the pool or lake like their parents did. It’s more likely they will be huddled around their electronic devices playing video games or watching YouTube. The World Health Organization has recently classified addiction to video games as a certified mental disorder. Our children are particularly susceptible during the summer months when they are out of school and have less structured activities.

The signs of video game addiction are disturbingly quite similar to other addictions such as exercise addiction or sex addiction. If your child has difficulty talking or even thinking about anything other than video games, then they might have a problem. The problem is exacerbated by the gaming designers attempting to make their games psychologically addicting purposely. As with drug and alcohol addictions, they may have such a compulsion to play that they let school work lag and their grooming and hygiene begin to suffer.

In the beginning, gamers may be satisfied to play one or two hours at a time; however as they become more addicted, they crave much longer sessions. Some children have to be physically removed from a game console, or they will play continuously. As the addiction worsens they frequently suffer from significant weight gain or weight loss, sleep disruptions, mood changes, sleep deprivation, Avoiding friends and family members. They may begin lying about the time spent playing video games and start skipping meals. Shoddy work and academic performance should also set off alarm bells.