Articles Posted in In The News

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By Carolyn J. Woodruff, North Carolina Family Law Specialist

Winston Salem, North Carolina: Malecek v. Williams (2017)

Derek Williams is a Forsyth County doctor who had an affair apparently, or at least allegedly, with his nurse. Playing doctor-nurse games got them in trouble with the nurse’s husband, Marc Malecek. The nurse’s then-husband Marc sued Derek for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.

What is alienation of affection? This heart balm tort is something like an automobile accident where a marriage is rear-ended. This alienation of affection requires a spouse to prove that he or she had a genuine marital relationship and that marriage relationship was interfered with by a third party paramour, causing damages. What is criminal conversation? That is simpler. That is sex with someone’s spouse creating damages. Frequently the damages might be one dollar, which is required to reward if sex is found with someone else’s spouse. Of course, in North Carolina damages for alienation of affection and criminal conversation has been as much as $30 million.

Interestingly enough, Derek Williams was sued by Marc Malecek in May of 2016. The Honorable Todd Burke dismissed the lawsuit indicating that alienation of affection and criminal conversation were unconstitutional. There had been several other cases wherein judges had found or not found alienation of affection and criminal conversation to be unconstitutional.

For now, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has spoken on the constitutionality of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. These heart balm torts are constitutional, according to Court of Appeals Judge Richard Deitz. Continue reading →

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by Carolyn Woodruff, North Carolina Family Law Specialist

Opioids are the growing problem in family law. Opioids and domestic violence do not mix and yet yield dreadful consequences. From Greensboro, North Carolina, a 28-year-old woman named Marie Aman will spend many years in prison for the death of a man, who may or may not have been her boyfriend.

The problem? She ran over him, and her opioid addiction played into it.

More tragically, she already has two children. What prospects do these two children have? Life in foster care? Being adopted? Hopefully, in prison she will beat her opioid addiction which is very hard to do, but where will her children be while she is in prison? I don’t know anything about her extended family, and perhaps there are fabulous grandparents out there.

For the life of Dona Auzins, her son is dead. Aman ran over the Auzins’ son after what appears to be a domestic dispute. The story of what happened is unclear, but whatever happened, Auzins is dead. He was found on the street having been hit by the automobile driven by Aman. Her story: She put her boyfriend out of her car to walk home. She planned to drive to her own home, and she says she suddenly say Auzins in front of her. He allegedly shouted: “What are you going to do? Run me over?”

The case came on for trial yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina. Aman took an Alford plea to second-degree murder, which has a minimum sentence of approximately eight years. The Alford plea means she does not admit guilt. She is the only one alive who was there. What she says happened is that she and Auzins argued. Domestic violence. She saw Auzins later in the road in front of her, and she ran over him crushing the right side of his brain. He was delivered to Moses Cone and was brain dead. That’s when his mother found out.

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Leesa M. Poag, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

After the death of their eight-year-old son earlier this year, two parents in Ohio have filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati Public Schools. The child hanged himself with a necktie from his bunk bed, an act that his parents claim was a result of bullying he suffered at his elementary school.  The parents claim that the child was repeatedly bullied at his school, as were several of his fellow classmates.

This is, unfortunately, not the first such lawsuit to arise over the issue of school bullying.  As discussions surrounding bullying are becoming more prominent in our society today, so are parents seeking to recover damages as a result. In 1999, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of school liability in bullying cases.  In the case of Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that damages were recoverable from a school board in bullying cases, but only if the Plaintiff proves that the school was deliberately indifferent to the bullying.  The Court held that a Plaintiff must show that the harassment was so severe and pervasive that it effectively barred the child from access to educational opportunities. This standard creates an extremely high bar for a plaintiff to meet in a bullying case.

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By: Jennifer A. Crissman, Woodruff Family Law Group


Bullying in the classroom is, unfortunately, a continuing epidemic both nationally, as well as in the Triad. A new case out of Ohio has recently made news on this topic. An eight-year-old boy named Gabriel Taye from Ohio hanged himself from his bunk bed after being continually bullied at his grade school. The parents of the young boy have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Cincinnati Public Schools, asserting that the school is liable for the child’s death. The lawsuit states that school officials knew about the bullying but were indifferent to the situation and allowed a dangerous school environment to flourish for Gabriel.

Currently, the case law on school liability in the suicide of a student is somewhat sparse. There are two cases which make up the primary law on the issue: Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which deals with sexual harassment in schools, and Stiles v. Grainger County Board of Education, No. 01-91360 (6th Circuit, March 25, 2016), a 6th Circuit case which deals with bullying and sexual harassment. The main thrust of the cases is that schools are liable where the school’s deliberate indifference to the harassing behavior makes students vulnerable to further harassment or causes them to undergo harassment. Ultimately, the Court must determine what the school was aware of, and what, if any, remedial actions the school took after learning of the harassing behavior.

These two cases do not deal with the issue of suicide, as the students in these cases survived the bullying. In some ways, it may be more difficult for the Ohio court to ascertain the school’s liability as the student Gabriel Taye is not present to testify to the bullying behavior he had to endure and what the school and his teachers were aware of.           Continue reading →

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By: Benjamin N. Neece, Attorney

               Bullying is not a new or novel occurrence; however, the effects bullying may have come as a surprise to many.  Advancements in technology and the associated effects in society have created many new challenges in combating bullying, especially in schools.  Whereas before, a child who was bullied at school was able to achieve some relief upon the bell ringing and returning home- an escape was possible. Today cyber bullying creates a new outlet for tormentors to attack their victims, often anonymously, anytime day or night in front of a limitless audience. A dangerous problem is evolving into an uncontrollable one. So where do we look for help? A recent trend takes the position that bullying is a legal issue that should be confronted in a court of law, but should it?

Gabriel Taye, a young boy lost in the worst way possible, where bullying is believed to have played a major role. His tragic story raises an interesting question as to what role schools play in policing and monitoring bullying, and whether or not they should be held liable when the unthinkable happens.  Children today are smarter and more resourceful than ever; this is especially true with the introduction to electronics and technology at very young ages.  Bullying can be as obvious as physical abuse and as inconspicuous as verbal harassment via social media or messaging apps.  So how does the Court system come into play in enumerating the responsibility and liability of schools when it comes to bullying?               Continue reading →

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By: Carolyn J. Woodruff, attorney

While nothing in this article should be viewed to condone the horrific acts of Christopher Lee Neal, age 42, who shot at a social services worker after children were taken from his home, the event should be a wake up call for the Department of Social Services (DSS). Apparently this Reidsville man targeted at least two social services employees that had been working on his child custody case. He shot at one of the social workers through her car window in Burlington. According to news reports, she was not injured. He was later apprehended in Myrtle Beach.

Let’s face it. Taking away a child is serious business and emotionally drenching, and should only be done by DSS with all the proper protocols, which involve either having law enforcement or a Juvenile Judge.   Unfortunately, DSS in many instances is acting outside the bounds of the law and the Constitution, and they do not follow proper protocol regarding the removal of children, in allegedly dangerous situations, from homes. This makes a parent mad.

DSS is not law enforcement, and DSS is not a court of law. DSS is an agency that MUST apply to the Juvenile Court for the authority for search and seizure of children. DSS can assess the danger and apply to the Juvenile Court, but DSS is not permitted to “search and seize” children based on its own safety assessment. This seizure is improper. While I like Sheriff Page, his statement if reported accurately is both incorrect and not in keeping with the US Constitution. He reportedly said in a Press Conference, ‘Child Protective Services were investigating a case…During the process in their job, sometimes they have to remove children from the home because of neglect and abuse.” No, this is not correct. DSS can investigate, and DSS can apply to the court to obtain an order to remove the child, but DSS cannot do this removal simply because DSS thinks it should. To do so is unconstitutional search and seizure.

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thumbnail_backbendOn June 8, Dance Legends from Russia, USA, Italy, South Africa, Denmark, and Azerbaijan will perform at the State Kremlin Palace, Moscow, Russia in “Stellar Duo.”

Carolyn Woodruff, known as the Dancing Divorce Attorney, will represent the USA for the second year in Moscow, Russia in the “Stellar Duo” with partner, Alosha Anatoliy (from Ukraine, now US citizen). The two have been dancing together since 2006 and are the reigning United States Pro-Am Show Dance Champions. The two have also won several titles for themselves in the last 10 years including; Gold Medalists at the 2016 United States Dancesport Championship, Fred Astaire National Dance Championship in both Smooth and Cabaret, Best of the Best in Gold Show dance at the Millennium Dancesport Championship, and were featured on Simon Fuller’s Ballroom Blitz, which played in over 10 countries.

“Alosha and I are so privileged to be representing the United States for the second time in Moscow. We understand what an honor it is to be included in “Stellar Duo” with all this world turmoil between the United States of America and Russia. We believe that Art and Dance will rise above the political unrest,” says Woodruff, owner of Woodruff Family Law Group, Greensboro, North Carolina. 

I feel very honored and excited to be part of this very special event and share the Mystery of Masquerade,” says Alosha Anatoliy, owner of Fred Astaire Greensboro.

Carolyn and Alosha’s beloved choreographer, Taliat Tarsinov, who is sought after worldwide, is the event’s Artistic Director.

“It is such a privilege to be the Artistic Director of “Stellar Duo” and to be able to bring the world’s best ballroom dance couples together for one exciting evening in Moscow at the beautiful Kremlin Palace,” says Tarsinov.

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Leesa M. Poag, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

When a couple decides to separate and end their marriage, there are often other issues that must be resolved along with the divorce.  Family law attorneys in North Carolina often include claims for issues such as custody of the children and division of the marital property along with the divorce claim.  But an issue that has recently become more and more prevalent is one that falls somewhere between the custody and property division issues – when two people separate, which spouse gets to keep the family pet?

While the question of who will keep the pets is a common one in many cases, it has proven to be especially contentious in cases where a couple has no children, or the children are grown up and are no longer in the home.  One can understand how this situation can lead to a party having a stronger than normal bond with the pet, sometimes even treating the pet as their child.  (And hey, you don’t have to pay to send Rover to college!)

Traditionally, courts have viewed pets as personal property of the parties.  The typical approach to dividing personal property is a three step process which includes first classifying the property (either separate or marital), next, valuing the property as of the date of the parties’ separation, and finally making a distribution of the property between the parties.  While this approach might be simple when it comes to your sofa, it is proving to be a much more difficult question when it comes to your Schnauzer.  How does one place a value on a pet?  Should the court value your family dog at the amount that you paid for him, or should the sentimental value that the dog now has as a member of the family be considered?  And if the parties can’t agree as to who should keep the pet, how does a judge, who is unfamiliar with the parties or the animal, make such a determination?

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Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

Whenever you become a party to a lawsuit, whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant, there are deadlines imposed by the Court, by statute, and by the Rules of Civil Procedure that are important to follow. There are deadlines whether you are in Guilford County, North Carolina or Fulton County, Georgia. Missing such a deadline could severely impact your rights.

For a real life celebrity example, let’s look at Phaedra Parks – star of Real Housewives of Atlanta – and her jailed husband, Apollo Nida. The couple were married in 2009 and separated in 2014.

On December 1st of this year, Apollo Nida filed a Complaint against Phaedra Parks, seeking a divorce, along with joint legal custody of the minor children and an equitable division of all of the personal property, assets, and marital debts.

However, back in November of this year, the parties were granted a divorce, after Nida failed to respond to Parks’ divorce petition. Parks filed for divorce in March of 2015 and subsequently was divorced in November. The judge also awarded Parks custody of the parties’ two children. Nida will have visitation rights once he completes the eight-year prison sentence he is currently serving for bank fraud and identity theft.

Now consider if this situation happened here in Guilford County. Once the parties remain separated for one year, either of the parties can file for divorce, which Parks does. Once the Plaintiff has effectuated service of the divorce complaint on the Defendant, the Defendant has 30 days to respond. The 30-day deadline is according to the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. To extend this deadline, the Defendant can file a Motion for Extension of Time and receive an extension, as long as the deadline has not already passed. Now in the case of Parks and Nida, Nida never filed an Answer and never sought an extension of time.

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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.

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