Wayne Hopper, Legal Assistant
When an issue is winding its way through the court system, you may feel as if time stands still. Family law cases can be especially trying due to the emotions they elicit and the time it takes to see them through to the end. Family law cases not only come with a monetary cost, they can be costly in time and emotional currency. The prolonged drama of hearings and motions and continuances takes a toll on a family’s financial and emotional well-being. And the backlog in family court has been exacerbated by court closures stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
North Carolina courts were largely shut down through much of 2020 and into 2021 due to Covid-19. At last count there were more than 10,000 cases pending in District Civil courts across North Carolina, and that’s on top of a typical, pre-COVID caseload which already clogged the system.
Given this, what can you do to help your family law case stay on course and reach a conclusion as soon as possible?
First, promptly file or answer any complaints, answers, or summonses. The longer you wait to file or answer, the longer it will take to process. It’s always a good idea to be present and on time for all hearings and other court appearances your attorney tells you to attend. Of course, the fastest way to resolve your family issue is to come to terms on an agreeable solution with the other party. Parties can work between themselves, through attorneys, or through a mediator to develop mutually beneficial solutions. For instance, spouses going through a divorce can enter a proposed consent order to the court, which sets out the financial and property agreements made by the parties. A proposed consent order can also be entered in child custody cases when parents have settled on a custody arrangement without using a mediator. In North Carolina, mediation is required for child custody cases but can be waived by a judge.
Another option to stay out of court in a custody case is to enter a parenting agreement that details the terms of custody when parents settle through private or court-mandated mediation. A custody agreement is a final option to minimize time and money spent in court. Although not recommended due to their difficulty to enforce, a custody agreement is a contract between parents that isn’t filed with the court.
It may seem to be a good idea to get through your family law issue as soon as possible, but rushing things can be detrimental. Even if you can amicably reach an agreement in your case, it is still recommended to have a family law attorney look over any documents you plan to sign or proposed agreements you plan to submit to the court.