By: Leesa M. Poag, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group
In a typical child custody case, the mother and father of a child are seeking the intervention of the court to settle their dispute over who should be granted custody of their child. Though this is the situation most often facing family law attorneys throughout the Triad, the cases become more complex when one of the parties seeking custody of a child is not a biological parent of that child.
This is the situation that the North Carolina Supreme Court had to address in 2003 in the case of Owenby v. Young. In 1989, Fred and Priscilla Young were married, and two children were born thereafter. Four years after marrying, Fred and Priscilla divorced. Upon their separation, the former spouses executed a separation agreement that granted Ms. Young primary custody of the minor children, and secondary custody to Mr. Young.
For seven years, the parties acted and shared custody of the children under this agreement. However, in April of 2000, tragedy struck when Ms. Young was killed in a plane crash. At this time, the minor children were 10 and 11 years old. Following Ms. Young’s death, Mr. Young moved the children in with him and began to exercise sole custody of the children.
But this arrangement would not last long. After the children had lived with their father for a few weeks, Ms. Young’s mother, Priscilla Owenby, filed a complaint with the court seeking custody of the children on both a permanent and ex parte basis. An order was entered by the court that same day granting temporary custody of the children to Ms. Owenby. Mr. Young then filed an answer to Ms. Owenby’s complaint and a counterclaim for custody of the children. The case came on for hearing in the trial court in December of 2000.
Continue reading →