Doyle v. Doyle, 176 N.C. App. 547 (2006)
Sometimes, what kicks off a divorce is not a slow descent into a frustrating marriage, but instead a jarring and violent incident that cannot be reconciled. Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPO) can be granted to spouses that fear for their or their minor children’s safety. A DVPO plays a major role in a divorce case that includes claims for child custody. In North Carolina, our laws require that judges in child custody proceedings consider acts of domestic violence and safety of the child when making determinations. Is it fair for a judge in custody to allow new arguments for a settled case? Below, we discuss the implications of such a DVPO on child support through the lens of a legal doctrine called collateral estoppel.
(a) Facts: Plaintiff husband and Defendant wife married in 2001 and had one child together. They separated in 2003 and a complaint for child custody and support was filed in 2004. During this period, the parties alternated custody of the minor child on their own accord. On one such exchange, Plaintiff was at Defendant’s home to pick up the child when Defendant tried to prevent them leaving by trying to remove the child from Plaintiff’s arms. Defendant struck Plaintiff’s groin, and Plaintiff responded with his own use of force. Police were called and Defendant filed for a DVPO. Plaintiff filed a counterclaim for the same. Temporary custody was awarded to Defendant. In the DVPO hearing, the trial court Judge Mull found that Defendant had initiated the altercation, thus dismissing Defendant’s complaint and granting Plaintiff’s. In 2004, a hearing was conducted for the issues of child custody and support. At that hearing, trial court Judge Sigmon disagreed with Judge Mull, and ordered Defendant have primary physical custody. Plaintiff appealed.