- Social Security Disability
- Family Law
- Post Separation Support & Alimony
EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION Our equitable distribution law was enacted in 1981 and was a significant departure from prior law. North Carolina is a marital property state. Property acquired by either or both spouses between the date of marriage and the date of separation, with the exception of property acquired by way of gift or inheritance, is presumed to be marital property, and as such, subject to distribution by the Court. There is a strong presumption in favor of an equal division of the marital property, although the Court may in certain circumstances make an unequal division of the marital property. Certain passive increases and/or decreases in the values of the marital assets may be determined to be divisible property, and also subject to division by the Court. In any equitable distribution proceeding, the first step is to identify all marital and divisible assets. Proper investigation and use of discovery is important. The second step is to value those assets, and the final step is to distribute them. Equitable distribution matters are often complex and require substantial time, energy and organizational skills. Our office has made equitable distribution cases a point of emphasis and our staff is organized around a “team concept” which allows us to effectively organize and evaluate complex equitable distribution matters.
- Child Custody
Child custody issues are the most emotionally charged legal matters that arise during, and for many years following the parents’ separation. Ultimately, the District Court Division of the General Court of Justice has jurisdiction over child custody matters, although separated parents often enter into agreements resolving custody matters. Custody terms are routinely included in Separation and Property Settlement Agreements. Even after a custody case is filed in Court, the parties have an opportunity to settle through a mediation process. By statute, most custody cases not involving domestic violence are referred to the local child custody and mediation program. There is no charge for this type of mediation, and lawyers do not participate directly in the mediation sessions, although parties are given sufficient time to review any parenting agreements worked up in mediation with their attorneys before being allowed to sign the agreements. Once signed, the parenting agreement is submitted to a District Court Judge for entry, and the agreement thereby becomes an Order of the Court, enforceable (or modifiable) as any other custody Order to the same extent as if entered by the court without agreement of the parties. If the mediation process fails (impasses) a trial date is assigned and the parties battle it out before a District Court Judge. Child custody disputes are governed by Chapter 50 and 50A of the North Carolina General Statutes. The standard applied by the Court in all custody actions is the “best interest” standard. Court decisions often refer to the best interest of the minor child as the “polar star” by which the Court must be guided in making a determination of child custody. Custody orders typically include terms as to routine and holiday visitation (to be exercised by the non-custodial parent or in some cases, grandparents), access to medical and educational records, prohibitions against certain types of conduct in the presence of the child, and other terms as may be appropriate based upon the facts of the particular case. Upon the entry of a custody order, the Court typically retains jurisdiction to make such modifications as are in the best interest of the children, however the party seeking to modify and existing custody order generally has the burden of proving a substantial and material change of circumstances. A showing of “changed circumstances” is required of a party seeking to modify a child custody order, and event if that party carries his or her burden of proving changed circumstances by the greater weight of the evidence, that party must additionally prove that a modification of the order is in the best interest of the children. These burdens are considerable and custody orders often prove difficult to modify. As an aside, and to go ahead and answer the most commonly asked custody question in my years of practice, it is NOT true that when a child turns twelve years of age, he (or she) “gets to decide” where he or she lives. Joint custody is often agreed upon by parties in separation agreements, and those agreements define the term “joint custody” in many different ways. District Court Judges are required, upon request, to consider whether joint custody is appropriate in any case, however suffice it to say that joint custody is a developing concept, and is defined in many different ways. Our firm handles a substantial number of child custody cases. At the initial stages, we encourage our clients to consider settlement options carefully, as custody litigation is costly not only monetarily but emotionally. Custody agreements are typically handled on a “flat fee” basis, while custody litigation is billed on an hourly rate. We use the utmost care in attempting to avoid unnecessary involvement of the children in these matters. It is rarely if ever appropriate to involve children directly in a custody dispute, and I strongly discourage bringing children to my office while such issues are ongoing. It is my experience that parents often fail to appreciate the anxiety that children experience when they are even marginally involved in their parents’ custody disputes.
- Child Support
Child support is generally defined in the law as *****. As with child custody, parties sometimes enter into agreements regarding child support, and those agreements are often incorporated into Separation and Property Settlement Agreements. In some cases, parent simply agree on an amount that they consider “fair”, however the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, as incorporated into North Carolina General Statute Sec. 50-13.__ provide at least a frame of reference for most people in reaching a determination as to what an appropriate support amount should be. Adopted in 2002, and revised most recently in January 2011, the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines (“support guidelines”) represent an attempt by the legislature and the N.C. Conference of District Court Judges to establish a consistent and predictable standard for setting child support statewide. The support guidelines are readily accessible on line through several sources, and are maintained in “hard copy” in the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court. Based upon the “income shares approach”, the guidelines are presumptively applied in child support cases, both at the initial and modification stages. In cases where the parties’ combined incomes exceed $25,000.00 monthly, or in the unusual case where the Court determines that the support guidelines should not be applied, support is determined by considering the needs of the children, and the parents’ respective abilities to pay child support.
- Mediation and Arbitration
Mediation if frequently used by separating or already separated parties to negotiate the terms of their legal separation. These terms include child custody and visitation matters, child support, property division, post separation support and alimony, and other matters relating to their marital separation. Mediation is a structured negotiation which is moderated by a “neutral” whom we refer to as a mediator. The mediator can not render a decision on any matters upon which the parties disagree, however his or her purpose is to facilitate open and positive discussion which may lead to agreement on difficult issues. Any agreement reached in mediation must be formalized according to legal requirements to make it enforceable. Arbitration is a process whereby the parties submit contested issues to a “neutral” who we refer to an “arbitrator”. The arbitrator serves as a privately selected “judge”, and rules upon the issues submitted for arbitration under a written arbitration agreement. The agreement may call for expedited procedures for presenting exhibits and other evidence, and the parties may opt to modify the traditional rules of evidence and procedure which would otherwise apply in a traditional Court proceeding. Even though the parties still must pay attorney’s fees and the arbitrator’s fee, financial savings may be accomplished and time saved through the expedited procedures and modified rules in an arbitration proceeding. Arbitration can also be completed more quickly than would be possible through the traditional Court process.
- Equitable Distribution
The law of equitable distribution was enacted in 1981 and is codified in North Carolina General Statute Section 50-20 and 50-21. The law defines “marital property” and “divisible property” as being subject to distribution by the Court upon application of either party after the date of separation. Property acquired by either or both spouses between the date of marriage and the date of separation, with the exception of property acquired as a gift or inheritance, is presumed to be marital property and subject to distribution by the Court. There is a strong presumption in favor of an equal division of the marital property, although the Court may in certain circumstances make an unequal division of the marital property. Certain passive increases and/or decreases in the values of the marital assets may be determined to be “divisible property”, and therefore subject to distribution by the Court. In an equitable distribution case, the Court must first identify the marital and divisible property, value that property, and then distribute the property equitably. Proper investigation and use of discovery is important. Equitable distribution matters are often complex and require substantial time, energy and organizational skills. Our office has made equitable distribution cases a point of emphasis and our staff is organized around a “team concept” which allows us to effectively organize and evaluate complex equitable distribution matters.
- Post Separation Support & Alimony
- Attorney Profile
I have focused my practice on family law and social security disability for the past thirty years. Good communication is absolutely essential. Setting realistic goals and the strategy to reach them is the basis of a good attorney/client relationship. Experience gives you a pretty clear sense of what works, and what doesn’t.
The best compliment I can remember receiving came from a long-time client who explained why I was his lawyer. “He’s honest, he tells you what he thinks, and he does what he says he will do.” Simply put, this is how we practice law.
Experience is critical. I won my first Family Law case in 1981 and began representing Social Security Disability recipients referred to me by Congressman Hefner’s office in 1983. Thirty years of experience gives you a pretty clear sense of what works, and what doesn’t.
Practicing in the areas of Social Security Disability and Family Law presents a unique challenge to lawyers. The term “Attorney and Counselor at Law” truly applies here. A good family lawyer must truly understand the issues you are facing while maintaining professional objectivity.
Our idea of the practice of law is not particularly complicated. We provide our clients with the best quality legal representation efficiently and cost effectively using a practical, problem solving approach. We will serve your interests, not our own.