How we help you with Child Custody
Custody cases can be tough on families because no one wants to “lose” his or her children. The term “joint custody” is often used without a real understanding of exactly what it means, much less how joint custody actually works.
We will always encourage our clients to settle their custody issues through mediation if both parents are working cooperatively to reach a custody arrangement that is fair to both parents and is consistent with the best interest of the children.
If, on the other hand, the other parent is seeking to harm the relationship between the children and the other parent, or is otherwise acting in a way that is contrary to the welfare of the children, we will strongly recommend that our client take his or her case to trial.
We have no tolerance for parents who use their children, even unknowingly, as pawns in their divorce cases.
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 our 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 we strongly discourage bringing children to our office while such issues are ongoing. It is our experience that parents often fail to appreciate the anxiety that children experience when they are even marginally involved in their parents’ custody disputes.
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“During difficult and uncertain times, Bill navigated our family with confidence and concern. I feel that our family was a top concern for Bill; at every turn he considered all aspects and guided us appropriately. Bill’s professionalism and high moral conduct in court kept my family looking forward to the positive conclusion he provided.”
“His advice regarding the law and how to negotiate with the opposing party was clear and effective, and Bill listened to my daughter’s desires and was understanding as to the direction she wanted to take things – and then provided his thoughts and suggestions. I would not hesitate to recommend Bill Rogers to anyone.”
“I have known Bill Rogers for over 10 years and his ability to operate both strategically and tactically are the skills and qualities that first come to mind. He can efficiently handle multiple complex tasks and has proved to be an invaluable resource to me. He has represented me in both a divorce and in my business and has been able to overcome many challenges and obstacles to my satisfaction.”
“I have been very fortunate to have Bill Rogers as my attorney. Mr. Rogers is extremely professional, knowledgeable, assertive, and tactful. His staff was incredibly skilled and efficient. It made me feel comfortable and confident knowing that I was surrounded by friends. I am extremely grateful for all he has done for me.”