When you find yourself faced with a separation or divorce, determining how to handle custody is the most important decision you will make. The thought of your child(ren) not being at home with you every night is hard to come to grips with for many parents.
Often, parents find themselves asking,
- What should I do?
- What should I agree to?
- What is “typical”?
- What tends to work best?
- How can I ensure my children’s safety, health, education, well-being, and happiness in this new world involving two households?
How the Doyle Law Group Protects Your Children During Divorce
At the Doyle Law Group, we know how important children are in our lives, and we resolve to guide each client through every custodial option. Our goal is protecting the safety and welfare of children, and ensuring an enriching relationship now and in the future.
We believe that our client’s need to focus on their kids during this difficult time of transition and so we focus on protecting their legal rights and dealing with the legal issues.
We work with each of our clients to create goals and formulate a plan that protects your kids and addresses your concerns. Then we put that plan into action while ensuring that everything possible is done to help your children adjust.
If needed, we also offer assistance and resources to help parents adjust to new challenges. This includes assisting parties in co-parenting in a new environment or parenting alone, as is sometimes necessary
Coming to a Custody Agreement
In most cases, the best way to handle child custody for all involved is to come up with an agreement from both parents that resolves custodial time and ensures effective co-parenting.
While no agreement is perfect, we assist clients in formulating and presenting workable custodial schedules. Using our extensive experience and expertise, we aim to address problems ahead of time to avoid trouble down the road.
What if I Work Out a Custody Arrangement With my Spouse?
If you work out an agreement with the other parent for custodial time, we work with you to make sure that the agreement is practical and will meet your goals in the months and years to come.
We suggest plans for:
Agreements do not always specifically deal with or resolve all of these issues, but our clients have the option to include such provisions if they so choose. We can prepare a complete, ready to sign custody agreement for your spouse, or we can negotiate with your spouse or their attorney. We can facilitate mediation, settlement conferences, or take the matter to court if necessary.
Sometimes an Agreement Cannot Be Reached
If an agreement cannot be reached, or the other parent is simply not fit at present to have any significant custodial time, then we take the matter to court using our years of experience to ensure the safety and welfare of your children. Our family law attorneys have successfully handled hundreds of custodial matters over the years, and we have the knowledge and ability to work with you to prepare the strongest case possible.
Our method involves:
- Extensive preparation
- Effective exhibits and evidence
- Well prepared testimony from witnesses
- Convincing arguments to the Court
- Finally, presenting credible plans to the court that we feel are in the children’s best interest
In many cases, we use experts to aid in the presentation of our case. The vast majority of cases settle out of court, however rest assured if court is necessary, we will do our very hardest to ensure a positive outcome.
What are Effective Methods for Successful Child Custody Cases?
Effective methods to settle custody cases include:
- Basic negotiation
In North Carolina, if a case does not settle before filing suit, parents are required to attend a mandatory mediation program which often facilitates a settlement through compromise. In some cases, we suggest a private mediation where both parties and their attorneys work with a professional mediator to reach an effective compromise.
Arbitrations are somewhat like a private court hearing, although typically less formal and less confrontational. Arbitration involves a professional arbitrator, who will hear from both parties and receive evidence from each side before rendering a decision, much like a judge. The main practical difference is that an arbitrator follows the rules established by the parties, hears only your case, and hears and decides the case on a schedule set by the parties.
Method of Settlement: Parenting Agreements
Parenting Agreements are a legally binding contract that is based on the agreement of the parties regarding issues of child custody and can come about through negotiation, mediation, or methods used to reach a mutually agreeable resolution without court intervention.
Addressing your child custody issues this way not only avoids the expense of going to court, but can also create a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent. By making the matter about what is in the best interest of your children, rather than pitting you against each other, the two parents can work together toward a common goal.
What if Court is the Only Option?
Unfortunately for some, handling this matter in court is necessary. Even if this is the case for you, there are techniques that can be employed to minimize the emotional and financial damage of a contested child custody case while still ensuring that the best interests of your child are protected.
What is a Parenting Agreement?
Parenting Agreements are often effective in issues involving schools and decision making with third party agencies and parties.
What Are The Problems with a Parenting Agreement?
The greatest weakness in a standalone Parenting Agreement involves the lack of enforceability and recognition by courts and law enforcement. There is also difficulty in dealing with violations of such agreements.
In essence, Parenting Agreements that are NOT incorporated or adopted into a Court Order will not typically be enforced by law enforcement, and a Judge is free to over rule or ignore a Parenting Agreement if the Court determines it is not in the best interest of a minor child.
A Consent Order May Be Needed
Consent Orders (described below) can be enforced by police (depending on the wording of the order) and Courts cannot change, ignore, or simply overrule a Consent Order for permanent child custody without finding that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the order affecting the welfare of the minor child.
Custodial Agreements Within a Separation Agreement:
Parenting agreements are often included within the broader context of a Separation Agreement in cases where the parents were married and are resolving all marital issues in addition to custody. These agreements will work as a contract and have pros and cons, just like standalone Parenting Agreements.
Just as with standalone Parenting Agreements, a Court is not required to recognize or enforce the custodial provisions if they are deemed not to be in the best interests of the minor child. However, courts do tend show great deference to prior agreements reached by the parties if the circumstances allow.
Consent Custody Orders
Consent Custody Orders are the most effective way to formalize a custody agreement with regard to enforceability and compliance. Our divorce lawyers recommend Custody Orders in all cases where we cannot rely upon the goodwill of the other parent to follow agreements.
In other words, if the other parent cannot be counted on to act in the best interest of the children, then Court Orders are best. Potential consequences of violating the agreements set forth in a Consent Order are much more timely and severe as well as less costly in terms of attorneys’ fees.
What are the Consequences of Violating a Court Order?
Violation of Court Orders can result in a party being found in Contempt of Court, which can include jail time, and other consequences. Custody Consent Orders are also recommended strongly in cases involving substance abuse by a parent, any history of abuse or neglect, the possibility of relocation of the other parent, or when we just do not trust the other parent to keep to the terms.
Step by Step Guide to Dealing With Child Custody and Child Support in Raleigh
1. Schedule a Consultation with a Child Custody Attorney who has Experience & Expertise in North Carolina Family Law
When selecting an attorney to represent you in your child custody and child support matter, it is important to ask several questions.
Make sure you ask:
- How long have you been practicing family law in North Carolina?
- How much of your practice is devoted to family law?
- How much of your practice is in the county my case will be filed?
Your attorney should be well versed in North Carolina family law, as well as the mechanics of the county in which your case may be litigated. Explain the issues you are most concerned about regarding child custody and child support, as well as the circumstances surrounding the end of your relationship. Talk to your attorney about your children’s individual needs and discuss any negative issues they may be currently experiences as a result of the end of the relationship.
Some documents to bring to your consultation:
- A timeline of events: setting out the dates that certain significant events occurred, as part of the end of the relationship, relating to child custody and child support
- Report cards and health information related to your children
- A list of questions and concerns you have
- Most recent tax returns and pay stubs for each party if available
With this information in hand, the attorney can give you legal advice regarding your unique needs relating to child custody and child support issues.
2. What are Your Child Custody and Child Support Goals?
- In an ideal situation, what would the custodial schedule look like for your children?
- How does this arrangement work considering your children’s extracurricular activities and where each parent now resides?
- How will this arrangement affect day-to-day activities such as getting the children to school?
- What are each parent's traditional holiday celebration habits?
- Do they involve significant traveling?
- How can you ensure your children get to spend quality time with each parent during the holidays?
3. How Can We Formalize Our Agreement?
Typically, you have two methods to formalize custody agreements:
- Custodial Agreements (a legally binding contract signed by the parties that are typically included in a Separation Agreement and Property Settlement), described in more detail above
- Consent order (Enforceable as a Court Order as described in more detail above)
4. How Likely is it that the Other Party will Agree to Your Proposal?
Keep in mind that an agreement requires the cooperation of both parties. If you feel that is not likely to happen, you may have to file a court action and then attempt negotiation. If a settlement is not attainable, you always have the option of having the judge make the decision for you and the other party.
In addition, if you are dealing with an opposing party who is habitually dishonest or suffers from significant mental or addiction issues that affect their ability to parent, you may need to litigate your case.
While negotiation is a cost effective was to resolve child custody and child support issues, engaging in negotiation without any hope of settlement or with someone who is unreliable or irresponsible can cost significant sums of money and time with no benefit to you or your children. If you have any concerns that your former significant other may fit into one of the categories discussed above, be sure discuss these issues and options with your attorney.
5. Have A Complete Proposal When Negotiating
Sending a thorough and detailed proposal to the opposing party will minimize any potential miscommunication and minimize the risk of a possible settlement breaking down due to a disagreement.
A formal, ready-to-sign proposal allows the case proceed to a resolution in a more efficient manner. Negotiating in writing also minimizes the hostility that can arise when parties negotiate face to face.
6. Prepare for Child Custody Disputes Regardless of Whether or Not You Think You can Agree
Prepare and gather information when filing a child custody lawsuit.
It is important to cooperate and follow your attorney’s instructions when you are requested to provide information or documents that are necessary to the planning, preparation, and initiation of any custody action.
Some items that you should begin to gather prior to filing such a lawsuit are:
- School records
- Health records
- Witness statements
- and any other relevant information
7. Always Remember What is Important – Your Children
This may be a very emotional and financially difficult time for you, now that one household is divided into two. With the Doyle Law Group, we never forget what is most important during these times, and that is focusing on your children's wellbeing.
You now have only half the financial and emotional support you may have once had. It is very important to focus on your kids and not let the legal process and its related stress affect your relationship with your children. Family counseling or therapy for your children is a healthy way to get help and discussing the issues surrounding the end of the traditional parenting relationship. Spending extra time with your children can be a “positive distraction” from the chaos that often results from a contentious child custody case.
Your attorney will handle the legal work for you. While you should work closely with your family law attorney, it is important that you do not let it consume your life. Make sure your children are your priority.
8. Child Support Calculations in Raleigh
Child Support in North Carolina is based upon a calculation set forth in the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.
The results of any calculation depends upon:
- The custodial time with each parent
- Income of the parties
- Expenses of the minor children (daycare, health insurance, etc)
- and other issues
Your family law attorney should run guideline calculations for you under various scenarios so that you can get an idea of what a reasonable amount of child support for your unique situation may be.
9. Formalize Child Support Agreements
Keep in mind that you can agree to any child support amount. For example, if you have an agreement for child support in the amount of $400.00 per month, and the calculation calls for $750.00, the courts will accept this agreement so long as it is sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of the minor children and the party's particular financial circumstances.
If you are the paying party, it is important that any child support agreement be formalized. This protects you from the risk of child support delinquency.
If you are receiving child support, it is important to solidify child support payments. This ensures consistent and timely support by assuring the payor complies with the obligation. Formalizing support can also assist with obtaining credit or certain other benefits.
Questions for Our Raleigh Child Custody Attorneys?
Every child custody and child support claim is unique and requires specific advice from an experienced child custody attorney. Children are always the most important issue in every divorce. Ensuring that your rights are protected, as well as the future of your children, is imperative.