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Family Law - FAQ

How does a court determine custody?
In North Carolina, there are no presumptions regarding custody; the judge simply determines what is in the best interests of the child.  The judge will look at both parents to determine their parental roles, bonds with both parents, the stability of the home, resources, educational and spiritual development, and numerous other factors to try and come up with the best arrangement for the child.  Because custody is so fact-specific, it is often best to consult an experienced, local family law attorney regarding your case, regardless of whether or not you end up hiring that attorney.
Which parent has custody if there is no custody order in place? 
Both parents have equal rights to the care, custody and control of their children absent a court order.
When seeking custody of a child, does it have to be a “battle”? 
No.  Parents can make agreements regarding custody in a separation agreement, a consent order (court order by agreement of the parties), or can work out an agreement in mediation or through a process called collaborative law.
What is mediation? 
Mediation is a process whereby a neutral facilitator attempts to work out an agreement between the parties.
What is collaborative law?  
Collaborative law is a process in which both parties hire an attorney, and all parties agree that if an agreement cannot be reached then the attorneys will withdraw from representing their client.  This provides a huge incentive to reach a compromise.
Can I terminate the parental rights of the father/mother of my child?
Yes.  You must prove two things:  (1) grounds to terminate the other parent’s rights (which may include abandonment for six months or failure to provide financial support, among others), and (2) that it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the other parent’s rights.  Because the right to parent one’s children is one of our most fundamental rights, the law sets a high standard to terminate those rights.  As such, these proceedings are complex and often require the assistance of an attorney.
Can I unilaterally terminate my parental rights?
No.  If you have a child, you are responsible for that child unless and until another person successfully terminates your parental rights.
How do I get a divorce?
In North Carolina, you must live separate and apart for one year and file the necessary paperwork with the court.
Do I need an attorney to deal with my family law case?
No, but it is often best to hire an attorney if you are able.  Everyone should consult with an attorney before signing any agreements affecting custody, child support, alimony, or property division.  Most people should have an attorney during any litigation.
What type of fee arrangements do attorneys charge for domestic cases?
Attorneys usually charge a consultation fee, and may charge a flat fee or an hourly fee, or some other type of arrangement.  In addition, some attorneys provide limited representation in addition to full representation.  This means that they will help you with certain aspects of your case (such as drafting paperwork and providing advice) and you represent yourself.