For most parents, the custody of children is the most emotional issue arising out of a separation. The law in this area is well established. The court must determine a custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. The needs of the child are paramount. While courts are not immune to parental pathos, judges ultimately ask what each parent has to offer the child. Our attorneys and staff are dedicated to helping our clients develop the best possible plan for the care of their children and successfully advocating this plan to the court. We do this work as a team with our clients. We believe that a parent has the best information concerning the needs of a child, and that an informed parent can make the best decision concerning the placement of a child.
We start with a needs analysis. Every child needs shelter, nutrition and a safe environment. In addition, each child has unique educational, social, behavioral, emotional and developmental needs which must be addressed. We work with our clients to examine each of these areas methodically, establish a hierarchy of needs for each child and to identify the most appropriate plan based on the available resources including the availability and ability of our client. It is important that we and our client agree on a proposed custody arrangement.
Social scientists agree that children have specific age-appropriate developmental tasks. The separation of parents can have predictable and detrimental impact on a child's ability to meet his or her developmental tasks. We make our client's aware of these tasks and how they can monitor a child's progress and assist their child in overcoming the effects of a separation. We have professional relationships with counselors who will work with our clients in a consultative role if needed.
Every child is different and every child is special. Sometimes children have special needs which are exacerbated by conflict between their parents in connection with their separation. This includes, but is not limited to, such conditions as ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Some children have chronic physical issues such as allergies. Others have emerging mental health issues which may surface under the stress caused by the dissolution of the family unit. Still others may suffer from the long term effect of abuse. It is important to identify special needs of children and adequately plan for their treatment.
It is rare when both parents bring the same resources to the task of caring for a child. We work with our clients to identify their role and that of the other parent in the intact family. In virtually all cases, these roles must change with a separation. Our objective is to find a plan that can give the child the benefit of the best each parent has to offer consistent with the needs of the child. There are times when a parent has issues with mental illness, addiction, anger management or a basic lack of parenting skills which impedes his or her ability to parent effectively. We make an effort to identify these challenges, to document them and address them with professional assistance if needed.
Parental conflict is present to some extent in every family. While this conflict is often exacerbated after a separation, many parents are able to co-parent with a high degree of cooperation. At the other end of the spectrum however are parents who have a high degree of conflict and almost a total lack of effective communication. Sometimes this results in "parental alienation" of children. We encourage the development of skills needed to foster an environment of cooperation when that is possible. If it is not, we work to structure a clear and stable arrangement that minimizes the opportunity for conflict. We support models for court intervention to manage conflict. We work with professionals to identify and advocate methods of reducing conflict for the benefit of the child.
There are occasions when a forensic child custody evaluation may be warranted because of the perceived needs of a child, particular characteristics of a parent, the dynamic between the parents or other unique circumstances of a case. The use of a forensic expert can be helpful. It is not a substitute for the sort of analysis we do with our clients in each case. We have experience working with forensic experts and when appropriate, challenging their conclusions.
We take a pragmatic approach to language involving the placement and care of children. While terms such as "Joint Custody", "Sole Custody" "Shared Custody," are used in agreements and orders, the terms of a custody order should describe where the child will be and who will have the responsibility and authority to make decisions affecting the child at any given time. The symbolic nature of the language is less important than the definitions.
Child support is governed by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines pursuant to a formula created by the Conference of Chief District Court Judges. Here is a link to a software program on line which you can use to calculate child support. We discuss with our clients what income should be included in the calculation, when income may be imputed, and the circumstances that may justify a deviation from the Guidelines.
The law provides that an interested party acting in good faith without sufficient means to pay his or her attorney fees may obtain an award of a partial or full allowance of counsel fees from the other party. In appropriate cases we seek an award of attorney fees.
We encourage our clients to view custody and support issues with a short term, medium term and long term perspective. There are times when the urgency of a short term need is more than balanced by a longer term objective just as there are times when meeting an immediate need can prevent a long term problem. In each case we strive to partner with our client to think about the challenges and resources available in each case to develop the best possible outcome for the child.
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