Answers To Some Of Our Clients’ Most Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you are going through divorce, a child custody dispute, DWI charges, dealing with the insurance company after a car accident or need to set up an estate plan, you probably have a lot of questions. At Scott Law Group, our team has decades of experience. We have handled virtually every variety legal problem in the areas of family law, DWI defense, personal injury and estate planning. If you have a question, we almost certainly have the answer.
Here are the answers to some general commonly-asked legal queries:
- What factors are involved in figuring out a child custody arrangement?
- My spouse just told me they want a divorce. What should I do first?
- What do I need to do to move out of North Carolina with my kids?
- As a grandparent, what are my child custody rights?
- How can grandparents get custody or guardianship of their grandchildren in North Carolina? What must they prove?
- What happens to our debts and assets when we divorce in North Carolina?
- What constitutes a substantial change for modifying an existing North Carolina custody order?
- How do North Carolina courts determine child support?
- How is spousal support determined in a North Carolina divorce?
- Can grandparents intervene or get custody in North Carolina child abuse/neglect cases?
Family Law FAQ
What factors are involved in figuring out a child custody arrangement?
The most important factor in every child custody matter is the child’s best interests. Of course, each parent could have very different opinions about what their children’s best interests are and how to accommodate them.
When a judge decides a child custody dispute, factors they might consider include:
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child.
- The child’s relationship with each parent.
- The child’s health and educational needs.
- The child’s stated preference, depending on their age, reasons for their preferences and likelihood one of their parents is manipulating them.
The more evidence you can provide supporting your claim that the custody arrangement you want is in your children’s best interests, the better.
My spouse just told me they want a divorce. What should I do first?
Whether you saw this coming or your spouse’s announcement has stunned you, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your children in the first days, weeks and months of the divorce process:
- Don’t immediately move out of the family home, if it is safe and possible to stay. This can help you in both property division and child custody matters later on.
- Make copies of all financial records, such as financial statements from your bank and retirement accounts. Remove valuable personal property, such as jewelry, from the home and place it in a safe deposit box only you have access to.
- Avoid arguing with your spouse, especially in front of the children. Fighting won’t solve anything at this point and your spouse could be use it as “evidence” that you are supposedly an unfit parent.
- Negotiate a separation agreement with your spouse to cover finances and child custody until the divorce is finalized.
- Consider solo and family therapy for yourself and your children to help everyone process their feelings.
What do I need to do to move out of North Carolina with my kids?
Even if you have primary physical child custody, you still may have to get your co-parent’s permission to move out of state or a certain number of miles away. It depends on the terms of your custody order. You likely will need to notify your co-parent of your intention to move. If they object, you might go to court, where the burden will be on the non-custodial parent to prove that moving is not in the children’s best interests.
As a grandparent, what are my child custody rights?
Grandparents have the right to seek custody of their grandchildren in North Carolina, but the law makes success a challenge. The parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit are generally respected. To overcome this, a grandparent must show that giving them custody would be in the grandchildren’s best interests and that the “natural parents act inconsistently with their constitutionally protected status as parents” in some way. Examples include abuse or neglect of the children, or an addiction or mental illness that interferes with the parent’s ability to raise the kids safely.
How can grandparents get custody or guardianship of their grandchildren in North Carolina? What must they prove?
Grandparents seeking custody or guardianship of their grandchildren must demonstrate that the decision is in the children’s best interests. This may involve proving that the parents are unfit or that living with the grandparents is more beneficial for the children. They can do so by initiating legal proceedings by filing a petition in family court and providing evidence supporting your claim.
The court reaches a custody agreement by carefully considering the following:
- The physical and mental well-being of all parties involved
- The child’s relationship with each parent or guardian
- The ability of each parent to provide a stable and supportive environment
- Any history of abuse or neglect
- Child’s preferences, depending on their age and maturity
The goal is to ensure the child’s safety, happiness and overall well-being.
What happens to our debts and assets when we divorce in North Carolina?
A North Carolina divorce means marital assets and debts accrued during the marriage are divided equitably, not necessarily equally (50/50). Separate marital property, acquired before marriage or inherited, typically remains with its owner. The court considers income, the duration of the marriage and the presence of children before awarding a spouse’s support.
What constitutes a substantial change for modifying an existing North Carolina custody order?
North Carolina custody modification requires proof of a “substantial change in circumstances.” Common reasons include a parent’s relocation, changes in the child’s needs or alterations in either parent’s situation. Options available include:
- Mediation: You could work with a neutral third party to reach an agreement you both find acceptable.
- Negotiation: Alternatively, you discuss changes directly with the other parent. If agreed, file a consent order with the court.
- Motion to modify: File a family court motion outlining the changes you seek and the circumstances justifying them. Be prepared for potential hearings and legal representation.
North Carolina family courts always prioritize the child’s best interests when deciding custody matters.
How do North Carolina courts determine child support?
Courts generally base their determinations on child support guidelines established by the state. Judges consider all potential income sources of each parent, including salary, bonuses and commissions, and the number of shared children. When the parents are particularly affluent, the court may deviate from standard guidelines.
Of course, these are only generalized examples of what the court may look at in your case, and your specific situation might involve additional factors. Legal guidance can help you drill down on a more accurate estimate.
How is spousal support (alimony) determined in a North Carolina divorce?
Unlike child support, alimony is not automatically calculated in North Carolina. The court considers several factors to determine if it is necessary and, if so, the amount and duration. These factors include:
- Length of marriage: Longer marriages often lead to longer alimony periods.
- Income disparity: A spouse with significantly lower income than the other is more likely to receive support.
- Needs of each spouse: Individual financial needs, earning potential and child care responsibilities are considered.
- Marital contributions: Assets brought into the marriage and contributions to the other spouse’s earning potential may be considered.
- Marital misconduct: In rare cases, misconduct like adultery can influence alimony decisions.
Ultimately, courts aim to achieve a fair and equitable outcome for both parties when making spousal support decisions.
Can grandparents intervene or get custody in North Carolina child abuse/neglect cases?
Yes, grandparents in North Carolina have options to intervene or even obtain custody when their grandchildren are at risk of harm or neglect.
Obtaining grandparent custody requires demonstrating the child’s immediate harm in their current situation and your ability to provide a safe and stable home. A family law attorney experienced in child protection cases can help you navigate the legal process effectively while advocating for your grandchild’s best interests.
The prosecutor has offered me a plea bargain in my DWI case. Should I accept it or go to trial?
This is an important decision and depends on several factors. One thing to consider is the strength of the case against you. If the evidence is shaky or invalid for some reason, you might be better off pursuing a not guilty verdict at trial. Or if the plea deal being offered does not significantly reduce your possible sentence or help you get your driving privileges back sooner, it might not be worthwhile. You should discuss any plea offer with your defense lawyer before deciding whether to accept.
Estate Planning FAQ
What will happen if I die without a will?
The law calls a person’s death without a valid will dying intestate. When that happens, North Carolina’s intestacy laws determine who inherits the estate. These laws are based on blood relations, with the closest surviving relatives getting first priority. If your spouse survives you, they would inherit; if you are not survived by a spouse, your surviving children would inherit. If you die without any surviving children, your surviving parents would be your heirs. Priority goes to increasingly distant relatives until a surviving heir can be found.
The biggest problem with dying intestate is that the law — not you — decides who gets your assets after you pass away. Someone you wanted to inherit some or all of your wealth could be left out, while the person or people who do get your assets might not be who you would have chosen — possibly a total stranger.
Personal Injury FAQ
What if I was partly to blame for the accident that injured me?
North Carolina is one of just four states to still use the pure contributory negligence doctrine, which states the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit cannot be awarded compensation if they are even slightly responsible for their own injuries. For example, the victim in a car accident caused by someone running a red light might get zero dollars in damages if the defense can show that the victim was driving five miles over the speed limit just before the crash.
Have More Questions About The Law?
Contact Scott Law Group at our Kernersville office at 336-967-8318 or toll-free at 800-566-2907 to schedule an initial consultation regarding your legal issue. Our firm also represents clients across the Winston-Salem region.