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Case Summaries: Custody Modification, Equitable Distribution, Change of Circumstances

NCBA Family Law Section

By Jeff RussellRebecca Poole and Jennifer Smith

Custody Modification; No Evidence Presented at Hearing

Farmer v. Farmer, No. COA16-760, (June 6, 2017)

Defendant–mother appealed from a custody modification order that set aside a prior custody modification order. Because the trial court took no evidence at the hearing and failed to make the proper analysis before modifying the prior custody order, the Court of Appeals vacated the custody modification order and remanded the case to the trial court.

There are two issues to note in this appeal: First, the Court of Appeals does not comment upon or engage in any analysis of whether the orders in the case are temporary or permanent in nature. The Court seems to assume that the orders are permanent, because it cites the two-step modification analysis for a permanent order (substantial change in circumstances/best interests). Second Judge Dillon dissents in part from the Court’s opinion concerning which of the parties’ prior custody orders should be in effect pending further hearings on the matter.

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Getting Out Of My Comfort Zone

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By Kimberly M. Johnson

My first attempt at leaping into the unknown was when I switched careers from meeting deadlines for one editor to meeting deadlines for an attorney, a clerk and a client. My organizational and writing skills were the pillars that held me steady during my time at the public defender’s office. I learned about criminal law and the inner workings of the courthouse, and the unknown became familiar.

A couple of leaps forward landed me in Raleigh. And soon, the unknown became familiar. That’s why I am planning to attend the Paralegal Division Family Law CPE on March 23 at the Bar Center. I will admit it. The closest I have been to family court is a courtroom observation during my paralegal days. So, this seminar is pretty exciting for me.

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Take a Deep Breath: Five Tips For Dealing With Highly Emotional Clients

By Kelly E. Thompson

Effectively dealing with highly emotional clients can be one of the most difficult aspects of practicing family law. Emotional clients may find it difficult to make rational decisions about their case, causing them to become entrenched in untenable positions. Emotional clients may also be challenging to communicate with effectively, sometimes hearing what they want to hear as opposed to what you are truly saying. Even worse, highly emotional clients may lash out against us or our staff when their anger actually comes from the circumstances they find themselves in, not our representation of them in those circumstances. Because representing highly emotional clients is a nearly unavoidable hazard in our profession, we must all find a way to reach past those emotions to help our clients make sound decisions about their case and future. When dealing with highly emotional clients, keep the following in mind:

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The Practice Series – Question and Answer with a Family Lawyer

Jessica B. Heffner is a 2013 graduate of the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University.  She practices with Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP in Raleigh, NC.

Q:  What kind of law do you practice?

A:  My practice includes all aspects of North Carolina family law including absolute divorce, child custody, child support, property division, spousal support, separation agreements, postmarital agreements, and premarital agreements.

Q:  What do you like best about your practice?

A:  I enjoy practicing family law because it allows me to work with individuals.  Family law requires a great deal of client contact—in person, over email, and/or over the phone.  It’s a practice area where you interact with clients every working day.  Also, every family law case is unique and challenging in its own way.  As members of a “learned profession” we are challenged to consistently study and expand our knowledge of complex and evolving issue—it keeps my day to day job very interesting and rewarding.

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