The state of North Carolina requires both parents to participate in a process called mediation before a judge will hear the case. Mediation sessions can be conducted privately, where the parties have hired a mediator, or through a court-ordered, court-run program. A mediator will work with both parties in an attempt to resolve their matter and keep it from going to trial.
If child custody issues are resolved through mediation, the mediator will prepare a parenting agreement setting forth the terms of the custody settlement. However, the mediator cannot provide legal advice to either party. Before signing the parenting agreement, both parties are strongly encouraged to consult an experienced family law attorney to review the document and to answer any questions. Taking this additional step could be critical in avoiding future conflicts related to a child custody matter.
Once parties agree to the conditions of the parenting agreement, then the agreement can be adopted as an order of the court and subject to enforcement, contempt, and modification.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, then the parties may have to proceed with litigation in order to resolve their issues.
In Mecklenburg County, the parties involved in custody and visitation lawsuits, including contempt motions and motions to modify existing custody orders, are required to attend a parenting education course, which focuses on how children are affected by divorce and family transitions, and how parents can minimize the impact these changes have on children.
Modifying a Child Custody Order or Agreement
If the terms of custody are in a court order, a parent may always request a modification of that order. As children grow, their needs change, as do their preferences for activities. In order to modify a custody order, or an agreement related to custody that has been incorporated into a court order, the party requesting a modification must show that a substantial and material change of circumstances has occurred since entry of the current order in effect, and that it is in the best interest of the child to change that order. If the custody terms are in an agreement which has not been incorporated into a court order, the parties will need to amend their agreement or file a new custody action for the purposes of entering a consent order which sets out their custody terms.
Choosing the Right Attorney
There is so much at stake during a child custody dispute. Consulting an experienced family law attorney will help you understand your rights, obligations and options. The attorneys at Hatcher Law Group are trusted advocates and advisors for our clients. If you or someone you love is dealing with a child custody issue, we can help. Please contact us today to schedule a meeting with a family law attorney.