My Litigation Background
I have been in the private practice of law for more than 35 years. In that time, my practice has been almost exclusively devoted to litigation. While I have been a family law specialist for nearly 25 of those years, I have litigated a broad range of civil and criminal cases in the District and Superior Courts of North Carolina, from small claims to large personal injury matters, from misdemeanor assault to murder. For the majority of the last 25 years, most of my practice has involved representation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, in contested family law cases. For nearly 10 years, I have devoted my litigation practice exclusively to family law matters in Onslow County and the surrounding counties of Duplin and Jones.
Litigation in family law involves the filing of a contested action by one spouse against the other. The process becomes necessary for one or more of several reasons, among them: there is some emergency which requires the Court’s immediate attention; attempts at negotiation between the parties have been unsuccessful; attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful; and the parties are unable to privately resolve their differences and they must ask the Court to make decisions for them.
The Litigator’s Role
The litigator’s role in the process is to zealously represent the interests of his or her client within the ethical bounds defined for attorneys by the North Carolina State Bar. No attorney has the capacity to ensure any outcome for his or her client; and adverse outcomes are always a possibility despite the nature and quality of the evidence and arguments presented. An attorney experienced in family law cases is essential to provide the best representation in the very stressful and difficult process of family law litigation.
The Court’s Authority
In North Carolina, parties to a contested action after separation, one filed in court, will be ordered to mediate their disputes in almost all cases, unless that requirement is waived by the Court; and Courts are very reluctant to waive mediation, as it has proven very successful in resolving cases. Mediation in child custody cases is managed by the North Carolina Child Custody and Visitation Mediation program. The parties are required to participate, without attorneys. Child custody mediation is often successful in resolving custody and visitation disputes. At a later stage in the litigation process, the parties are required to participate in Family Financial Mediation. Aided by their attorneys in this process, if counsel has been retained by one or both of the parties, and guided by a mediator selected by the parties or appointed by the Court, the parties have the opportunity to resolve financial issues by agreement. If either or both of these mediation processes are unsuccessful, the matter is set for trial and determination by the Court, one judge sitting without a jury.
The Right to Appeal
Parties who do not agree with the Court’s decision after a trial have the right to appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals; but that does not provide another opportunity to have the case heard and decided. The appeal is for the purpose of determining whether the parties were given a fair hearing by the Court and whether the law relevant to the issues was correctly considered and applied. If the Court of Appeals determines that the parties were given a fair hearing, the Court’s decision will not be disturbed, even if a different result might have been reached. Of course, this is a very basic view of the appellate process, which is very complicated and adds significantly to the cost of litigation.
Benefits of Litigation
Litigation is the only effective method to resolve family law disputes if one or both of the parties is unable or unwilling to agree to a resolution. The Court will make a decision and bring the matter to an end.
I am available to represent clients in family law matters involving child custody, child support, spousal support and the division of marital property and debt; and I welcome the opportunity to provide advice and counsel and stand with clients throughout the litigation process, from filing the first pleading to the entry of the Court’s order or judgment.