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Pandemic Parenting

By Kelly Johnson

I’m pretty sure today is Thursday, April 9, 2020. I had to check because, let’s face it, nobody knows what freaking day it is. Kids have been out of school for several weeks and many parents have inadvertently and involuntarily become homeschool parents, in addition to continuing to perform their day jobs, in addition to washing their hands 500 times per day, in addition to social distancing from their friends and elderly family members, in addition to watching way too much Tiger King. Basically, everyone is just trying to stay sane and healthy while we patiently wait for this pandemic to end. Side note: Tiger King will help you feel sane. Promise. 

As if this stress isn’t enough, many families with custody orders and agreements are navigating these difficult days with fear that their children will be put in harm’s way by going back and forth between their parents’ homes. One parent may still be working outside of the home, one parent may not be properly “social distancing” from friends, one parent may have taken too many trips to the liquor store, one parent may be posting excessive memes on Facebook about Carole Baskin. 

The current North and South Carolina state stay-at-home-type orders allow people to follow their court orders, which includes custody orders. So, YES, they still must be followed. In general, this pandemic is not a valid reason for one parent to withhold time from the other parent, despite their concerns of travel back and forth, or their concerns for one parent remaining on the couch in PJ pants, or their concerns of the kids being exposed to fantastic Joe Exotic songs. (Of course, if someone in the home of the other parent is sick or has a fever, or there is any legitimate concern for COVID-19 exposure and/or the health and safety of the kids, that’s another story. Call your lawyer for clarification.i

This afternoon, I found myself on the phone with a police officer in a South Carolina county regarding a dispute over exchange of my client’s children. Mother and Father have a permanent custody order, which explicitly designates regular time to each parent based on the days of the week or holidays. Mother refused to allow Father to pick up the children on his day and stated that the children were not safe to stay at his home due to the pandemic. Once I provided the custody order to the officer, the issue was resolved and kids went home with Father, as provided in the regular custody schedule. However, the officer was confused about the custody schedule. 

What bewildered me, and frankly inspired me to write about this subject, was the police officer’s comment to me, “Well, the kids are all out of school so they should be following their SUMMER schedules.” My mouth dropped open. I was glad it wasn’t a video phone call, as my gum fell to the ground in slow mo. 

“Um, NO Sir!” I quickly, yet politely, exclaimed. “Kids are in school, some are now on Spring Break in certain counties; but, let’s be clear here—the summer schedules don’t trigger until the date that the school would have actually let out.” Kids are still doing schoolwork; kids are still meeting with their teachers and classmates on Zoom; kids are still learning new material; kids are still going to bed at a reasonable hour so their parents can drink all the wine and watch Netflix. Kids are certainly not enjoying their summer vacations right now—neither are teachers, for that matter. Remember, kids are just beginning the fourth quarter of their current school year. 

While this pandemic is certainly affecting our normal lives like we never imagined it would (do we even remember what “normal” feels like?), please continue to follow your regular parenting schedules until the end of the school yearii, please follow your holiday schedules for Spring Break/Easter, please do not withhold your kids from their other parent, and please, I beg you, stop inviting me to join your Facebook Group to free Joe Exotic. Just stop it. 

Use this opportunity to reconnect with your kids and try to be extra empathetic to your ex. Don’t turn your pandemic parenting into pandemonium. 


i Executive Order No. 121 State of North Carolina Stay at Home Order
https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO121-Stay-at-Home-Order-3.pdf Executive Order No. 2020-21 State of South Carolina
https://governor.sc.gov/sites/default/files/Documents/Executive-Orders/2020-04- 06%20eFILED%20Executive%20Order%20No.%202020-21%20-%20Stay%20at%20Home%20or%20Work%20Order.pdf 

ii On April 14, 2020, the North Carolina Judicial Branch issued a memo regarding Custody and Visitation Recommendations During Covid-19.

New Office Location in Weddington, North Carolina

Our Newest Location Opens in Weddington, NC

At Collins Family Law Group, we have proudly served clients throughout North Carolina and South Carolina from our various office locations. For more than 20 years, our experienced lawyers have worked diligently to provide our clients with outstanding legal services upon which they can rely. We work hard to create effective solutions for our clients, all while maintaining a cost-conscious outlook and a compassionate demeanor. Our firm is passionate about our clients, and we are very excited to continue offering our legal services from our newest office location in Weddington, NC.

The grand opening of our Weddington location will take place on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at which time we will officially open our doors at:

13657 Providence Road

Weddington, NC 28104

At this new location, you can expect to receive the same level of legal excellence we hope you have come to know and trust at each of our other locations in North Carolina and South Carolina. Collins Family Law Group works exclusively on family law matters, including cases concerning adoption, child custody, child support, divorce, fathers’ rights, property division, same-sex divorce, separation, and spousal support. We can also help you through the mediation process if you wish to avoid litigation.

Our entire team at Collins Family Law Group is excited about this recent opening in Weddington, NC, and we look forward to helping new individuals and families through our expansion.

If you need help with a family law or divorce issue, our firm is here for you. Contact Collins Family Law Group to discuss your case with our attorneys at our new Weddington location.

Benefits of a Collaborative Divorce All Spouses Should Know

Many divorcing couples will admit that they delayed filing for divorce because either the whole process seemed too complicated or they were worried it would cause too much conflict. This is an understandable, yet often unfortunate decision, because no one really benefits from staying in an unhappy marriage. To divorce with as little complexities, delays, and fights as possible, an alternative might be necessary.

Collaborative divorce represents an agreeable middle ground between fighting tooth-and-nail for what you want out of your divorce and walking away without fighting at all. Within collaborative divorce, both spouses hire a specially-trained collaborative divorce attorney and agree to attempt to reach an amicable solution. There will be one or a series of out-of-court meetings with all four parties: each spouse and each attorney. In many situations, spouses choose not to do much talking during collaborative divorce, and instead leave most of it up to the lawyers to sort out.

When collaboration succeeds, the following benefits can be enjoyed:

  • Collaborative divorce generally concludes in much less time compared to a contested divorce.
  • Total legal fees and court costs are greatly reduced in a collaborative divorce, as costs increase tremendously when the divorce is contested and requires frequent court hearings and trials.
  • Spouses using collaborative divorce often report reduced stress, anxiety, and anger throughout the process – divorce is always going to be stressful to some degree.
  • Collaborative divorce also allows the client to have more control over the process, as it removes the ultimate authority of a family law court judge.

Once again, it is crucial to recognize that collaborative divorce needs cooperation to succeed. If a spouse begins collaboration without the genuine intent to think about what is fair, the process is going to be rough and delayed. Indeed, if collaboration fails, both spouses may need to hire a new divorce attorney, as collaborative divorce lawyers often excuse themselves from the process in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interests during the impending litigation.

COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE IN CHARLOTTE

At Collins Family Law Group, we are committed to finding amicable solutions to complicated problems for our clients, with as little stress placed on them as possible. We recognize the benefits of and often encourage using collaborative divorce for this reason. If you think that you and your spouse could work together and cooperate during divorce, feel free to contact our Charlotte divorce attorneys for more information.

Stay Connected with Collins Family Law Group

Collins Family Law Group has a number of social media and other online networking accounts. Connect with us online and stay up to date with our firm! Be sure to follow / like / share when you can to spread the news about our firm’s family law services.

CONNECT ONLINE WITH COLLINS FAMILY LAW GROUP

WHY CHOOSE COLLINS FAMILY LAW GROUP?

Our legal team has over 20 years of experience guiding clients through divorce, custody, and other family law matters. We provide the peace of mind our clients need and work hard to find creative, cost-effective solutions. Attorney Shawna Collins is a member of the Family Law Section of the North Carolina State Bar Association and is uniquely equipped to represent her clients both in and out of the family courts. Contact the firm today at (704) 289-3250 if you need a divorce attorney in Charlotte, NC.

Attorney Watts Wins Big in Court of Appeals

Protecting the rights, and sometimes even the safety, of our clients is not only our duty here at Collins Family Law Group, but it is also our passion. Therefore, it is with great pride and honor that we announce that the Court of Appeals (COA) of North Carolina has recently issued a favorable ruling in Comstock v. Comstock, a complicated domestic violence appeal handled by Rebecca WattsThrough the hard work and tireless dedication of our own Charlotte divorce attorney Rebecca Watts, and with the help of Melissa Averett, Libby Johnstone James, and Amily McCool writing an amicus brief for the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the COA created new case law.

This newly established law states that someone who has been granted a domestic violence protective order in North Carolina but then moves out of state can still renew the order in NC; they will be able to continue to receive protection from NC courts, despite no longer being a resident in this state. This is a huge deal, as it helps provide an opportunity for people fearing for their wellbeing and the safety of their family to start a new life elsewhere, even if it means crossing state borders.

All in all, we could not be any more pleased with the outcome. We know that Attorney Watts won’t rest on her laurels, though, and is already looking for the next client that requires her unrivaled skills and compassionate representation.

If you would like to know more about her, be sure to visit her attorney profile page. If you need help in a family law case of your own, please do not hesitate to contact our Charlotte divorce lawyers at (704) 289-3250 today.

Tax Consequences in a Divorce: Equitable Distribution, Alimony, and Children

Taxes are an inevitable part of life. As such, they should be kept in mind when you are dealing with matters related to divorce. There are various tax consequences that result from claims related to divorce, such as alimony, child support, child custody, and equitable distribution.

Equitable Distribution

When property is divided between you and your spouse after separation, this is considered “incident to divorce” and is not subject to taxes by the IRS according to Section 1041 of the Internal Revenue Code. However, this only applies to transfers of property between you and your spouse. If the property is transferred to a non-spouse, such as a family member, a friend, or some other person, the transfer may be subject to taxation.

Alimony

Unlike child support, alimony is deductible by the payer, and the recipient must include it as income. Alimony is a payment to or for a former spouse that was either ordered by the court or agreed to in a separation agreement or court order. Alimony does not include payments that are voluntary (not ordered by a court or included in a separation agreement).

If you and your spouse do not want the alimony to be treated as income, you may do this by specifically saying in a court order or separation agreement that the payments are not alimony. However, if you are the recipient of the payments, then you will need to attach a copy of the court order or separation agreement to your tax return. You must do this each year that you receive the payments. See Chapter 18 of IRS Publication 17 for more information about alimony.

Children

Child SupportChild support payments are not taxable income for the parent receiving the child support. Likewise, the payments are not deductible for the parent paying the child support.

However, there are other important tax considerations regarding children such as the dependency exemption, and income tax credits for childcare and medical expenses.

Dependency exemption: Parents may agree to allocate the dependency exemption in any way they desire. For example, if there are two children, the parents may agree to each claim one child every year. Or if there is one child, the parents may agree to claim the child alternating years (i.e., mom claims the child in odd years, and dad claims the child in even years). If the parents do not reach an agreement, then the IRS rules apply, in which case the custodial parent is entitled to claim the dependency exemption. The custodial parent is generally the parent with whom the child lived for the greater number of nights during the year. If the child was with each parent for an equal number of nights, the custodial parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income. See IRS Publication 501 for more information about the dependency exemption.

Childcare Credit: The “child and dependent care credit” is available to the custodial parent even if the custodial parent agrees to allow the noncustodial parent to claim the dependency exemption discussed above. The childcare credit may be claimed by the custodial parent (but not the noncustodial parent) if certain requirements set by the IRS are met. For example, the childcare must have been necessary to enable you to work or look for work. There is also a limit on the amount of childcare expenses you may claim. As of 2014, the limit was $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children. See IRS Publication 503 for more information about the child and dependent care credit.

Medical and Dental Expenses Deduction: The “medical and dental expenses deduction” may be claimed by both the custodial and noncustodial parent so long as certain requirements set by the IRS are met. Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part of the body. Also included are the costs of equipment, supplies, insurance premiums, and transportation to get to the medical care. You may only deduct the amount of medical and dental expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), or 7.5% of your AGI if you were born before January 2, 1950. When calculating the amount of medical and dental expenses to determine if they exceed the relevant percentage of your AGI, you would include both the expenses you paid for yourself and your child. See IRS Publication 502 for more information about medical and dental expenses.

This information is to give you a very general overview of tax consequences related to a divorce, and should not be construed as advice. For advice about your specific case, pleasecontact an experienced family law attorney.

Child Custody: Tips on What to Do

During a custody dispute, your actions will be looked at very closely by the other parent (or that parent’s attorney). Here are some useful tips that you will want to consider when you are in a custody case:

  • Keep the other parent involved in the children’s lives as much as possible by exchanging information with that parent regarding the children. This includes information about the children’s health and educational needs.
  • Let the other parent know about any upcoming extracurricular activities in which the children are taking part. Give the other parent enough notice so that he or she will have time to make arrangements to be at the activity.
  • Immediately notify the other parent of any illness or injury that requires emergency medical treatment for the children.
  • If you and/or the children leave the county that you reside in while the children are in your care, provide the other parent with relevant information in case an emergency arises. This includes a means of contacting you or the children, the hotel name, your destination, length of stay, expected return date, etc.
  • Make sure that the other parent has a way of contacting you while you are at work.
  • Keep the other parent informed of all appointments the children have with doctors, dentists, orthodontists, therapists, eye care providers, and other healthcare providers.
  • Inform the other parent of any prescribed treatment for the children.
  • Give the children any prescribed medication while they are with you.
  • If you are late for an exchange of the children with the other parent, call that parent as soon as possible to let him or her know that you are running late.
  • If your children are upset with the other parent and do not want to stay with that parent for a visit, encourage them to keep in contact with the other parent and encourage them to visit with that parent.
  • If the other parent calls to talk with the children, and the children are not able to talk with the parent when he or she calls, let the children know that the parent called and to call the parent back.
  • If you call to talk with the children when they are with the other parent, call at reasonable times and for a reasonable duration, which may vary depending on the age of each child.
  • If your children call you, and you are not able to talk with them, be sure to call them back as soon as you are able.
  • If you have access to the other parent’s social media accounts (such as being friends with the other parent on Facebook), check out what they have posted to see if there is anything that would be useful for your case against them.
  • Keep and organize any documents, including photographs, report cards, text messages, emails, and letters, that you think would be useful in your case.
  • When disciplining your children, do not use corporeal punishment. Spanking or slapping your children is typically frowned upon by the courts.
  • Be as involved in your children’s lives as possible. Know who their friends, teachers, doctors, and coaches are. Go to school functions and your children’s extracurricular activities.
  • Keep in contact with potential witnesses (such as the persons listed in the previous tip) so that you can easily contact them if they are needed to testify at a court hearing. Make a list of these witnesses, along with their current addresses and telephone numbers.
  • Be honest and truthful when discussing your case with your family law attorney. Your attorney cannot help you to the best of her ability if you omit facts or events that may reflect poorly on you as a parent. This is particularly important because the other parent will most likely try to use these facts or events against you in court, and your attorney needs to be prepared on how to respond.

These suggestions hopefully will help you in your custody case. If you have any questions or concerns about what you should do, discuss them with your family law attorney to ensure that you are doing everything possible to strengthen your case.Also, take time to read the article, Child Custody: Tips on What Not to Do.

Child Custody: Tips on What Not to Do

When you find yourself in the middle of a custody dispute, you need to be careful to refrain from certain activities that may have a harmful effect on your case. The following are some common issues that the other parent (or that parent’s attorney) may use against you:

  • Do not say bad things about the other parent (or the other parent’s family) within hearing distance of your child, even if the other parent is making negative comments about you in the child’s presence. Not only does such behavior hurt your child, it also hurts your custody case.
  • Do not introduce your child to someone you are casually dating. Your child should only meet someone if you intend that person to be around for a significant length of time.
  • Do not have overnight guests of the opposite sex (who are not related by blood or marriage) while your child is staying with you.
  • This should go without saying, but do not use or possess illegal substances while your child is staying with you.
  • Do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol while your child is in your custody.
  • Do not prevent your child from visiting with the other parent and that parent’s family, even if the other parent owes you child support. Of course, there are exceptions to this suggestion. For example, if the other parent has a habit of abusing alcohol or drugs, or you do not think your child will be safe with the other parent, you may consider allowing the parent to visit with the child while you are also present or while someone you trust (such as a member of the other parent’s family) is present.
  • Do not make any major decisions about your child without first discussing it with the other parent. This includes decisions relating to the child’s education, health, religion, and upbringing, such as where the child will go to school, whether the child will get braces, or which doctor the child will see.
  • Do not post anything on social media (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.) that you would not want the judge to see.
  • Do not believe everything you read on the internet. You may read something on the internet that conflicts with advice given to you by your attorney. There is a possibility that you misunderstood what you read or it is also possible that what you read on the internet is simply wrong. If your attorney is experienced in family law, you should listen to your attorney’s advice.
  • If the judge makes a ruling in your custody case that you do not agree with, do not send the judge a letter or email voicing your disagreement. Also, do not tell all your friends and family that you are upset with the judge or the judge’s ruling. You may one day be back in court in front of the same judge.
  • Do not discuss your custody case with your minor children. If they ask you about the custody case, tell them that it is an adult matter, that both parents love them very much, and that they should try not to worry about the case. If the situation is upsetting them, consider taking them to see a counselor so that they can discuss their concerns with someone who is not emotionally involved in the case.
  • Do not schedule events or activities that infringe on the other parent’s time with the children, unless absolutely necessary or the other parent agrees. If you must schedule an event or activity that interferes with the other parent’s time with the children, make arrangements with the other parent to make up for the time lost.
  • Do not cancel scheduled visits with your children. This will hurt your children and will not impress the judge.

If you follow these tips, you will be in a better position in your custody case. This list is not all inclusive, however, and every case is unique. Thus, you should strongly consider discussing what you should and should not do with your family law attorney to increase your chances of getting the best possible outcome in your custody case.Also, be sure to check out the article, Child Custody: Tips on What to Do.

The Basics of Domestic Violence

An act of domestic violence may be addressed both in the criminal and civil courts. The criminal court is involved when the State of North Carolina, through the district attorney, brings criminal charges against the alleged abuser (most commonly for assault, communicating threats, or violating a domestic violence protective order). In the criminal context, the victim is a witness for the State, and the abuser is the Defendant. The civil court is involved when the victim (the Plaintiff/Petitioner) files a petition for a domestic violence protective order against the abuser (the Defendant/Respondent).

A domestic violence protective order is known by various names, all of which are synonymous. These names include DVPO, restraining order, 50B, and emergency protective order. For the court to grant a domestic violence protective order, the Plaintiff must prove both that:

  1. the victim is related to the abuser because they:
    1. Were or are currently married; or
    2. Were or are currently living together; or
    3. Are dating (this only applies to opposite sex relationships); or
    4. Have a child together; or
    5. Are related as parent and child, or as grandparent and grandchild.

AND

  1. An act of domestic violence occurred, which is defined as:
    1. Causing physical harm; or
    2. Attempting to cause physical harm; or
    3. Placing the victim in fear of imminent, serious bodily injury or continued harassment that results in substantial emotional distress.

See North Carolina General Statutes Section 50B-1 for more information about the definition of domestic violence.

Once the court grants a domestic violence protective order, the court is empowered to enter additional orders, including:

1. Evicting the abuser from the home, if the victim and abuser live together.

2. Restraining the abuser from being near the victim, as well as the victim’s home, workplace, or anywhere else the court determines is necessary to protect the victim.

3. Granting temporary custody of minor children and child support for such children.

4. Granting temporary spousal support (as the name implies, this is only allowed where the parties are currently married to each other).

5. Transferring possession of personal property owned by either the victim and/or the abuser (for example, motor vehicles and pets).

The purpose of the domestic violence protective order is to provide safety for the victim in a timely manner. The protective order lasts for up to one year and may be renewed by the court for good cause if the victim files a motion before the current protective order expires. To learn more about obtaining a domestic violence restraining order, or responding to one, contact a family law attorney.

Changing Your Surname After Divorce

North Carolina General Statute Section 50-12 provides for ways to change your surname (last name) as a result of a divorce. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Requesting a change of surname in the complaint or answer for divorce, and the judge grants the name change as part of the divorce judgment; or
  2. Making application to the clerk of court in either the county where you live or the county where the divorce was granted.

Regardless of the method you choose, there is a small fee for the name change, which is due at the time of requesting the name change.

If you are a woman, you can change your surname to your choice of the following:

  1. Your maiden name;
  2. The surname of a prior deceased husband; or
  3. The surname of a prior living husband if you have children who also have that husband’s surname.

If you are a man, you can change your surname to the surname you had before your marriage.