Family Matters e-Newsletter 

Amy Edwards
Family Law
313 West 2nd St.  . Greenville NC
(252) 758-3430

 How Does Child Support Enforcement Work in NC?

By Amy A. Edwards

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is managed by the NC Division of Social Services. When the court orders child support to be paid, it is almost always overseen by CSE, and they will initiate a lawsuit for child support if there is no child support order already in place. They assign a case worker to each case to act as the point of contact between the parents. As with any court case, parents who reach an agreement in their child support case may ask the court to enter their agreement as a court order. For a fee of $25.00 per year, a CSE attorney assists the party who is entitled to child support, kind of like a district attorney represents the state/victim in criminal case. Parties are always free to hire private attorneys to represent them in the child support case if they choose to do so.

Who Can Use CSE Services?

While parents can apply for CSE services, a child's guardian or caretaker, and possible biological fathers in cases when the parents are not married to each other. Any parent is eligible for services, regardless of whether he or she has government assistance. Married parents who have separated but have not yet divorced may use CSE services. A person who has custody of a child also qualifies for services.  For example, if a grandparent has a child custody order naming him or her as the custodian of their grandchild, CSE will provide services. In this article, I will refer to people who are eligible to seek support as parents.

What About Paternity Testing?

When a child is born to unmarried parents and the father is not included on the child's birth certificate, CSE files a motion for the court to determine paternity by genetic testing. If the parent is in fact the biological parent, or if the defendant in the child support case fails to appear in court as required, CSE will then establish paternity and child support by court order.  When parents are married at the time of the child's birth, the law automatically assumes the husband is the father. 
How Do they Enforce Child Support Orders?

CSE keeps records of what is paid by a parent and what is provided to the other parent, usually by income withholding so the support will be automatically paid through the parent's employer. Another effective method of enforcing child support orders is a motion to hold a parent in contempt of court. If the court rules that the parent is in contempt of court for failure to pay support, the judge has legal authority to incarcerate him or her until the outstanding amount of support is paid. If a parent receives alimony in addition to child support, CSE will enforce it as well.

Special Authority

Because CSE is a part of a government, they have certain "magical powers" to enforce orders, which aren't available to parents when they have private attorneys instead of a CSE attorney provided by the courts. For instance, employers are legally required to file documents with the government for each new employee that they hire. That information provides a foundation for the directory CSE uses for their "parental locator service." Once located, CSE can serve the parent with court filings, find records of their assets, and withhold a parent's tax refund. CSE offices in each state work together to transition from one state to another in the event a parent leave the state.  

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of June/July 2017.  © 2017.   


Is My Attorney Friends with My Ex's Attorney?

By Amy A. Edwards
When I was a law student, I remember tagging along with my mentor for a trial and being shocked that he was talking and joking with the attorney who represented the opposing party before court. In my mind, court was a war and the opposing party was the enemy. It wasn't until I began trying cases myself that I had a context for that event. Lawyers by definition are zealous advocates for clients. However, clients sometimes think that means an attorney must be rude, loud and hostile. When I became a lawyer, I realized that is not the case. In fact, cordial relationships can benefit both parties.

Professional Relationships

As "officers of the court" attorneys are expected to have a respect for everyone, including the opposing party. Professional relationships among attorneys are often long-term. A trend for attorneys is to choose an area of law to concentrate in, or even become a board certified specialist, as I am. As a consequence, more attorneys practice only family law, spending years or even decades litigating or negotiating cases with each other. And a smart attorney makes efforts to keep a cordial relationship with his or her colleagues.      


But more to our point, attorneys who are professional and have a basic level of respect tend to cooperate when it is necessary, even though they are deeply divided on the disputed issue. They return calls to each other and try to determine whether there are issues that can be resolved outside of the courtroom. They can actually have conversations about the case instead of just "performing" in court. A frank conversation before the trial could lead to a stipulation to certain things, for example, giving the judge a written agreement saying they agree to those things. Such an agreement might reduce a three day trial to two days, benefiting both parties.

On the other hand, the attorneys lacking a cordial professional relationship with colleagues tend to be the same ones who drive up billable time with big displays of bravado even when doing so isn't really necessary. That often translates into a long, hard and expensive road. When that type of attorney is in a case, I can tell my client to count on the case costing twice as much what it should cost.  There are cases that absolutely have to be litigated tooth and nail. But that doesn't mean the lawyers have to needlessly inflame an already tense family situations, especially when children are involved. Seeing your attorney shake hands with the other attorney, or make small talk, is not a bad thing.

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of June/July 2017.   © 2017.  

By Amy A. Edwards

The first article on this topic addresses the question of what arbitration is and how it works. This article focuses on five main benefits of arbitration compared with traditional court.

Benefit #1: Quicker Than Court

Court doesn't offer an express lane for cases. With arbitration, the parties choose a date based on their schedules and avoid the hassle of court continuances, the judge's schedule, the docket list and a host of factors beyond their control. Perhaps you want to take 30 minutes breaks for lunch instead of 90 minutes, or you want to start the hearing earlier than court or stay later than 5:00 to finish the hearing. That  is not likely with court. Instead of a year in court, parties can schedule a session in a couple of months, based on their schedules. If the "housekeeping" administrative hearings are necessary, the arbitrator and attorneys can conference call instead of going to the courthouse and waiting for the judge to reach the case that day. Parties can choose to have binding arbitration which means the ruling can't be appealed unless there is fraud, a conflict of interest, or some other conspicuous irregularity.

Benefit #2: Privacy

Anyone has the right to be present in court, access the written court file and even request an audio recording of a trial. As you testify, the audience usually includes close friends for moral support. Other times, family members, including parents and adult children sit and listen. Testimony might include matters such as your sex life or other "dirty laundry" if your case involves marital fault. It will generally include testimony about (and court files with) your income and credit card debts. Arbitration usually happens in an office of one of the attorneys instead of the court room. Parties can also agree to exclude everyone except for those necessary to testify or otherwise. 

Benefit #3: More Relaxed Environment

In contrast to court, which has bailiffs, clerks of court, trial coordinators, and the judge, arbitration involves an office. The proceedings are official but if someone needs a bathroom break, for example, they don't need permission from a judge. Although the parties can agree to record the hearing, they don't have to record them.  In fact, they can agree to gives the arbitrator their exhibits, read affidavits (statements signed under oath) and rule without even holding a hearing/trial. 

Benefit #4: Make Your Own Rules

You can't choose which judges you get, but you can choose the arbitrator you want. If the agreement to arbitrate is in effect, the court will appoint one if they can't agree which arbitrator to use. High asset cases are especially well suited to the process because in our state, they can rest assured the family law arbitrator is a highly qualified and skilled decision-maker with years of experience working with complex matters. Parties can agree to use standard procedural and evidence rules used by the court, including the routine administrative events, or they can be informal and agree to certain rules they choose. They can also tailor the rules to fit their specific case.

Benefit #5: Creativity

Court is a "one size fits all" process, with judges using the same laws in every case whether the law is good, bad or otherwise. For instance, NC judge is legally required to treat a pet as any other marital property, like a couch or a truck. Parties might decide that the arbitrator should award custody of the pet based on what is best for the pet, the way judges decide in child custody cases. Or, the parties might both want the family home. In court, a judge has the authority to order the house sold and the proceeds divided. In arbitration, they can set their own boundaries, requiring the arbitrator to award the residence to one of them instead of ordering it to be sold. An arbitrator could decide one or two issues instead of the whole case. One example is obtaining a ruling on only the value of the family business. Once that issue has been ruled on, the parties can revisit the negotiations, especially when the business was the most valuable marital asset.

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of June/July 2017. © 2017.