Family Law, Domestic Violence, and Restraining Orders - Part 3
The law surrounding domestic violence in North Carolina is deceptively complex. In this episode, North Carolina Attorney Bill Powers answers the questions that matter to you when you when you or a loved one is involved in a domestic violence matter.
Robert Ingalls: Now, you were saying it wouldn't affect alimony. How would a domestic violence situation, if at all, affect child support obligations?
Bill Powers: Right. Well, child support, as a whole, is formulaic, meaning that there's a value set generally speaking. There are guidelines that say that if this is your income and you have one child, this is the assumption that you're going to pay every month. If this is your income and you have two children, this is how much you pay each month.
Now, the judges are still given some level of discretion and they can deviate from guidelines in certain circumstances, and normally we see that in really big-ticket type of estates or family values where it exceeds the value of the guidelines, meaning you've got Bill Gates money and the guidelines don't go that high. So, there's a basic level of providing for your child. And while that is formulaic in a large measure, to some extent, pre-determined.
One of the more important issues is who has physical custody of the child, and as you might imagine, if there's a joint custody, like with one person half the time and the other person half the time, there may be some discernment in the finances involved with taking care of the child, where if you are the primary custody holder or the sole custody holder, the amount that you receive for child support, alimony, would be more, and there are always exceptions, than if it was joint as far as with whom they lived. I don't know if that makes sense.
But, child custody is not meant to be a reward to the parent. It's meant to take care of your progeny. So, it's kind of a basic premise, like if you have a child and you want to take care of your child. When a client says to me, "I'm a good person. I pay child support." I'm like those are two things that ... I'm just going to assume that you want to take care of your child, so paying child support to me doesn't mean that you win a gold star or get a plaque on the wall.
So, these types of ... The criminal aspect of a domestic violence that judges, and courts, and family members don't want kids to be subjected to that. Heck, in divorce actions, we regularly tell people do not discuss finances with your child. Do not use your child as an intermediary to say, "Tell your mom I'm not going to pay this amount this month because I paid for this book bag here." Don't discuss visitation and have, "Tell your father that I'm going to be an hour late."
If we're that granular, meaning we don't want to involve the kids in the interaction because we're dealing with developing minds and we don't want to ... It's already going to be traumatic in many instances having that separation, we certainly take consideration of the fact of are there physical assaults or assault and batteries in North Carolina? Are there criminal charges in Charlotte pending for assault maybe even on a child under the age of 12? So, yes, it can, but maybe not in a way you would traditionally think about it.
Robert Ingalls: I know every situation has its nuances, but take us through a typical situation. The phone rings. You've got one of these situations taking place. Walk us through that.
Bill Powers: Wow, that's a great question because having done, or excuse me, practiced law and done a lot of these different types of cases, in court especially, with the protective orders and the criminal aspects of that, I have a way of doing things because I think it's the best way of doing things when it comes to criminal charges in North Carolina.
So, if someone rings my office, beep-beep, "Bill, park 91, potentially a new client, family issues and a 50B coming up next week in court," well, when I pick up the phone, even how you speak to the person from the outset makes a difference, introducing yourself, telling them who you are, the first thing I tell every potential client, whether they retain us for legal services, whether our firm becomes criminal defense lawyers to them or defense lawyers as legal representation, the first thing I say to everybody is everything we talk about right now is confidential, meaning that there may be attorney-client privilege that applies.
Now, sometimes in finding out who the person is on the other line, I have to start with a precursor question. So, I say the first thing I do is talk about attorney-client privilege, but I don't really even start talking to the person until I do conflicts check. When a person gets on the phone, they want to vomit information. There are a lot of things they want to talk about with their criminal charges or there are a lot of things they want to talk about in their divorce or separation case, and I say, "Time out. Hold on, hold on, hold on. I need to make sure that I haven't either represented an opposing party on this side or do represent an opposing party because I don't want you to tell me anything that would be detrimental." So, we do a conflicts check first.
Assuming that's clear, the first thing I do then is say, "Everything we talk about is confidential," and depending on the type of case, we will oftentimes offer a free consultation. Now, this is why it gets complicated, because I have to figure out pretty early on what I am dealing with. I normally don't charge for that initial aspect of the consultation. If it's purely a criminal defense matter or allegations of criminal charges for an assault or criminal charges for assault and battery in Charlotte, that consultation is always free. We're not charging anything. Our law office provides a free consultation, free advice, free legal advice, at least on the front end.