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Domestic Relations

Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Permanency Planning Order – Insufficient Findings (access required)

In re I.R.C. In its permanency planning order, the trial court recited allegations against the respondent-mother but failed to link those allegations to the ultimate findings of fact that G.S. § 7B-507(b) requires before a court orders that reunification efforts cease. This court cannot simply infer from the findings that reunification efforts would be futile or inconsistent with the child’s health, safety, and need for a safe, permanent home where the trial court was required to make ultimate findings specially based on a process of logical reasoning.

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Domestic Relations – Civil Practice – Contempt – Ability to Comply – Attorney’s Fees – Unemployment – Parent & Child – Custody Modification  (access required)

Williams v. Chaney Where the plaintiff-mother was not disabled but, instead of getting a job, she chose to spend an inordinate amount of time making frivolous filings in this custody case, the trial court could find that the mother had the ability to pay the attorney’s fees that the court had ordered her to pay as a sanction.

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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody – Biological Father – Back From Iraq – Maternal Grandparents  (access required)

Jones v. Russell The defendant-father had a sexual relationship with defendant Jones. He obtained employment as a civilian contractor and left for Iraq without knowing Jones was pregnant. Even though the child was four years old and had lived with the plaintiff-maternal grandparents her whole life when the father learned that he had a child, as soon as he found out, the father started paying child support, quit his job and returned to Wake County and took advantage of every visitation opportunity with the child.

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Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Distributive Award – Ability to Pay – Interest  (access required)

Smith v. Smith The trial court found that the plaintiff-husband had $176,000 equity in the marital home; moreover, the trial court distributed to the husband $33,662 in “liquid, non-tax-deferred assets.” Therefore, the trial court did not err in determining that the husband “has the ability to make the [$110,575] distributive award.”

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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Adoption – Acknowledgement of Paternity (access required)

In re Adoption of S.K.N. Even though the trial court could have concluded that respondent had acknowledged paternity based on his statements to his mother and stepmother and a phone call on his behalf to DSS - all of which were supported by sufficient evidence - the trial court also based its conclusion on a finding of fact that was not supported by the evidence: that respondent hired an attorney during the relevant time period. Therefore, we must vacate the order finding acknowledgement and remand for a determination of whether the declarations and phone call were sufficient, on their own, to constitute an acknowledgement of paternity.

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Domestic Relations – Separation Agreement – Duress & Undue Influence Claims – Circumstances – Fairness  (access required)

Herrin v. Herrin Even though the plaintiff-wife testified that she “feared for her safety if she did not sign the [separation] agreement,” she does not challenge the trial court’s findings that (1) there was no evidence that the defendant-husband made any statements that the wife “had to sign the agreement”; (2) after the wife handwrote the agreement, she and the husband traveled in separate vehicles to have the agreement notarized; and (3) the wife did not indicate to the notary that, by executing the agreement, she was not exercising her own free will. These findings, which are binding on appeal, support the trial court’s conclusion that the wife was not under duress or undue influence when she executed the separation agreement.

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Domestic Relations – Constitutional — Parent & Child – Custody – Paternal Grandparents – Insufficient Findings – Subject Matter Jurisdiction (access required)

Powers v. Wagner Although the defendant-mother left her son with his paternal grandparents for two years, the trial court failed to make findings as to whether the mother intended for the arrangement to be temporary or permanent. The trial court should not have proceeded to the issue of the child’s best interests before ruling on the issue of the mother’s intentions. We vacate the order granting custody to the grandparents and remand for further proceedings.

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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody Modification – Changed Circumstances – Mother’s Hostility & Move – Effect on Children (access required)

Stephens v. Stephens The defendant-mother’s angry outbursts and hostility towards the plaintiff-father and his current wife, in addition to the mother’s move from Harnett County to Durham were substantial changes in circumstances. The trial court was not required to wait until the changes harmed the children to find that the changes affected the children. We affirm the custody modification.

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Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Separate Property – ‘Consideration’ — Distributive Award – Dairy Farm (access required)

Williams v. Williams Once the trial court found the “Mayberry Tract” to be the defendant-husband’s separate property, the trial court was not required - as argued by the plaintiff-wife — to value the Mayberry Tract for the purpose of considering it pursuant to G.S. § 50-20(c)(1). We affirm the trial court’s equitable distribution order.

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Domestic Relations – Civil Practice – Contempt – Property Settlement – Consent Order – Real Property – Mortgages (access required)

Howard v. Flowers A consent order required that the plaintiff-husband pay the defendant-wife $50,000 each April in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and he secure those payments with a note and deed of trust in favor of the wife on the husband’s farm valued at $300,000. The husband failed to make the 2010 payment and, at a show cause hearing, testified that he was unwilling to execute the note and deed of trust required by the consent order. The husband’s own testimony was sufficient to support the trial court’s finding of willful noncompliance. We affirm the trial court’s order holding the husband in contempt.

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