About the Unified Family Courts in North Carolina
FAMILY COURT: If your domestic lawsuit is filed in Buncombe County, it will be sent to Family Court. The 28th Judicial District (Buncombe County) is presently one of several judicial districts in North Carolina that has established a Unified Family Court system to handle cases that involve families and children, including both “domestic” and “juvenile” cases. Cases with issues such as domestic violence, child custody and visitation, and divorce related financial issues such as child support, alimony, or equitable distribution are commonly referred to as “Domestic” cases. Cases with issues such as juvenile delinquency, child abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, and adoptions are referred to as “Juvenile” cases.
There are state mandated guidelines that provide the framework for how the Family Court system operates. However, each judicial district has its own set of local rules that determine how cases filed in its district will be handled. The local forms and a complete copy of the rules for Buncombe County, including the 28th Judicial District Family Court Domestic Rules, may be accessed online by going to the North Carolina state court website at http://www.nccourts.org/Courts/CRS/Policies/LocalRules and selecting the link for “Buncombe” county.
The Family Court system is structured to promote the timely resolution of domestic cases by establishing time standards in each case and utilizing alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation. Parent Education, Custody Mediation and Family Financial Mediation are mandatory programs under the Family Court guidelines. These mediation programs give the parties an opportunity to meet with a neutral third party who will work to facilitate discussions between the parties in an effort to reach a negotiated settlement on their own terms. If the parties are unable to resolve their issues through negotiated settlement, then a Judge will hear the case and make a decision. Mediation may be waived only under extreme circumstances, such as cases involving domestic violence.
At the time a domestic case is filed, a Family Court Case Manager will immediately assign the case to one District Court Judge who will hear all matters related to that particular family. Many domestic cases involve multiple legal issues, such as alimony, child support, and division of marital property, and have one Judge assigned to each case allows that Judge to become familiar with all issues related to a particular family and better address the family’s needs.
The Family Court Case Manager is responsible for scheduling Court events, and monitoring cases to insure compliance with deadlines. In most cases, the first Court event will be a Status Conference. A Status Conference gives the Judge an opportunity to review the issues in the case, and then enter an Order establishing appropriate timelines to dispose of the case, such as deadlines to complete Discovery and attend Mediation. Other Court events may be scheduled early on in the case include hearings on temporary issues, such as child support or temporary spousal support known as post-separation support. Additional hearings, such as Pre-trial Conferences will be scheduled to allow the Judge to review the case, enforce deadlines and address interim issues. The case will be continuously scheduled until all issues have been resolved.
The Family Court Case Managers also work with families in crisis to provide information and referrals for community resources such as substance abuse, domestic violence and anger management.
This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.