Lessons in Family Law: You Can’t Fool the Judge

By Jim Warren

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In practicing family law in North Carolina for more than three decades, I’ve seen a lot. Family law is a high-stakes endeavor, since people are trying to settle, negotiate, and/or fight about what matters to them most:  their marriages, their children, their money, and their possessions.

i’ve learned many lessons during the time I’ve practiced before the family court judges of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. One of these lessons is that you should never try to fool a judge. The following case is a good example (we’ve changed some of the circumstances to hide the identities of the participants).

My client was engaged in an ongoing dispute with her ex-husband as to the education choices to be made for their public school-educated, middle school-aged son. The child’s mother had detected a pattern: while her son consistently brought home good grades on his report cards, but his performance did not match his grades. After discovering this, her research revealed that this problem—good grades, poor aptitude in testing—was also true in the public high school he would attend.

After much investigation and due diligence, our client decided to make application to a charter school, where she hoped his performance would actually match his grades. But there was a problem: her ex-husband, with whom she shared joint custody of her son, put up a roadblock, saying he wouldn’t endorse the school change, responding with a resounding no by email in too short a time to have done any investigation.

So, our client felt strongly enough about her son’s educational well-being to take the matter to court. The judge found that the father had done no research on the issue and had rejected his ex-wife’s ideas out-of-hand without considering the young man’s best interests.

Thus, in the face of real effort on the part of his ex-wife to make an informed decision on their son’s schooling, the child’s father offered only platitudes and generalities.  The court approved the mother’s decision and allowed the child to attend the highly regarded charter school she had chosen, over the father’s objection.

The outcome of this case says it all. The judge ruled that the mother, while retaining joint custody rights, would have sole discretion over the child’s education henceforth. The reason you can’t fool North Carolina family court judges with sentiment and opinion over evidence is that they take their fiduciary responsibility for children’s well-being, especially for their health and education, very seriously.  When judges can tell that one parent takes their responsibility for the child’s best interest seriously, while the other does not, they will take the appropriate action to ensure that the well-informed choices of the responsible parent win the day.

At Warren Family Law, we help clients every day with the many complexities of child custody issues. Unlike other aspects of a separation and divorce, child custody issues may come into play for many years after the divorce decree has been issued, especially if a child is young when his or her parents split. If you need help navigating issues that may compromise the well-being of your child, please call our office to get started.