Family Lawyers Must Use The Tools Available To Them

Like surgeons, we must choose carefully the tools and use them with care. Our tools are statutes, treaties, case law, rules of procedure, local rules, etc. Our expertise involves how we apply the law to the facts confronting our clients. So what do we do if the law as applied produces a bad result? Have you ever read a statute or a line of cases and said to yourself, “That law needs to be changed, not
just in my client’s case, but in most cases.”? Maybe your thoughts were harsher and unquotable.

The Family Law Section offers all of its members a way to change the law in a constructive manner that benefits the citizens of North Carolina and the administration of justice in our State. Think about it. That is a big deal. Individually it is difficult to change the law without the help of an organization. Sometimes as individuals we have an opportunity to clarify or change the law by an appellate decision involving a client, but that is rare and unpredictable.

On the other hand, the legislative process is complex and time consuming. However, as an organization of like-minded lawyers, we can come together to effectively change the law by introducing legislation and opposing ill-conceived proposals. Any section member can and should become involved. As a committee member, as a council member, or as an individual with a good idea, you can pass along proposals for consideration. It only takes one person addressing a problem to start the process of change. Lawyers have a special duty to use their skills in this way.

Through the years, members of the Family Law Section have had this experience and they acted on it. The Equitable Distribution statute has been amended a number of times through the efforts of the FLS since its adoption in the early 1980s. The wholesale revisions to the alimony statutes in 1995 were the result of an intense effort by the FLS with the help of Suzanne Reynolds. More recently in 2009, it was my pleasure to serve as chair of the Legislative Committee when the FLS, led successively by Nancy Grace, Ray Grantham and Shelby Benton, won adoption of changes to the Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation case law with the adoption of G.S. 1-52 which disallows these claims arising after the date of separation. There are other legislative achievements involving the FLS through the years too numerous to list here.

In 2013, the Board of Governors approved 5 proposed legislative bills from the FLS. All of these proposals were studied and recommended by FLS committees and approved by the FLS Council. These include (1) Amendments to allow interlocutory appeals of orders on claims for alimony, equitable distribution, permanent child custody, child support, or divorce from bed & board; (2) Amendments to the Divisible Property Statute adding language limiting it to “passive increases” and “passive decreases”; (3) Amendments to the Adoption
Statutes procedures; (4) Amendments to G.S. 50-B providing for consent orders (in response to Kenton) and to 50-C regarding attorney’s fees; (5) Amendments to remove the requirement of listing parties’ social security numbers in divorce pleadings. Dave Holm, chair of the Legislative Committee, is working hard with his committee and the NCBA’s legislative counsel, Kim Crouch, to win passage of these measures. They are also monitoring legislative proposals that might impact family law practice and proposing action by the FLS Council when appropriate.

I hope the next time your blood pressure rises above acceptable limits in response to bad law, you will consider channeling that energy into making positive changes in the law through your FLS. The FLS has lead the way, year in and year out, as the NCBA’s section most involved in the legislative process because its members act positively on their concerns.

This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue of the North Carolina Family Bar Association’s Family Forum. The article is available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the North Carolina Family Bar Association.