National Parents Organization (NPO) recently released its latest Child Custody and Shared Parenting Report Cardand my home state of North Carolina once again ranks as a low performing state in terms of child support and shared parenting.
While I’m honored to serve on the board of directors for National Parents Organization and I’m proud to represent North Carolina, there is still so much work that needs to be done. As a collaborative family law attorney who was born, raised, and educated in this state, I have dedicated my professional career to helping others divorce and co-parent in a healthy manner. For me, it’s personal too. As a child of divorce, I experienced custody disputes and the challenges of parents who didn’t have a positive co-parenting relationship. My childhood into my adult years was riddled with conflict as a result of the lack of shared parenting legislation. These experiences are detailed in my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture. While my parents and I experienced this over two decades ago, unfortunately not much has changed in our state since then. For these reasons, and many more, I am disappointed to see that North Carolina has, once again, performed poorly in this report.
In years past, NPO focused primarily on shared parenting and scored states based on legislation that supports equal time with both parents. While many states improved their grades, North Carolina’s grade got worse. During the reports conducted in 2014 and 2019, North Carolina was given a “D” grade in 2014, and a “D-” grade five years later. For this year’s report, NPO also brought in the aspect of child support by evaluating guidelines in each of the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia. This is a first-of-its-kind study which grades each state on the degree to which they encourage or discourage shared parenting. While the criteria are a bit different than previous years, North Carolina once again earns a “D-” in the ranking.
NPO’s 2022 report card evaluated states on parenting time adjustment, also known as PTA. This term is sometimes referred to as a parenting time offset or residential time credit – both phrases reflective of child support guidelines that allocate resources for children between their two homes. A team of three NPO researchers collected and reviewed the child support guidelines for each state. These guidelines were analyzed and evaluated on the following eight metrics:
- Existence of a parenting time adjustment (PTA)
- PTA Threshold
- Continuity of the PTA (absence of “cliff effects”)
- Appropriate recognition of fixed, duplicated costs of dual residency
- Constraint on the child support transfer payment under PTA (avoidance of a “shared parenting penalty”)
- Equal recognition of the effects of the PTA on both parent’s households
- Incorporation of Changing Child Costs in Both Households
- Implication for “Equal-time/Equal-income” cases
North Carolina joins 11 other states in receiving grades on the “D” scale. Despite the poor grade, there are some positives in the state which make it stand out from the 22 other states that received failing “F” grades. Researchers detailed North Carolina’s “D-” through two positives and three negatives. They shared the following positives:
- North Carolina’s PTA appropriately takes into account the effect of the PTA on both parents’ households.
- North Carolina’s PTA appropriately results in no presumptive child support transfer payment when parental income and parenting time are both equal.
Despite the positives, North Carolina has a lot of room for improvement. The following negatives were based off the metrics described above:
- North Carolina’s PTA has an extraordinarily and unjustifiably high threshold of 123 days.
- North Carolina’s PTA has an extremely large discontinuity (or discontinuities), creating an extremely large cliff effect or multiple cliff effects.
- North Carolina’s PTA significantly overestimates the fixed, duplicated costs involved in shared parenting.
I’d like to point out that North Carolina has a unique opportunity this year to take this information and do something with it. As we mentioned, NPO’s study used a new benchmark which assessed North Carolina’s child support guidelines. These are detailed by the North Carolina Judicial Branch. According to the Court’s website, the next review of the statewide presumptive guidelines for determining the child support obligations of parents will occur this year:
“Section 50-13.4 of the North Carolina General Statutes requires the Conference of Chief District Judges to prescribe uniform statewide presumptive guidelines for determining the child support obligations of parents, and to review the guidelines periodically (at least once every four years) to determine whether their application results in appropriate child support orders. The next review will occur during 2022.”
It is my great hope that during this review, this report by NPO will be brought to the table and our state leaders will examine ways to improve child support and shared parenting legislation. Just last year, I spent time at the North Carolina General Assembly and met with state lawmakers about proposed shared parenting bills. Unfortunately, this was not a priority for our legislators. While our state is falling behind, others, particularly those in the southeast, are improving their laws and creating healthier environments for children whose parents are separated or divorced. As I’ve written in previous blogs, child custody is becoming yet another justice gap and is fueling indifferences for those who lack access in our court system and in society. North Carolina decision makers, judges, and legislators can use this information provided by NPO and various other sources to improve child custody and shared parenting laws. The question is… will they do it? They have the resources, data, and facts… yet just need to use them.
My goal is for North Carolina to create laws that are similar to Kentucky for both child custody and shared parenting. In 2018, Kentucky became the best state in the nation for separated and divorced families with children in terms of custody and co-parenting. We need to model our efforts in North Carolina like what Kentucky did when lawmakers there unanimously passed a bill that created a temporary joint custody and equal parenting time presumption. This bill fosters a 50/50 equal opportunity for both parents. It takes effect at the moment of separation, which immediately creates a standard of equality. Kentucky’s law has generated success stories that have been featured in countless news articles and case studies. A recent one was just published in the Washington Post Magazine entitled, “Who Gets the Child?” The feature piece shares the story of two parents fighting a court battle to decide custody of their daughter. While they were never married, they became a test case for Kentucky’s new law. I highly recommend reading the full article, but to explain the basis of it, there was concern and hesitation during the initial process. Yet three years later, the parents admit that they both now support 50-50 custody and they’re glad to both share time with their daughter.
This story is just one of thousands that have been positively impacted by shared parenting. I’m personally passionate about shared parenting and have made it a priority at my law firm, AN|R Law and our four locations across the state in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington. Through the practice of collaborative divorce and collaborative family law, we strive to create co-parenting plans that put the well-being of children and their parents first. Through this out-of-court resolution process, families don’t have to step foot into a courtroom. Instead, they work together, along with their respective attorneys, to create a divorce agreement and child custody plan that works for all involved.
To learn more about how you can help advance shared parenting legislation in North Carolina, join me in volunteering with NPO. The nonprofit works to target key state legislators and get their support in moving important legislation forward. If you’re interested in taking action, you can click here to complete the NPO Legislative Advocate Form. If you’re able to donate funds, you can learn more about making a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.
If you’d like to connect with me and learn more about what you can do to support our efforts to spread awareness about shared parenting and collaborative law across North Carolina and the entire nation, follow me on Facebook,Instagram, and LinkedIn with my handle @ANRLaw. You can also check out my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, and listen to my podcast, “Divorce, Healthy!” which is available on all major listening platforms.
About AN|R Law
You can learn more about working with AN|R Law: A Negotiated Resolution for divorce and other family law matters in North Carolina by reaching out to our office. You can 252-702-4376 or fill out this online contact form. We have four North Carolina locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington to serve you and your family.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic or inviting me, Ashley-Nicole Russell, to speak at your next event or conference, I’d love to talk with you about the opportunity. I currently booking in-person and virtual speaking engagements for 2022. Please reach out to my team by emailing email@example.com.