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Ruined Relationships: Don’t Transfer Your Anger for Your Spouse to Your Child


If you’re divorced, you most likely understand how stressful the process can be. The process not only affects you and your ex, but every member of your family. Children often get the worst of it due to custody battles and a general feeling of instability. In a perfect world, divorcing or divorced parents would make every effort to ensure a child’s needs are at the heart of every decision: Who he will spend the majority of his time with, who will get to take her to soccer practice three times a week, or where will he spend his first Christmas or birthday post-divorce?

Unfortunately, many divorced parents let their own hurt, damaged feelings get in the way of a child’s relationship with the other parent. Children trying to comprehend why their parents are no longer together are more likely to cling to whatever they’re told. They’re eager for any information they can get that will help them feel they understand what’s happening in this new, and often scary, situation. This can create an environment where a vindictive parent can corrupt the way a child perceives his or her ex.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation (PA) describes conduct in which one parent purposefully (and for no apparent reason) distances a child from the other parent by putting down or otherwise vilifying the other parent. The goal is to “brainwash” the child into hate or even “acting out” the other parent. Over time, this behavior can destroy the relationship between parent and child.

A child who strongly attaches to one parent and rejects the other can result in the false belief one parent is bad or dangerous—the simplest definition of PA. It most frequently becomes an issue in high-conflict domestic violence and child custody cases, usually as an argument over access to the child.

Signs to Look For

An alienated child may show intense anger, use adult language, or speak in a way that sounds “scripted.” Dr. Douglas Darnell, PsyCare, Inc. CEO and Clinical Director of the Liberty Clinic, identifies a few of the many signs of parental alienation, including:

  • Giving the child a choice about visitation schedules when, in fact, they have no choice.
  • Telling the child “everything” about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce.
  • Not allowing the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of extracurricular activities.
  • One parent blaming the other for financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a girlfriend or boyfriend.
  • Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule to respond to the child’s needs or scheduling the child in so many activities the other parent is never given time to visit.
  • Asking the child to choose one parent over the other.
  • The alienating parent encouraging any natural anger the child has toward the other parent.
  • A parent or step-parent suggesting changing the child’s name or having the step-parent adopt the child.
  • Using a child to gather information for the parent’s own use.
  • Arranging temptations that interfere with the other parent’s visitation.
  • Reacting with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time with the other parent.
  • Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life.
  • Making demands on the other parent that oppose court orders.
  • Listening in on phone conversation with the other parent (generally illegal in our state).

These behaviors, whether conscious or not says Dr. Darnell, may cause a child to be manipulated into believing one parent is the enemy.

PA in North Carolina Courts

North Carolina law does not specifically address the issue of PA, but trial courts regularly hear matters of parental alienation in family law cases. The evidence can have a major influence on how the judge decides custody, how much visitation is granted and other determinations such as whether or not the judge orders ongoing family therapy.

If you suspect parental alienation, talk to one of our experienced attorneys for guidance concerning the best way to handle the issue. Remember, even the other parent is acting poorly, don’t talk to your child about any pending litigation and don’t allow your child to see any court documents.

To learn how North Carolina law may apply to your unique circumstances or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: The Parental Alienation Syndrome; Beyond Divorce Casualties: Reunifying the Alienated Family; Divorce Magazine; U.S. News & World Report; Parental Alienation Awareness Organization; Parental Alienation Education; and National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.)

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Giving a Second Chance: New Rules for Clearing Criminal Records

A criminal record can cause significant problems in obtaining employment, loans, housing, owning a gun, and many other critical benefits afforded to the general public—not something most teenagers are thinking about before they commit a petty crime. Colleges and universities can reject your application based on court records. What’s worse, anyone with a phone or computer is able to access this information which can seriously affect personal relationships and social opportunities.

Thanks to NC Senate Bill 445 first-time, non-violent offenders are now able to reduce the wait time for criminal record expungement. In North Carolina, an expunction is the destruction of a criminal record by court order. This process restores the individual, in the view of the law, to the status he or she occupied before the criminal record existed. Most often, when someone is granted an expunction, he or she may truthfully and accurately deny or refuse to acknowledge the criminal incident ever occurred.

“Criminal justice shouldn’t end at incarceration. It should end at restoration,” Governor Roy Cooper said at the bill’s signing. “We want North Carolinians who have corrected their mistakes to go on to live purposeful, productive lives.”

Qualifications for Expunction

The chances to clear a record in our state is pretty rare, but criminal records eligible for expunction are generally limited to the following three categories:

  • A first-time, non-violent offense.
  • A first-time offense committed under age 18-22.
  • A charge that was dismissed or disposed “not guilty.”

The key factors to determine eligibility for expunction are:

  • What was the disposition of the offense (guilty, not guilty, dismissed, etc.)?
  • How old was the person at the time of the offense (under 18 or 22)?
  • How do you classify the offense (violent versus non-violent, controlled substance, etc.)?
  • Any previous or subsequent convictions that would disqualify this person?
  • Has the relevant waiting period been satisfied?

Senate Bill 445 made a few key changes to the expunction process and expunction eligibility. Two big differences now in effect: The wait periods for expunction of a non-violent misdemeanor and/or felony has been reduced from 15 years to 5 and 10 years, respectively. A person can now expunge multiple dismissed charges and charges disposed “not guilty.” As long as the person has not been convicted of a felony, they are eligible to expunge all such charges.

How the Process Works

A prospective petitioner or his or her attorney has to first determine the specific type of expunction desired since each type has a different form required. A petition for expunction must be filed in the county in which the charge or conviction for which the petitioner is seeking expunction occurred. Each county has particular petition procedures that can vary widely. The process can be confusing and complicated to those not familiar with the system.

To determine exactly how the petition should be filed, it’s best that one of our attorneys contact the appropriate deputy clerk of court. He or she will confirm what forms must be completed and what procedures must be followed to begin the process of expunging a record.

If an order for expunction is granted, the clerk of court erases the Automated Criminal Infractions System (ACIS) entry and then delivers a certified copy of the order to the NC Administrative Office of the Courts. Certified copies of the order are also delivered to the identified arresting agencies, the sheriff, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the Department of Public Safety, which are then expected to delete the records from their respective databases. Our attorneys will follow-up with specific agencies to ensure the order has been enforced and the record truly expunged. The Department of Public Safety also forwards the expunction order to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Is the Record Really “Gone?”

When a criminal record is expunged, the record is erased from the records of the court as well as any other state agencies (including the arresting agency). The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) keeps a single file of all orders that is only accessible in very limited circumstances. Private companies that have contracted with AOC to purchase the information are also required to destroy any expunged records. Companies that don’t comply could be liable for damages.

Even with all these requirements in place, some records sold or transferred to other private companies so far down the line might never be destroyed. Unfortunately, there is a slight chance that an expunged record may appear on a background check at some point. If this happens, the petitioner can—lawfully—deny the charge or conviction ever occurred. In some cases, the issue can be negated simply by explaining the criminal record was expunged by order of the court.

These new provisions to North Carolina law allow an opportunity for individuals who paid their debts to society and have proven they can stay out of trouble with the law clear their criminal records and begin anew.

As the Governor remarked, “We don’t want young people to be held back for life because of one bad decision. We want them and their families to work with our juvenile justice system so we can get them on the right path.”

GreeneWilson understands that children are not in a position to effectively articulate their needs, face an intimidating juvenile justice system, or create strategic solutions to their problems—legal or otherwise. Let us help you navigate the sometimes-confusing juvenile legal process. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: NC Second Chance Alliance; North Carolina Justice Center; North Carolina Office of the Governor; The News & Observer; Carolina Justice Policy Center; 2018 Summary of NC Expunctions; and Council for Children’s Rights.)

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Teens in Trouble Will Get a Break in 2019

North Carolina is no longer the only state in the U.S. to automatically prosecute juveniles, ages 16 and 17, as adults. Last June, the General Assembly ended a century-long practice of prosecuting teens as adults by enacting the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (JJRA) as part of the state budget. The bill raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18—most 16 and 17-year-olds will be prosecuted in juvenile court beginning December 1, 2019.

The “Raise the Age” bill will allow a 16- or 17-year-old who commits certain crimes to be tried as a juvenile—not as an adult. Once in effect, all offenses committed by teens of these ages will originate in juvenile court. However, for Class A-G felonies committed by 16 and 17-year-olds, transfer to superior court will be mandatory with either a notice of an indictment or a finding of probable cause by the court. By requiring all juvenile offenses begin in juvenile court, the new legislation gives prosecutors some discretion to retain mandatory transfer cases in juvenile court by reducing the charges based upon further investigation or discovery that occurs prior to the filing of an indictment or a probable cause hearing.

The ACLU praised the bipartisan vote behind what it called a commonsense measure. “North Carolina’s century-old policy of sending 16- and 17-year-olds to adult jails and branding them with lifelong criminal records has been a blight on our state and done nothing to make our communities safer,” commented ACLU lawyer Susanna Birdsong. “It’s long past time for young offenders in North Carolina to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the country to turn their lives around through the juvenile justice system.”

Improving Lives and Budgets

The JJRA requires North Carolina to make upfront investments. It’s more expensive to move young people through the juvenile criminal justice than the adult system, and the state is now building a $13.2 million Youth Development Center in Rockingham County to account for the expected influx of 16- and 17-year-olds.

But in the end, the law is expected to have significant economic benefits. Jordan Wilkie with The Institute for Southern Studies writes that it will bring an estimated 12% reduction in recidivism for teens sent to the juvenile rather than adult system—that will mean lower long-term costs for law enforcement, courts, incarceration, and victim services.

Salvaging a Future

If you’re not even old enough to vote or buy a drink, should you be forced to deal with adult consequences for a stupid mistake? A prison sentence at such a young age can lead to psychological issues and actually increase the risk of recidivism. Teens face extreme dangers when locked up with adults—they are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than those in juvenile facilities and they are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. Rates of physical assault are also higher for juveniles held with adults.

Plus, the teenager now has a conviction that will haunt him or her for a lifetime—a conviction that can result in a loss of job opportunities and bank loans. As long as the teen’s charges are for a non-violent offense, he or she can now stay in the juvenile system and focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Let’s face it: Young people make mistakes; from experimenting with drugs to deciding to drive after having a drink. North Carolina will now be able to avoid such negative outcomes through this change in the way courts approach juvenile offenses.

GreeneWilson understands that children are not in a position to effectively articulate their needs, face an intimidating juvenile justice system, or create strategic solutions to their problems—legal or otherwise. Let us help you navigate the sometimes-confusing juvenile legal process. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: UNC School of Government; The News & Observer; The Charlotte Observer; The Institute for Southern Studies; North Carolina Department of Public Safety; and Purdue University.)

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