AN ACT TO MAKE VARIOUS CHANGES AND TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS TO THE LAW GOVERNING THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.
Makes the following changes to Article 5, Parenting Coordinator, GS Chapter 50.
Adds party to the defined terms set out in GS 50-90, defining the term to mean any person granted legal or physical custodial rights to a child in a child custody action.
Amends GS 50-91, regarding the appointment of parenting coordinators. Now authorizes the court to appoint or reappoint a parenting coordinator at any time in a child custody action involving minor children brought under Article 1, on or after entry of a custody order other than an ex parte order, or upon entry of a contempt order involving a custody issue pursuant to: (1) all parties' consent to the appointment and the scope of authority; (2) upon motion of a party requesting the appointment; or (3) upon the court's own motion (previously, did not provide for reappointment; specified during the proceedings of the action; did not provide for the court to make appointment upon motion of a party requesting appointment or upon its own motion). Further provides for the court to make specified findings that the action is a high-conflict case, the appointment is in the best interests of any minor child in the case, and that the parties are able to pay for the cost of the coordinator, in the event the parties have not consented to the appointment (previously, allowed the court to make the appointment without consent of the parties upon entry of a custody order other than an ex parte order, or upon entry of a parenting plan, only if those specified findings were made). Adds that the court does not have to find a substantial change of circumstance has occurred to appoint a parenting coordinator. Requires the appointing order to specify the terms of the appointment. Removes the requirements for the order to specifically incorporate any agreement regarding the role of the coordinator made by the parties. Also eliminates the requirement for the court to give a copy of the order to the parties prior to the appointment conference. Provides for selection of the parenting coordinator from a list maintained by the district court (previously, selection specifically by the court). Clarifies that prior to appointment, the court, the parties' attorneys, or the parties must contact the coordinator to determine if the coordinator is willing and able to accept the appointment.
Amends GS 50-92, regarding the authority of the parenting coordinator. Requires the authority to be limited to matters that will aid the parties in complying with the custody order, resolving disputes regarding issues that were not specifically addressed in the custody order, or ambiguous or conflicting terms in the custody order (previously, identify disputed issues, reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, develop methods of collaboration in parenting, and compliance with the court's order). Now provides 20 areas which the scope of authority can, but is not limited to, including transition time, pick up, or delivery; sharing vacations and holidays; diet, clothing, extracurricular activities, and discipline. Authorizes the coordinator to decide any issue within the scope of authority, and deems the decision enforceable as an order of the court. Requires decisions to be in writing and provided to the parties and their attorneys. Deems the decision binding so long as the custody order is in effect, even after the expiration of the coordinator's term unless the coordinator or subsequent coordinator modifies the decision or the courts review and modifies the decision. Allows any party or their attorney to file a motion for the court to review a coordinator's decision. Requires the parties to comply with the decision unless the court, after a review hearing, determines the decision is not in the child's best interest or the decision exceeded the scope of authority (previously, allowed the court to authorize the coordinator to make decisions regarding implementation of the parenting plan not specifically governed by the order, binding on the parties until reviewed by the court at a hearing at the request of the coordinator or either party; did not provide specific findings the court must make in its review of the decision). Provides that the moving party or their attorney must cause a subpoena to be issued for the coordinator's attendance at the review hearing (previously, only the judge presiding over the case can subpoena the coordinator to attend and testify at the review hearing). Requires the court to determine how the coordinator's fees are to be apportioned between the parties at the conclusion of the review hearing. Further authorizes the court to review and modify the coordinator's decision after the expiration of a parenting coordinator's term (not previously provided for). Requires the coordinator to provide any financial issues related to the coordinator's decisions to the parties or their attorneys (previously, did not specify that financial issues must relate to the coordinator's decisions and limited reference to the parties' attorneys). Make further clarifying changes.
Amends GS 50-93, regarding qualifications for inclusion of the district court's list of parenting coordinators, now requiring the person to hold a master's or doctorate degree in psychology, law, social work, or counseling (removing the qualification to hold a master's degree or doctorate degree in medicine or a related area) and current North Carolina license in the coordinator's areas of practice (previously, did not specify the license must be a North Carolina license; removes the qualifying phrase of applicability).
Amends GS 50-94, concerning the parenting coordinator appointment conference, to no longer require a conference if the coordinator's term is later extended; a subsequent coordinator is appointed in the same matter; or the parties, their attorneys, and the proposed coordinator consent to a waiver of the conference by signing the proposed appointment order. Prohibits the court from entering an appointment order or conducting a conference unless a custody order has already been entered or is simultaneously entered. Removes the requirement for the court to determine the information each party must provide to the parenting coordinator at the time of the appointment conference. Makes clarifying changes. Eliminates the provisions requiring the coordinator and any guardians ad litem to bring all necessary releases, contracts, and consents to the conference, and requiring the coordinator to schedule the first session with the parties.
Amends GS 50-95, concerning fees of the parenting coordinator, to now require the coordinator to file a fee report and request a hearing in the event of a dispute of fee or retainer payment (previously, the coordinator was not required to file a fee report, and disputes on retainers were not included). Now additionally provides for a party disputing the fees or the allocation of the fees to file a motion with the court requesting a review of the fees. Adds that the district court retains jurisdiction to resolve disputes regarding the coordinator's fees after the conclusion of the coordinator's term so long as the coordinator's fee report was filed in a timely manner. Removes the provision authorizing the court to condition the appointment upon the parties' payment of a specified fee to the coordinator, and prohibiting the coordinator from beginning any duties until the fee has been paid.
Expands GS 50-96, now allowing meeting and communications between the parties, their attorneys, or any other person with information that assists the coordinator in the coordinator's duties, to be informal and ex parte. Now requires the parties to timely execute any releases necessary to facilitate communication with any person having information that assists the coordinator in the coordinator's duties, upon request of the coordinator. Authorizes the coordinator, in the coordinator's discretion, to meet or communicate with the minor children.
Rewrites GS 50-97, regarding reports of the parenting coordinator. Now permits the coordinator to file a report with the court regarding any of the five specified issues, including the parenting coordinator's belief that the existing custody order is not in the best interest of the child, a party's noncompliance with a decision of the coordinator or the terms of the custody order, or the parenting coordinator's request that the appointment be modified or terminated. Provides for a hearing in the event of a party's noncompliance with the coordinator's decision, the terms of the custody order, or nonpayment of the coordinator fees (previously, provided for a hearing no later than two weeks following receipt of the required report if the coordinator made noncompliance determinations). Specifies that the provisions do not prevent a party from filing its own motion regarding noncompliance with the coordinator's decision or the terms of the custody order. Now requires an expedited hearing to be granted and occur within four weeks of the filing of the report unless the coordinator requests longer or the court has already issued an order during a party to show cause why the party should not be held in contempt. Authorizes the court to issue temporary custody orders as required for a child's best interest after a hearing on the report.
Rewrites GS 50-98, regarding parenting coordinator records, to permit the coordinator to release any records held by the coordinator to the parties or their attorneys, at the discretion of the coordinator (previously, required the coordinator to provide written summaries of development and copies of other written communications to the parties and their attorneys; also required coordinators to maintain records of each meeting, which could only be subpoenaed by the presiding judge, and were reviewable in camera and released only if the court determined the records would assist the parties with the presentation of their case at trial). Now permits any party to apply to the presiding judge for the issuance of a subpoena to compel production of the coordinator's records. Requires any party submitting the application to provide reasonable notice to the coordinator and the parties so that any objection to the release of information or the manner of release can be considered prior to the issuance of the subpoena.
Amends GS 50-99, authorizing the court to terminate or modify the parenting coordinator's appointment upon motion of any party, upon the agreement of the parties, or by the court on its own motion, for good cause shown (previously, included upon motion of either party at the request of the coordinator). Now allows for the court to modify or terminate the coordinator's appointment upon request of the coordinator for good cause shown as set forth in GS 50-97(a)(5), as enacted. Makes organizational changes to the provisions describing good cause, and now includes in the term: (1) lack of reasonable progress (previously qualified with over a significant period of time despite the best efforts of the parties and the coordinator) and (2) the inability or unwillingness of the coordinator to continue to serve (was, the coordinator is unable or unwilling to serve). Makes clarifying changes.
Effective October 1, 2019.