North Carolina has several different levels of trial court, such as Magistrate, District, or Superior Court. Due to the complex matters of family law, North Carolina also has a separate special division of the court system for family law cases, appropriately called, Family Court.
Family Court is a District Court level section that deals solely with North Carolina Family Law matters. Family Court handles divorce, the distribution of property (equitable distribution), post separation support, alimony, child custody, child support, and more. The Family Court division was created in 1998 under a pilot program that tested a specialized Family Court in District 14 (Durham County), District 20 (Anson, Richmond, Stanly, and Union Counties), and District 26 (Mecklenburg County). Since then, the program has grown to cover 22 counties and now covers at least 45% of North Carolina’s total population.
Family Court standing as its own section is viewed by most as a great benefit for the residents of North Carolina who are going through tough Family Law matters. One obvious advantage is that Family Court Judges handle family law cases every day, so they are well-versed in North Carolina Family Law. In other trial court divisions, the Judge handles a wide-range of legal issues, sometimes including both criminal and civil matters, so they may not be as familiar with nuanced family law issues that a Family Court Judge often sees. While all Judges are knowledgeable on the law, Family Court ensures that Judges overseeing North Carolina Family Law cases are experts in that particular area.
Another huge advantage is the “One Family, One Judge” rule. Rather than being assigned a different Judge for different issues, the same assigned Family Court Judge will hear and decide all of the issues on that case. This allows the Judges to have a background and knowledge of the history of a case which cannot be accomplished if issues are assigned at random to multiple Judges. The “One Family, One Judge” system can also make it more comfortable for the parties, as they gain a relationship with the Judge that can sometimes be deciding issues for months or even years to come. While no one wants to find themselves in court for a family matter, this attribute of Family Court at least helps create a more thoughtful and caring environment.
To learn more about Family Court in North Carolina, please visit The North Carolina Court System website at http://www.nccourts.org/Citizens/CPrograms/Family/Default.asp.