Family Law

Resolve Your Family Disputes As Amicably As Possible


 We represent clients in all aspects of family law including the drafting and negotiation of premarital agreements, separation and property settlement agreements,  as well as in the litigation and negotiation of marital and family claims including divorce, equitable distribution, post-separation support/alimony, child custody, grandparents’ visitation, child support, paternity/legitimation, the termination of parental rights, and adoption



Our firm assists families with  the legal procedures  and hearings for many types of adoptions, including private adoptions, stepparent adoptions, adult adoptions, and “re-adoptions” to “domesticate” foreign adoption decrees. 


Alimony/Post-Separation Support

Separation and/or divorce can create financial uncertainty for both parties. Our firm helps you pursue or defend claims for spousal support to achieve equitable result. A strong claim, or a strong defense, relies upon strong evidence and strong arguments – therefore we will ask you for extensive documentation of your and your spouse’s financial situation so that we can fully analyze your situation and advise you of your options. You can take a look at the Financial Affidavit (linked on the right side of the page) to see what sort of information will be required and what documentation will be necessary. 


Child custody and visitation

In North Carolina, Child Custody cases are decided by a judge according to a “best interests of the children” standard. The wishes of the parents or litigants, and the wishes of the children, are of secondary importance to the “polar star” principle of the children’s best interests, which the judge will determine in light of the evidence presented to the Court. We will interview you and ask you to gather evidence pertaining to your and your spouse’s fitness as parents, your homes, your roommates or new romantic partners, your texts, emails, and social media posts, your financial status, and your children’s unique needs in order to evaluate your claims and defenses related to custody. 

Oftentimes, custody cases may be negotiated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties. Additionally, North Carolina requires that every custody case submit to mandatory, court-provided mediation before a full trial may be held. The cost of the mediation is included in the filing fee for the custody lawsuit, and attorneys are not involved in the negotiation (though attorneys do review any agreement drafted by the mediator to explain and advise). However, if mediation is not successful and a settlement is not possible, we will litigate the matter, issuing formal discovery and ultimately arguing your case at trial. 


Child support

North Carolina uses a model known as the “Income Shares” model in establishing its guidelines for determining child support obligations (see 2019 NC Child Support Guidelines linked at the bottom of the page). In summary, the Income Shares model is based on the theory that a child should be entitled to the same lifestyle and financial support that the child would have if the parents had stayed together; the Guideline support obligations are based upon actuarial tables which set a child support obligation for combined income levels (the sum of both parents’ incomes); the calculation worksheet then applies each parent’s percent share of the total income to that child support obligation. For example, if Mom makes $10,000, and Dad makes $20,000, their combined income is $30,000; Dad’s “share” of the income is 2/3 or 66.66%, and Mom’s is 1/3 or 33.33%. The primary custodian is presumed to expend their share on the child through the course of the child living with them; the secondary custodian pays his/her share to the primary custodian for the benefit of the minor children.

Most child support cases will be decided according to the NC Child Support Guidelines. We will therefore ask you for documentation of the variables utilized in the calculation: your income, work-related childcare expenses, health insurance costs for you and for the children, any extraordinary expenses. We will need similar documentation from the other parent, which we may need to obtain by formal discovery if they do not voluntarily provide it. In rare cases, it may be equitable for the Court to deviate from the Guidelines to set child support. Sometimes a child support case is more complicated, such as when a parent changes or loses employment, when a parent owns a closely-held business, or when a child has special needs or costly, individualized expenses. In these cases our analysis will go into the facts of these special circumstances and we will advise you in light of the complex case law that exists in these situations. 

However, it is important to remember that issues of marital misconduct are not considered in child support claims – so it does not matter who initiated the separation, whether they withheld spousal support or engaged in other bad faith actions, etc.


Child support modification and enforcement

A parent who desires to reduce or stop making child support payments should seek and obtain a new court order that permits him or her to do so. The Court requires that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred since the entry of the existing Order before the existing Order may be modified. We can evaluate whether a substantial change has occurred, and whether it will be beneficial to seek the modification by evaluating the parents’ financial situations and all variables relevant to the re-calculation. 

We may assist with the enforcement of child support obligations by writing demand letters or by seeking to hold the non-compliant party in contempt of court. 



In North Carolina, the issue of divorce is an issue that may be litigated separately from other marital claims, like Equitable Distribution (“property division”), Alimony/PSS, Child Custody, and Child Support. A spouse may seek a divorce if the spouses have been living separate and apart for one year and at the time of the separation at least one party intended for the separation to be permanent. 

It is important to raise claims for Alimony and Equitable Distribution prior to the entry of a divorce decree, because they are barred thereafter. This is why, if you contact us seeking “just a simple divorce,” we will need for you to come in for a consultation and bring certain documents so that we can evaluate whether you face any risks or need to address anything pertaining to these marital claims before you file.


Equitable Distribution

“Equitable Distribution” (often “ED” for short) is the term North Carolina uses for the claim a spouse can raise to ask the Court to divide the spouses’ marital property, while people often use terms like “property division” or think this procedure is included in the term “divorce.” 

In order to evaluate an ED claim, the parties must first produce an Inventory of all of the property owned, and all of the debt owed, by either or both spouses on the date of separation (see “EDIA” linked at the bottom of the page to see the Johnston County form used for this purpose). The questions the Court (or an attorney evaluating the claim) must answer (in basic form) are:

1. Was the property/debt marital property/debt or separate property/debt?

2. What was the value of the property/debt on the date of separation?

3. What is the value of the property/debt as of the date the property/debt is to be distributed?

4. To whom should the property/debt be distributed?

Therefore, the parties must produce extensive documentation to support their allegations regarding classification and value (see “Rule 7.6 docs” linked at the bottom of the page to see what documents are required disclosures in our District). We will help you to navigate the difficulties inherent in determining classification and value of your assets and debt in light of the law, and we may even need to hire experts to determine the value of certain assets which are complex or which consist of both marital and separate property. 

If the parties are unable to resolve their ED claims themselves, all ED cases must go to mandatory mediation, which is NOT provided by the Court. Parties usually must pay their attorneys as well as one-half of the mediator’s fee. In the event that mediation is unsuccessful, the claim shall be calendared for trial. 


Juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency proceedings

In some circumstances, Nicki Sanderson is able to represent parents subject to actions by the Department of Social Services, or those persons who may be parties in interest in DSS cases. However, we are not able to represent third parties who are not parties to the case or given special status as “caretakers” in the case, even when those persons are family members who have legitimate disagreements with what DSS has decided or what the judge has ruled in a juvenile case. 



Dionne Fortner is a DRC Certified Mediator and has been certified since 2009. Please contact our office if you are currently in litigation and need a Certified Mediator to conduct the mediation mandatory to ED cases. Dionne is also able to mediate for cases which are not yet in litigation. 


Pre-nuptial and Post-Nuptial agreements

Our firm has experience drafting Pre-Nuptial (or Pre-Marital) Agreements as well as Post-Marital Agreements when a couple wants to determine in advance how their property shall be divided in the event of a separation and divorce. We also may evaluate claims and represent parties who believe that an Agreement they have signed should be invalidated.  


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