family law action

Starting a family law action can be complicated. The need for a family law attorney almost never signals good news.  Often, it comes at the end of a pretty serious relationship and involves a significant change in someone’s life.  We often get calls from clients who don’t know where to start.  Because those calls are so frequent, we decided to write a blog about it.

In this blog, we will talk a little about how to start certain processes in family law actions.  We will do our best to cover Divorce, Child Custody, and several other topics.  Like all our blogs, however, this is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a family law attorney.

When a court action is not necessary

When there are no children involved in the ending of a major relationship but a former couple owns a home or other property together, a separation agreement may be enough to start the process of bringing things to a resolution.  We talk in great detail about separation agreements here, but in short, it is simply a contract between two parties that is legally enforceable once properly executed.  If there is nothing else left to resolve accept things that are strictly financial or property based in nature, a separation agreement might be all someone needs.

Filing a complaint

Actions that will require a court ruling that are being brought forward for the first time, such as divorce, child custody, child support, alimony or equitable distribution will require the filing of a compliant to commence the action. If your family law action requires a complaint, this step must be taken before proceedings can commence.

A complaint is the initial pleading in a civil action. It serves the purpose of formally declaring the desire to commence a legal proceeding against someone. Complaints must be properly filed, properly served and have all allegations be sufficient and proper.

Filing a motion with the court

If a family law matter has already been litigated, or is currently on going and requires some change or action, it is usually most appropriate to file a motion. Examples of this are cases of child custody modification, child support modification and alimony modification.

Motions can also be used to ask the court for temporary parenting arrangements while a child custody action is on-going or to request temporary emergency custody.

Some other important requirements to consider

Family law is a very complicated area of law, so it’s not just about filing the right thing.  There are a lot of technical considerations that must followed precisely including but not limited to some of the following:

Time requirements for a family law action

There are time requirements for complaints, answers, and motions.  Not having the proper timing with filings or responses can be detrimental to your case or may keep your family law action from being heard at all.  An example of this would be divorce. In North Carolina, a complaint for divorce cannot be filed until the parties have been separated for at least one year and one day.


Jurisdiction is the power of the court to hear your matter.  Not all courts would be appropriate for your matter. One of the main considerations is where the parties live and how long they have lived there.  Other considerations for jurisdiction are also important but would be too complicated to explain in a few sentences.

Proper serve of process

It is not only filing the right documents at the right time but also giving legally sufficient notice to the other party and to the court.  Improper service can lead to a case being dismissed before a judge even considers the merits of that case.

“How do I start?” is a question that many people have, and the simplest answer is this: Call an attorney.  If you think you are ready to start a family law matter and have some questions, contact us.  At Gilles Law, we handle family law matters in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the surrounding areas.

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