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Abstract

In Baumann-Chacon v. Baumann, decided in May 2011, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held for the first time that trial courts have the authority to enter orders related to child custody and child support before a husband and wife have separated. The Baumann court carefully distinguished its decision from the holding in Harper v. Harper, a 1981 case in which the court held that the wife’s pre-separation custody and child support claims should have been dismissed. The Baumann decision raises some interesting questions about the limits of the trial court’s ability to enter orders protecting the interests of children when those interests conflict with the rights of parents. Part I of this Article discusses the historical background of the role of fault in divorce and other domestic claims in the United States and North Carolina. Part II analyzes the Court of Appeals’ decision in Harper and the state of the law following the Harper ruling. Part III analyzes the Court of Appeals’ decision in Baumann. Part IV considers how North Carolina’s approach to pre-separation child custody and support claims compares to the law in other states. Finally, Part V discusses the implications and application of Baumann for North Carolina practitioners.

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