ALR Student’s Corner: North Carolina Trial Judges’ Bench Book


Do you need information regarding divorce or simple assault in North Carolina?  Need annotations to case law regarding a violation of a 50B order or defrauding an innkeeper?  Before you Google it or browse the North Carolina General Statutes, try looking first at the North Carolina Trial Judges’ Bench Book.

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The Bench Book can be found in the Reference Carolinas section of the Charlotte School of Law Library.  It is contained in two large, white, three-ring binders with dark red lettering on the cover and spine.  The North Carolina Bench Book, as the name suggests, contains information on North Carolina law.  Volume one contains information on family law, and volume two contains information on judicial powers, duties, and conduct; criminal law and procedure; and civil trial and procedure.  The table of contents in each volume is specific to that volume, but also contains a basic outline of the other volume.  Each is broken down into chapters or subtopics of the main subject.  For example, the family law volume contains chapters on divorce, child custody, alimony, and equitable distribution.  Each chapter is also divided into sections which can be found in the table of contents at the beginning of each chapter. For example, the chapter on child custody is divided into sections such as venue, jurisdiction, and the definition of custody.  There is also an index at the end of each chapter and common forms which can be copied and filled out.  I feel the sections are efficiently organized because a researcher can identify a main issue and then navigate through its respective sections and subsections in a very precise manner.

The School of Government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill publishes the Bench Book.  The School also publishes the North Carolina Crimes book, which our library also has.  The information contained in the Bench Book is updated on a rotating basis as needed.  The Library’s copy is from 2011.  In volume one, all the chapters but domestic violence and termination of parental rights were updated in the 2012 online version (available at http://www.sog.unc.edu).  Volume two is updated entirely through the 2011 print version.

Here is an example of how to use the Bench Book.

A client walks into your office and tells you that she is newly divorced and a mother with two young children.  While she and her ex-husband share joint physical custody, he is an alcoholic and, for this reason, she wants to be in control of major decisions affecting the kids.  After taking down some basic information, you assure her that you will research her situation and be in touch.  After she leaves, you decide to consult a copy of the Bench Book that you received as a gift for passing the bar.

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The first step is to determine what volume applies to the given facts.  Since the situation involves a divorced couple and the major life decisions of two young children, volume one seems appropriate.  Flip to its table of contents and locate the page number for “Chapter 4 – Child Custody” since the client’s issue involves parental control over children.

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Each of the Chapters has its own table of contents to help navigate through the various subsections.  For instance, “Chapter 4 – Child Custody” breaks down further into subtopics, like “definition of custody,” where you will find the definitions for both legal and physical custody.

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The information here states that case law has held legal custody to include the decision-making process of parents and that a parent may have sole legal custody or joint legal custody.  Based on this information and the client’s request, you determine she is best served by pursuing an order for sole legal custody.  This same information could also have been found by searching the index at the end of the chapter.

The Bench Book is an all-in-one source for case law, statutory law, and forms in North Carolina.  You can find the same basic statutory information online at www.ncleg.net for free.  There is generally no free equivalent for case law materials; however, the law itself can occasionally be found on free legal websites such as http://www.scfamilylaw.com or by using Google Scholar.  The downside to both of these sources is their lack of annotations.  Finally, copies of forms can be found at the Mecklenburg County Self Serve Center or online at www.nccourts.org.

~ David Sherman, Class of 2013 ~

Class Advisor – Cory M. Lenz, Esq.

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