(Guilford County Only)
Court Watch of North Carolina, Inc.
415 N. Edgeworth Street
Greensboro, NC 27404
PRO SE VISITATION IN GUILFORD COUNTY (NEW ACTIONS)
This paper is designed for parents who seek visitation but who cannot afford a lawyer (i.e.
who are proceeding "pro se"). Court Watch suggests that you use these forms and instructions, but
makes no assurances that they will result in your obtaining visitation. If you need legal advice about
this or other family matters, contact an attorney.
This paper is designed to be used only if (1) you must file a new court proceeding, and (2) the
child has lived in North Carolina for the last 6 months or more. A new proceeding must be filed
unless a parent already has obtained a court "custody order" (a child support order obtained by the
Child Support Enforcement (CSE) office is not a "custody order" for this purpose).
Most visitation cases require the parents to attend a mediation session. If after reading this
paper you still have questions on mediation, contact the Custody Mediation Office of the 18th
Judicial District. 1
INITIAL PROCEDURES (INCLUDNG MEDIATION)
A. STEP ONE: GATHER INFORMATION
1. FIND OUT THE ADDRESS OF THE CUSTODIAL PARENT
If you don't already know it, find out the exact street address of the person who has legal
custody of your child. If you can't find it, and within the last 12 months that person was represented
by a lawyer, find the lawyer's address.
2. GATHER THE COURT FORMS THAT YOU WILL NEED
You will need a Complaint and some other forms to fill out. 2 These forms can be obtained from:
(1) Clerk's office in the Greensboro or High Point Courthouse, 3 (2) the Guilford County Court's
website, 4 or (3) by calling Court Watch at 275-2346.
1 In Greensboro, call 412-7815. You also could travel to the Greensboro mediation office in the
Greensboro courthouse at Room 208. In High Point, call 801-5362 (do not go to the High Point
mediation office, since it is closed to the public).
2 As part of this package, sample forms have been filled out and included as exhibits at the end
of these instructions. Get a blank copy of the forms shown as Exhibit 1, 2, 3, and 6 which follow
3 If you live in Greensboro, file your complaint in the Clerk's office which is located in the
Courthouse at 2 Governmental Plaza in downtown Greensboro; in Room UG 51 (first go into Room
U-50. Then turn left to get to UG-51). If you live in High Point, Jamestown or Deep River
Township, you must file your complaint at the Clerk's office in the High Point Courthouse. The
courthouse is located at 505 East Green Drive, High Point, and the Clerk's office is on the second
4 To find these blank forms and other Guilford County court information, start by going to the
B. STEP TWO: FILL OUT THE COMPLAINT AND OTHER REQUIRED COURT FORMS
1. FILL OUT A CUSTODY/VISITATION COMPLAINT & COVER SHEET
The purpose of a "Complaint" (sample at Exhibit 1) is to set forth the facts you claim are true
and notify the defendant of the relief you seek. You will be the "plaintiff" (the party seeking relief).
If the other parent has possession of your child and you just want to create a visitation schedule for
yourself, mention only "visitation" (not "custody") in the sections "Custody or Visitation Claim" and
"Prayer for Relief." Sign the last page of the complaint in front of a notary (you can find a notary at
your bank). Your signature will affirm the truth of all information in the complaint.
Also, fill out a "Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet" (Exhibit 2). This simple but necessary
form is used by the Clerk's office to keep track of your case.
2. FILL OUT A SUMMONS
The purpose of the "Summons" (Exhibit 3) is to notify the defendant that a civil action has
been commenced against him/her, and that defendant needs to file a written "Answer" to the claims
that you made in your Complaint (within 30 days after being served). When filling out the
Summons, be sure you write down the exact street address where the defendant lives. If you use an
incorrect address, the complaint and summons won't be received by the defendant, and your court
case will not proceed.
North Carolina state court's homepage at http://www.nccourts.org. In the left margin under the tiny
North Carolina map, use the drop down menu for "county," and click "Guilford." Now you are at the
Guilford County Court home page. Click "local rules" and then select the forms you desire.
C. STEP THREE: GO TO THE COURT HOUSE
1. REGISTER FOR GROUP "CUSTODY MEDIATION ORIENTATION"
The Courthouse is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Go to the Clerk's office. Before
speaking to a clerk, register to attend a group "custody mediation orientation" (EXCEPTION: you
don't need to attend if you have attended a mediation orientation before, or if you have had it
waived). 5 To register, look for the loose-leaf notebook on a table in the public area of the room.
There will be one or more pages for each session offered. In the upper right hand corner of each
page is the date, time, and place of the session (Exhibit 4). Each page has half a dozen lines for those
wanting to attend that session. Choose a date at least two weeks away, so that prior to your session,
the sheriff's office can serve the papers on the defendant (including the notice of the orientation
session). 6 If a desirable date is already "full" (because all the pages offered for your preferred date
have been filled up), sign up for a later session. Make sure to include addresses and attorney names
if you know them,
2. FILL OUT THE "ORDER & NOTICE OF COURT EVENTS" FORM
At the back of the notebook (in which you signed up for your mediation orientation session),
there are blank "Order & Notice of Court Events" forms (Exhibit 5). On two identical blank forms,
fill in the court identification ("docket" or "file") number, the names of plaintiff and defendant, and
the date of the orientation session that you chose. You will serve one form on the defendant along
with your other papers. Keep the second in a safe place to remind you of the time and place of these
3. FILE YOUR COMPLAINT & PAPERS WITH THE CLERK'S OFFICE
Take to the Clerk's office the following package of filled out papers: (1) the original and two
copies of the Complaint, (2) original and two copies of the Summons, (3) one copy of the filled out
"Order & Notice of Court Events," and (4) the Cover Sheet (Exhibit 2).
If you or the other parent are not required to go through mediation, both of you can agree to
attend mediation anyways. Mediation is particularly suited to visitation, since a mediator has the
time to help parents develop a sensible visitation schedule. However if you have a very good reason
for not attending orientation, you can submit a motion asking a judge to waive your attendance. To
request a waiver, use Form AOC-CV-632. That form is available on the state's form website. Go to
nccourts.org and click "Forms."
The dates and times of the group mediation sessions in Greensboro and High Point also are
listed on the Guilford County Court website (see footnote # 2). Click "Calendars & Schedules" and
then click "Child Custody Orientation Sessions."
Bring money to the Clerk's office (cash, money order or certified check). Personal checks and
credit cards are not accepted. You will need to pay a filing fee (currently $90), and $15 for the
sheriff's office if you are having the sheriff serve the papers. The Clerk will assign your case a Court
identification ("docket" or "file") number and stamp the number on the upper right hand corner of
your Complaint and Summons. If your address changes after you file your complaint, notify both the
Clerk's office and the mediation office of the change. Should the Clerk's office refuse to accept your
Complaint for filing, there are things you can do. 7
D. STEP FOUR: SERVE YOUR COMPLAINT
The "package" of papers that you presented to the Clerk's office must be delivered ("served")
on the opposing party (the defendant) so that the defendant receives notice of your complaint. You
can serve your papers using the Sheriff's office, or by using certified mail.
2. SERVICE USING THE SHERIFF'S OFFICE
The Sheriff's office charges a small fee (currently $15) to have a deputy deliver your Complaint
and Summons to the defendant. The fee may be paid in cash, by money order or using a certified
check (personal checks and credit cards are not accepted). If you decide to have your package of
papers served by the Sheriff's office, leave the papers and a filing fee with the Clerk's office, and they
will deliver them to the Sheriff's office for service.
3. SERVICE USING THE U.S. MAIL
If you decide to serve the defendant by U.S. Mail, make two copies of the Complaint, Summons,
and "Notice of Court Events," and place each set of papers in a separate envelope - each addressed to
the other paent. Take the two envelopes to the Post Office and ask them to send one by regular first-
class mail and the other by certified mail, "return receipt requested." The post office charges $5-6 for
If the defendant accepts the envelope by signing for it, you will receive a receipt from the Post
Office with defendant's signature proving receipt. In that case, fill out the "Affidavit of Service"
form (Exhibit 6) and attach the Post Office receipt to it. File the affidavit with the Clerk's office.
If the Clerk won't accept your papers because they are not properly filled out, ask what changes
need to be made. Make those changes and try to file the papers again. However if the Clerk
questions your right to file the Complaint because you don't have an attorney, assert yourself. Tell
the Clerk that you understand that every person has the right to file papers in court. If the Clerk
won't budge, ask to see a supervisor. If the supervisor won't allow you to file, contact Court Watch
of North Carolina.
If the defendant doesn't accept the envelope, you must re-mail it using a better address, or take
your papers to the Sheriff's office and ask them try to serve it. 8
E. STEP FIVE: ATTEND MEDIATION GROUP ORIENTATION
On the date that you chose for your mediation group orientation, report to the assigned room
(which is listed on the "Order & Notice of Court Events" form - Exhibit 5). Arrive early and plan to
spend one and a half hours there. Don't bring children with you. The defendant normally will be
present at the same session.
At the end of the orientation session, court personnel will schedule a mediation session at a time
convenient to you and the other parent.
F. STEP SIX: PREPARE FOR MEDIATION
1. PURPOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL MEDIATION SESSION
The purpose of mediation is to have a trained impartial mediator try to get the parties to reach a
mutually agreeable settlement on visitation. The advantage of mediation is that you may be able to
agree on a suitable visitation schedule without having to go to trial (where a judge might impose
terms that neither parent wants).
2. PREPARING FOR YOUR MEDIATION SESSION
Mediation is a non-adversarial hearing, where no agreement will be reached unless both parties
consent to it. Therefore there is no need to prepare evidence for the mediation. However you should
prepare for the mediation session by writing down the visitation terms that you desire. Start with a
standard routine schedule and then list holidays. 9 Be specific on hours and other details (e.g.
"plaintiff will pick up his son on Fridays from defendant's home at 8PM, and return him on Sunday
at 7PM"). Use terms that will be easy for both parties to calculate (e.g. "the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays" -
rather than "every other Tuesday). Don't seek unrealistic visitation (e.g. taking a newborn from the
mother for overnight visits).
G. STEP SEVEN: ATTEND YOUR MEDIATION SESSION
1. HOW TO ACT AT YOUR MEDIATION SESSION
There is a third alternative. If the Sheriff was unable to serve the papers, Civil Rule 4(h) allows
a Private Investigator (PI) or other disinterested third party to serve the papers. PIs normally charge
$100-$125 to make several attempts at service. While you might find another person to serve the
papers, that person cannot be related to you or any party in the case.
Typical routine visitation for children three years of age or older is every other Saturday or
Sunday, or every other weekend (Friday PM to Sunday PM). Common holiday visitations involve
parents splitting the day and alternating odd and even years. For example, in odd-numbered years,
one parent could have the children Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, while the other parent
could have them Christmas afternoon and night (in even-numbered years, the plan would be
Be on time! (The minutes that you are late will be deducted from your two-hour session).
Children are not permitted. Mediation is mandatory. 10 Treat the mediation seriously, since it may
determine your visitation schedule for years to come. This is not an adversary hearing in which you
are trying to prevail over the defendant, or win over the mediator to your side. Treat the mediator
and the defendant with respect. Keep an open mind. Make a genuine attempt to work out with the
defendant a reasonable visitation schedule which will be good for the child. Be willing to make
2. PROCEDURE AFTER THE MEDIATION SESSION
If after the first mediation session the parties have not reached full agreement, but progress has
been made, the mediator may schedule a second mediation session if both parties consent (a third
mediation could even be held).
If the mediator is able to get the parties to agree to visitation terms, the mediator will prepare a
draft "Parenting Agreement” and send it to both parties to approve. If the parties approve, each party
will be asked to sign the Parenting Agreement in front of a notary (both parties can go to the
mediation office to have it notarized there). Then a judge will sign an order adopting the Parenting
Agreement, so that it becomes an enforceable Court order.
THE VISITATION TRIAL (IF MEDIATION HAS FAILED)
The material below describes what you should do if you and the other parent were not able to reach
a visitation agreement at the mediation session. DO NOT bother reading this material further if you
did reach a visitation agreement during mediation.
H. STEP EIGHT: REGISTER FOR A "PARENTING CHILDREN OF DIVORCE" CLASS
If you were unable to settle your case by mediation, you must register for this class
(EXCEPTION: if you ever attended the class at any time, notify the mediation office so you will be
excluded from attending). 11
Both plaintiff and defendant must attend. However if you have a very good reason for not
wanting to attend mediation, you can file a written motion asking a judge to waive it. To seek a
waiver, use form AOC-632, available on the nccourts.org website. Click "forms."
However the mediation office recommends that all parents take this valuable class - even if
there is ill-will between the parents. Parents who have taken this class are more likely to reach an
agreement in a mediation session.
Register by contacting the Family Life Counsel of Greensboro OR the Family Services of the
Piedmont. A registration application must be filled out and a fee must be paid.
HINT: Call both offices to compare fees and time/dates of classes (High Point residents may
want to travel to the Family Life Council of Greensboro because of the lower fees). 12
After attending the class, the agency will give you a "certificate of completion." File it at the
I. STEP NINE: ATTEND A COURT INFORMATION SESSION
If the matter was not resolved by mediation, both parties must attend an information program
(EXCEPTION: If you do not live in Greensboro, you are not required to attend - however attendance
is strongly recommended). A District Court Judge presents these monthly informational sessions.
You already will have received a list of the dates offered for these sessions. 13
J. STEP TEN: PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIAL
1. COLLECT WRITTEN EVIDENCE
Unlike mediation, a custody or visitation trial is an adversary hearing. You should prepare
written evidence (and maybe bring witnesses) to prove your claims to the judge. For example, you
may want to find letters and notes written by the defendant who has denied you the right to phone or
visit with your children.
You also should write down the visitation terms that you will ask the judge to give you (see
Mediation Section F, 2 above).
2. CONSIDER BRINGING WITNESSES
Make a list of relatives, friends and neighbors who have personally observed you interacting
with your children. Ask them if they would be willing to testify for you in court. Pick your best
witness(es) and practice asking them questions before the hearing. 14
The FAMILY LIFE COUNCIL OF GREENSBORO is located at 301 East Washington Street
in Greensboro, and its phone number is 333-6890, extension 221. Currently it offers a single 4-hour
Saturday session once a month (or in the alternative, two 2-hour sessions on consecutive Thursday
evenings). The fee is $40. The FAMILY SERVICES OF THE PIEDMONT is located at 1401 Long
Street, High Point, and its phone number is 889-6161. Once a month it offers classes on two
consecutive Wednesday evenings. Fees are based on a sliding scale based on income, in the $60 to
During the group mediation orientation session, you were given the dates, times and locations
of these court information sessions. If you later lose this information, phone the mediation office in
Greensboro at 412-7815. In High Point, call 801-5362.
Pretend you are in court. Ask the witness questions and let him/her respond using the exact
words he/she will use in court. Start by asking the witness what his name and address are. Ask how
the witness knows you. Then ask the witness what personal observations he/she has made of you
and your child that might indicate whether you are a good parent.
While relatives usually keep their promises to come to court, friends and neighbors may find
excuses just before the hearing not to come. To ensure that an important witness comes to your
hearing, go to the Clerk's office and fill out a SUBPOENA. 15
K. THE CLERK SETS THE DATE FOR YOUR TRIAL
If neither you nor the opposing party is represented by a lawyer, and mediation did not succeed,
the mediation office will set the case on the Pro Se Calendar ("pro se" means "for yourself" - without
a lawyer). The mediation office will notify you of this by sending you a "Calendar Notice" (Exhibit
7). There is a different procedure if you or the defendant has a lawyer. 16
L. STEP ELEVEN: ATTEND YOUR VISITATION TRIAL
1. WHEN TO ARRIVE AND WHAT TO BRING
BE ON TIME! Leave home early enough so you arrive at the courthouse at least 30 minutes
before the hearing is scheduled. Dress well, as if you were going to church (men should wear a shirt,
tie and jacket if possible). Bring a copy of your Complaint to refer to.
2. FIND YOUR CASE ON THE "CALENDAR"
Immediately after entering the courtroom, ask the courtroom clerk or the bailiff (a uniformed
deputy sheriff) to view the day's courtroom calendar, so you may verify that your case is on it (if
you ask, you might even be given a copy of the calendar to keep with you). If your case is not on the
calendar, immediately ask for help from the courtroom clerk or the bailiff.
When you go to the Clerk's office for a subpoena, bring with you the witness' address and
phone number. The subpoena must be "served" on the witness by the sheriff, or by your mailing a
copy. Explain to employed witnesses that the subpoena will make it easier for them to explain to
their boss why they are missing work.
If you or the defendant is represented by a lawyer, the mediation office automatically will send
you a "calendar notice" of a Court date. The notice will tell you to appear at a Calendar Call session.
During this Calendar Call, a Judge will set a date for a PRETRIAL CONFERENCE. At the pretrial
conference, the Judge will meet with both parties and the attorney in order to check the progress of
the case, review the issues, and set the trial date.
3. THE JUDGE CALLS THE CALENDAR
The bailiff will announce the judge's arrival, and will ask everyone to stand. Usually the
Judge will start by calling the cases in the order they are listed on the Calendar. Listen closely for
your case to be called. "Calling the calendar" allows the judge to determine whether both sides are
present and when the case can be heard. Usually the Judge will hear all cases on the pro se calendar
4. WAITING FOR YOUR CASE TO BE HEARD
After Calendar Call, the Judge will start hearing individual cases that are ahead of yours on
the Calendar. While you are waiting your turn, carefully observe how the people ahead of you are
sworn in, where they sit or stand, and how they alternate giving testimony. You will be following
these same procedures once your case is called.
5. THE HEARING PROCEDURE
Since you are the plaintiff, you will testify first, along with any witnesses you brought. Then
the defendant will testify. Finally, you will be allowed to ask the defendant questions ("cross
examination"). Then the Judge may ask both parties if they have anything else to say. The Judge
usually will announce his/her decision at the end of the hearing (a written decision will follow).
6. HOW TO ACT DURING YOUR HEARING
Treat the judge, the defendant, and everyone in the courtroom with respect. Always stand
when speaking to the Judge. Since you are the plaintiff, anticipate that the Judge will ask you to
speak first. Begin with a brief introduction, explaining why you filed your Complaint. Use your
Complaint as a guide to remember what to say. Then testify as to how you have tried to visit your
child, and how the defendant has refused to let you visit. Then explain briefly the visitation schedule
that you would like. When your testimony has finished, decide whether or not to call any of your
witnesses (if the hearing seems to be going well for you, you may not want to call any).
When the defendant is testifying, remain seated and quiet. Don't interrupt; even if the
defendant lies (you will have a chance later to point out lies to the Judge). While the defendant is
testifying, take brief notes to remind you of important points that you feel must be answered.
After the defendant finishes testifying, the Judge will allow you to ask the defendant
questions ("cross-examination"). You only may ask questions (this is not the time to make arguments
or statements or give more of your own testimony).
After this cross-examination has ended, the Judge will ask if you have anything further to say.
You may comment on the defendant's testimony. Go over the important points you wrote down while
listening to the defendant's testimony. Never call the defendant a "liar" (instead, say that you
"remember it differently", or that the witness is "mistaken."). Tell the Judge the visitation schedule
you would like.
The Judge will now announce his order. Do not interrupt. Don't argue with the Judge if you
disagree with the decision. (however if the Judge has made an obvious simple mistake (for example,
using the wrong month or year), you could bring that to his attention).
M. STEP TWELVE: OBTAIN A COPY OF THE JUDGE'S WRITTEN ORDER
Normally within a week the Judge will sign a written order, which sets on paper the terms
he/she announced at the hearing. This written order is what you and the other parent must follow -
rather than what the Judge said in court. If you haven't received a copy of the order within three
weeks, contact the Clerk’s office.
Once you have received the order, keep it in a safe place, since you may want to refer to it