In a country that doesn’t even mandate that all employers must guarantee that you can return to your job following the birth or adoption of a child, North Carolina has made a significant step forward in a system that is archaic in comparison to other industrialized countries.

Recently, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court announced a rule change that extends the amount of time an attorney may designate as secured leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Secured leave enables an attorney to ensure that a court proceeding is not scheduled during a specified time frame in any pending case at either the trial or appellate level.

The Supreme Court amended Rule 26 of the General Rules of Practice and Rule 33.1 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to permit an attorney to designate three weeks of secured leave in a calendar year for any purpose and 12 additional weeks to be designated in the 24 weeks after the attorney’s child is born or adopted. Importantly, this expansion of time is available for all parents, not just mothers.

Chief Justice Beasley stated that, “strengthening families and supporting children is incredibly important to the work of our courts, and so it is with great pleasure and in that spirit that we are taking steps to ensure that new parents who work in our courts are able to take time to bond with their new children.”

Before this change in the rule, attorneys were limited to only three consecutive calendar weeks of secured leave within one year which required the balancing of the demands of a newborn with a court calendar. A few weeks is not enough time for a mother to recover following childbirth and certainly not enough time for a parent to bond with a child. The expansion of the secured leave policy also advances the best interest of the attorney’s clients by not forcing a premature return to the courtroom.

Paid parental leave is the next step that needs to be taken. New parents should be able to prioritize their health and the wellbeing of their newborn without jeopardizing their career and for many, their basic ability to financially support themselves and their families. Again, the North Carolina courts have been a leader in this arena. A few weeks ago, the Judicial Branch announced its new policy providing up to eight weeks of paid parental leave for employees of the court system. We still have a long way to go. The U.S. is the only developed country that does not mandate paid time off for women following the birth of a child.  

Approximately 25% of women in the U.S. have to go back to work just two weeks after giving birth to make ends meet. The failure of our country to provide support to new mothers and fathers caring for a newborn is contrary to our espoused family values.  

Impactful change is a process and takes time. Societal norms, values, and thinking evolve, as do individuals. Now is time to match our evolved thinking with our policies. Bravo to the North Carolina Judicial Branch for recognizing this and effecting much-needed change.  

Heather Fuller

Heather Fuller’s practice focuses primarily on healthcare and business litigation. She fiercely advocates for her clients to deliver the best possible outcomes. 

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