In My Case…
Real stories from Real people who have faced Real challenges in our family court system
The Petitioner, Jane, filed for legal separation in June 1993 due to domestic violence; the Respondent cleared out the couple’s bank accounts during the trial separation period. The separation request sought joint legal and primary physical custody of two children. Respondent retained an attorney and challenged the separation and child support, but ultimately filed for divorce a year later, requesting spousal support and challenging court-requested child support as non-custodial parent.
A Special Master was appointed as well as an Assessment ordered based on allegations of physical abuse made by the child care providers of the two children after children were returned from Respondent’s care. Both the Assessment and Report of Special Master requested physical custody to Petitioner and limited visitation for Respondent. Each time an interim order for support was issued, Respondent hired a new attorney and requested to overturn the prior order, forcing Petitioner to also retain an attorney.
Ultimately physical custody was granted to the Petitioner with Respondent granted, first, limited supervised visitation and then visitation one weekend a month and during portions of school holiday break. Ultimately child support was established at a level $200 per month less than the initial 1994 order.
Outcome: Divorce granted February 1996, Child Custody order issued October 1997.
Total Cost: $182,000. Respondent hired six consecutive attorneys to overturn interim orders, beginning in June 1995, through December 1997, when the matter had reached final resolution.
The lack of judges with family law experience is dealing a huge blow to the family law system and has led to costly fees and expenses which typically impact children most of all. Judges without the proper experience don’t know the basic law concepts and options for family law. Thus, in case after case, families are subject to rulings that are contrary to the law or subject to a delay in rulings while judges try to figure out what their options are. In an already overburdened system, the pace of cases is slower and more issues are being appealed because the rulings are not founded on best practices and legal reasoning. Oftentimes, those who don’t have the resources to contest these rulings have to live with unjust conclusions to their case. It is becoming increasingly difficult to advise clients on their best options because judges with little or no family law experience make decisions which aren’t based on family law precedents. These decisions don’t take into account the underlying family dynamics which can impact the way rulings are made in family law. Many of us feel like we’re playing the lottery when we go before new judges. Despite the facts in the case, the outcomes don’t reflect what you would expect from someone with decades of experience in the courtroom.
Petitioner’s ex-husband purposely extended divorce proceedings for over two years by either failing to show up for court appearances or refusing to provide proper paperwork to move the proceedings forward. Because there were no deadlines for cooperating and/or completing the proceedings in a timely manner, costs piled up. Respondent made it clear it was his intent to ‘bankrupt’ petitioner in order to ultimately disallow her to petition for custody and protection of her child. After five attempts, a judge finally issued a default judgement for the divorce however the respondent ceased to exercise his child visitation schedule and refused to pay all judgments in the case, including child support. Petitioner has been devastated financially and, after a full decade, is still attempting to recover.
Outcome: Divorce granted. Although Petitioner asked repeatedly for a default judgement, the courts delays led to extensive legal fees and costs – which the Respondent intended.