A Broken System - Divorce Digest

A Broken System


There is no doubt in any family law litigant’s mind that the system is broken. Funding is being cut. Courtroom assistants are being fired. Courtrooms are closing. In some courthouses, they don’t even supply paper for the printers that the judge’s require us to run DissoMaster on. This is not even touching on the lack of interpreters, court reporters and other vital personnel.


Another drain on the system’s resources are the individual judicial officer’s calendar management skills. I have sat in many courtrooms full of attorneys (most of whom are actually being paid) only to hear the judicial officer allow self-represented litigants to spend inordinate amounts of time arguing over the china pattern or which one is routinely late for pick up or drop off of Junior. This may seem somewhat innocuous, but what is boiling beneath the surface is extreme resentment by paying clients. Why did I pay you to sit there for 3 hours? The answer is, Because the judge didn’t call our case first. There is no other answer.


And while on the topic of self-represented litigants, the law in California is very clear: they are held to the same standard as attorneys. This is, however, largely a legal fallacy. I have also witnessed many judges say I cannot give you legal advice and then do just that. Or allow self-represented parties graces and latitudes that I have just watched them crucify an attorney for the same behavior.


The net result of this is that more and more people are going it alone. They feel they can get a better shake with the judge without an attorney than with one. While this may sound like I am vilifying self-represented litigants, rest assured, I am not. I am saying that by not knowing the rules of procedure; or evidence; or even basic protocol, every hearing is taking more time and delaying things further.


Due to the over-burdened and under-funded system, trials are being continued out for unbearable amounts of time.


If, for instance, I was to file a Request for Orders regarding financial issues with the court, I would have a hearing date in approximately 4 to 6 weeks. A trial on custody issues that needs to be continued, or could not be completed within the initially allotted time, however, is continued out for more than five months!


What message is this saying to a parent who is being denied visitation? Or to a parent who is seeking other custody-related issues that are truly important? It’s saying that these issues just aren’t really THAT important.


Custody-related issues are supposed to take priority in hearing over other issues (save and except for Domestic Violence). This priority is not typically exercised by the courts. There is an a ex-parte mechanism set forth in the Code to allow for shortened time and notice requirements in emergency situations. The issue is that emergency situations is defined differently by different judicial officers.


While the law attempts to define what constitutes an emergency, the application of this definition varies greatly from one courtroom to the next, even within the same courthouse. The same Ex-Parte filed in one courtroom by one judge will be denied by another judge in another courtroom. The standards are somewhat fluid.


Every day I see parents walking out of court crying. Some because they didn’t get what they wanted; some because they did; and a great deal because they were victims of a broken system. A system that cannot adapt to the circumstances of a particular case or situation. A system that has become so robotic, that it is more like a juggernaut on a destruction path. A system that is emotionless and rigid.


I know of one case where a litigant who was represented by counsel has repeatedly violated the court’s custody and custody-related orders. The punishment was a verbal admonishment and a scolding along the lines of I am disturbed that you did this. The other party was dumbfounded and was one of the aforementioned victims of a broken system.


Another instance was a litigant who filed numerous counts of contempt against the other party. When sent to try to work it out, the settlement officer lectured both parties and said this is going to cost a fortune, and even if you win, the other party will only do a week of CalTrans. Needless to say, this, too, served no purpose but to tell the offending party that their behavior, while not appreciated, would go unpunished.


Change needs to come, but it cannot come fast enough for those currently in the system. People need to speak out. Local, State and Federal lawmakers need to be involved. This is one area of law where a broken system can have catastrophic and irreparable consequences.


The above are just a smattering of the reasons why you need professionals on your side who know the ins and outs and can help navigate your way through this quagmire of the family law courts. Please don’t hesitate to call any one at The Reape-Rickett Law Firm ~ a team of professionals with a common goal.

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