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Family Court isn't Fun and Often Not Fair says Work at Home Grandma
Work at Home Grandma
These are the Days of Family Court
Yes, it sounds a little like a soap opera and as a matter-of-fact that is exactly the way it is in Family Court.
Have you ever wondered why some couples with children separate or remain married until the children reach legal age? Years ago when a couple divorced terms were negotiated for the most part in the lawyer’s office, papers were written up and then approved by a judge, signatures were obtained and it was a done deal. Not anymore. It is a real circus to say the least.
I have two examples from family court and their outcomes. Read through the process and decide for yourself.
The Petitioner is a male; the Respondent a female.
The Petitioner is fairly well off as is the Respondent. Both have capable attorneys and both pay for their own court costs. Two male children ages four and six are involved in the custody issue. Both parents are requesting sole custody.
The Respondent has a chemical problem and a mental nervous issue. Respondent is unemployed on a regular basis. The Petitioner has no encumbrances, is hard-working and conscientious. The court orders the series of steps to complete the divorce and custody evaluation.
After one year of evaluations, motions, affidavits, hearings and mediation, the Petitioner is awarded full legal custody of the children; however by this time his work constraints do not allow him to keep the children without a nanny. Thus, he agrees to joint physical custody with the Respondent. The children are exchanged for each visitation by a drop off at Petitioner’s home.
Petitioner paid upwards of $80,000 to secure his divorce and custody of his children. Respondent’s costs were not revealed.
The Petitioner is a female; the Respondent a male.
The Petitioner has been the major support of family since the inception of the marriage of ten years. The Respondent has numerous health issues and a history of unemployment and government subsidies.
The Petitioner has an alcohol problem and a mental nervous issue exacerbated by the divorce process. She has a good income. Respondent lives off Workman’s Compensation. There is one minor child – a female age nine. Both parents are requesting sole custody.
The court ordered the complete series of steps to complete the divorce and custody evaluation. The custody evaluator determined the Petitioner to be the more stable parent even though she has some emotional issues. The custody evaluator found the Respondent incapable of making a fair and rational determination of the child’s needs thus not a good fit for primary or sole custody.
The Petitioner and Respondent agreed on joint custody in order to avoid a trial. The Petitioner agreed to complete her therapy before her full joint custody would be awarded. The Respondent was given sole physical custody with Petitioner having supervised visitation until her joint custody was valid.
Petitioner had a high-cost lawyer who quit on her shortly before the resolution as he did not agree with her decision. Petitioner had already paid him upwards of $15,000 and was billed for an additional $5,000. Respondent’s court costs were paid through a low-income program and part of his cost was paid by the Petitioner.
The entire process took approximately ten months to complete.
During the family court process the following procedures are followed.
1) A meeting with the Referee (judge) to determine intent to divorce. Once a Referee is assigned, he/she follows the case until the end.
2) Any separate motions regarding parenting time, support money, etc must all be filed with the court one week before the hearing at the cost of $109.
- Each motion requested is a separate charge and a separate date is set for the motion to be discussed.
- No other items can be discussed other than what is specifically stated on the motion in question.
- Lengthy affidavits must be completed and filed before any motion is heard by the Referee.
3) If there is a dispute on child custody, an evaluation is ordered. If the Petitioner and Respondent cannot afford the cost, it is ordered by the court. Otherwise, the cost is upwards of $20,000. The evaluation takes the minimum of a month to complete.
4) The Referee (judge) almost always orders some sort of mediation often referred to as Early Neutral Evaluation to determine a suitable outcome without having to go to trial. This is done once or twice during the process. A “yes” or “no” on settlement is handed down to the Referee, but no details of the discussion are made available. In many cases, the mediators unwittingly take sides thus one of the two parents is maligned and beaten down by the other. Even though the time period for each to state their case is supposed to be equitable, the stronger of the two personalities normally wins the argument and nothing is settled. The cost is approximately $1000.
5) In most cases the mediation is unsuccessful and the pre-trial date is set, along with the Moderated Settlement Conference. Many times both are held on the same day or within a week of each other. The Moderated Settlement Conference is when an independent legal counsel works with both parties and their attorneys to determine a fair settlement for both parties. If an agreement is reached, then it is sworn to under oath in front of the Referee (judge) and then written up by the attorneys. After all kinks have been ironed out, it is signed and the divorce is finalized. The cost for the Moderated Settlement Conference is one-half the cost of each person’s regular attorney. Thus, at $125 per hour, it’s easy to have a bill of $450 for the conference and still not have a settlement.
6) Trial - If the Moderated Settlement Conference reaches an impasse and is not successful a trial of two to three days is ordered and the process again is drawn out.
7) There are times when as in Client B above, the Petitioner and Respondent cannot agree on what was said at the Moderated Settlement Conference and then the Referee will make the decision and the divorce will be finalized.
All in all, the entire process is lengthy and expensive. Most family lawyers charge an hourly rate $250 per hour and low income lawyers approximately $100 per hour. Along with the lawyer fees, the Petitioners and Respondents are ordered to pay the cost for each motion filed.
Couple A above totaled upwards of $80,000 and Couple B upwards of $30,000.
As you can see, it is no longer easy or low cost to get a divorce when children are involved. The fastest and lowest cost method is to use a mediator to hammer out the details and file the papers with the court. These may cost between $500 to $1500 for each person but it is a pittance compared to the $100,000 that can easily be spent in the family court system.
Sadly, all too often feelings are spent, money is exhausted and no one is completely satisfied with the outcome. When large estates are in question, you also have property disbursement as well as monetary disputes.
My advice is to stay as far away from Family Court as you can get. Stay married or have an amicable divorce.
So I close with reiterating the same: These are the Days of Family Court