HAVING YOUR DAY IN COURT…

We all want to avoid epic court battles. You’ve heard people say they want their day in Court, but what does that really mean? Unless you’ve already been embroiled in a nasty divorce and have taken disputes to Court, you really have no idea. For most who do go to Court to have the disagreements settled, there is massive disappointment.

After thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing, in many cases there is no true resolution to the issues, no matter how urgent.

First you should know that only 4% of all divorce cases actually go to trial. For those who understand the system, that is a blessing. A trial is typically a $20,000 to $50,000 investment for each party – the result being you collectively spend between $40,000 to $100,000 of your hard earned money. And while there may be solid evidence and facts to support your claims, there are no guarantees that a judge will rule in your favor. Some divorced people with experiences in Court will tell you to take your $25,000 to Atlantic City and if you lose it, at least you will have some fun doing it.

A trial is not the only instance when you might go to Court. Prior to or during the divorce there can be Court hearings for individual issues that can not wait for a final settlement. Problems relating to children get immediate attention when they relate to their safety and welfare. Other issues relating to money also may be brought before the Court for a temporary decision.

Examples of these can be one spouse removing funds from a bank account, dropping or making changes to health or life insurance and even refusing to make the mortgage payments. Others can include the need for temporary support.

These Court applications are typically called Motions. One spouse files for relief and the other spouse answers. Three to four weeks after the Application for Relief is filed, a judge holds a hearing to make a decision on the case. It’s an important day for that couple. They have each spent between $2,000 to $5,000 to get to this point. It becomes an epic Court battle for you. However, behind the scenes, each judge has upwards of 40 applications (also known as Motions) to review and decide on that day. They have hearings for between 8 and 12 in one day. The others are decided “on the papers” because they are not as “important” or complex.

You may receive a Court Order on the day of the hearing or you may have to wait as long as 5 to 8 weeks.

Behind The Scenes In Court Battles

Due to the volume of the disputes in Family Court and the fact that each judge has hundreds of cases they are responsible for, the final decision by a judge could be made without understanding all the details, forcing couples to abide by an order that can be out of line with anything they might have requested or needed. There should be no blame placed on the judges. They are after all attempting to do a job while being forced to be extremely overextended. But the resulting Court Order rarely resolves the problems that needed to be corrected. This is one of the many reasons to avoid the Family Courts whenever possible.

Divorce Attorneys in Court with JudgeI have attended a number of attorney seminars that were led by judges or they were on the panels with other presenters. And I have had private conversations with some of them. One was introduced to me by an attorney that I had worked with on a case, a Certified Matrimonial Attorney who is very well respected in the state. The judge he introduced me to was a nice gentleman in his mid 50’s. He told me that most people don’t understand that judges are people too  and “they put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else”. He told me that he does everything possible to get divorcing couples to come to agreements on their own. He said that he didn’t like making major life impacting decisions for people when he only has a small snippet of information about them.

I had instant respect for this man. He truly had the best interests of the people in mind.

I also attended a session that confirmed my own theories about Court. This session introduced divorcing couples to a Court ordered mediation session.  It was held by the presiding judge and I had seen him make rulings from the bench for years. This judge explained to a room full of people that it would be best for everyone if they could settle everything on their own. He said that when judges had to make decisions for them they would lose more than if they made compromises on their own. He was blatantly honest, explaining that in divorce there are no winners, and that with concessions on both sides the whole process would be less of a financial and emotional strain.

This was probably the best legal advice I had ever heard from any judge or lawyer, and it has become the cornerstone of my mission to help keep you and as many divorcing couples as possible out of Court.

 

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Ellen Wanamaker