Think family court is a big racket? You're not alone ... until you get to court. Then you truly are.

One of those crank lawsuits of a kind that gets filed and discarded every day has, for once, gotten big coverage in a mainstream newspaper. "Lawsuit claims divorce court is a racket: Dismissed at district level, case is being appealed to 9th Circuit". San Diego Union-Tribune

If you polled people on the street, you'd find that to be a pretty common view, perhaps not a majority but a plurality of the same kind that makes the presidential primaries so interesting. But in the family court system, people who have cases there, and start saying things like that, are treated like the lunatic fringe. To the judges and everyone else involved, the issue is no longer whatever substantive question was originally in dispute. The issue is now the disgruntled litigants' extremism and behavior.  They are sometimes put under special orders keeping them from filing anything unless and until a single, permanently-designated judge has reviewed it and allowed it.

These litigants too often put their "last stands" on principle ahead of their actual parenting of their children. They are unwilling to bow and bend to a system they see as illegitimate and corrupt, even if they understand that that is the way to be treated better and get more time with their children.

Is the system a racket? No. Not where I work, anyway. But it doesn't have to be. It still works in a way that looks irrational to most people. It still takes people, some already cranky, and some fairly normal, perhaps even too nice, processes them, and cranks out a huge number of cranks.

When our state legislators and all those of us who help mold our culture, all the "second-hand dealers in ideas," as Hayek called us, decided decades ago to encourage widespread divorce, this was a major part of what we created. 

Americans are not brought up and educated in how a family court system works. In the courts which we learn about on TV and in civics class, a jury of 12 average local people makes the big decisions, and the judge is just a referee. And those decisions are about who did something wrong and who gets punished.

Parents who have chosen divorce or unwed parenthood, or had it thrust upon them, have no idea that instead of that system, they are going into a system where regardless of fault or faultlessness, a judge will tell them in great detail how to live and move and raise their children, now and forever until they all are grown. Nor that instead of one big trial to establish guilt or innocence and resolve everything, they may be back in court every few weeks, months or years, for enforcement, monitoring, and revision of those orders.

In that way, the family law courts work like the ecclesiastical and chancery courts that used to handle family issues, the ones that Dickens savaged in novels like Bleak House. And for good reasons, because a family is not like a business contract or a car accident.

But they also feature the most delaying, expensive, and inflammatory features of the American legal system, because this is America -- you always have the right to your day in court, to litigate about everything, to insist on strict compliance with the rules of evidence -- even when dealing with areas of life where people don't generally keep the relevant evidence, or where no witnesses are there when the really important stuff happens, or where evidence and testimony are easily faked. You can always appeal, and appeal. You have to go through all the expensive, exhausting procedures that were designed for big business litigation. Your lawyers have the ethical duty to do what you say you want, after doing their ethical duty to advise you about a bewildering array of awful things that you could do to your ex and your ex might even now be doing to you. And each of these individual things is necessary and proper, as part of the greatest legal system in the world. Even if you hate to comply with them and hate it when the other side does those things, you want the other side to comply and you want to be able to do those things to them.

That's the system we put far more families into when we tried to make divorce easier and more humane by enacting quick, unilateral, no-fault divorce, letting far more people jump straight into court without first working things out in an agreement.


Pros and cons of one-year vs. two-year separation period for contested divorce litigation -- a divorce lawyer reflects

At the end of 2017, couples began to be affected by Pennsylvania's the new divorce law, which cut the living-apart period before filing contested no-fault divorce litigation, without mutual consent and without all the financial and child-related issues worked out, from two years to one year. Carolyn R. Mirabile, a partner and family law group head at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby in Norristown, Pa., looks back at what seemed to have worked better under the old law, and what improvements she hopes for from the new law. 

One Year Later On the One-Year Separation

By Carolyn R. Mirabile in The Intelligencer - Mar 15, 2018


Utah lawmakers boost premarital education but abolish family courts, conciliation, counseling; cut divorce wait period by 2/3

Marriage and Family Courts Blog:

 

New Utah law gives marriage license discount for premarital education or counseling; marriage commission to publicize couples' options

 

Utah legislation would abolish family courts, counseling and conciliation, cut divorce wait period by 2/3


It's not a "right to custody" -- here's what the Saudi justice minister actually decreed

The headlines are misleading, but the truth behind them is strange and elusive, from a Western perspective. A "right to custody" has appeared in headlines on CNN, in Khaleej Times, and in news links circulated on social media. That wording, at least the way it would commonly be understood in the U.S., is completely wrong.

Just as divorced or separated parents in the U.S. do, Muslim Saudi women who get divorced, or whose children later reach the age for living with their fathers, have the right to ask a court to decide who gets custody, and to have the court consider the case.

What is new this month is apparently a procedural reform: IF the parents have no disputes on child-related issues, the mother can get custody by filing an application with the court, instead of going through a full-scale court case. The Justice Minister's circular says, in part:

 A mother may submit a probate application to the competent court for certifying her custody of her children, provided she signs an acknowledgement that there were no existing disputes ... 

For granting custody to a mother, the judicial panel considers her capacity for custody and then determines her application in accordance with Sharia and legal requirements, without the need for initiating a lawsuit, as is the case with all probate certifications indicated in Chapter 13 of the Law of Civil Procedure.

--  quoted in "Saudi mothers can now retain custody of children without filing lawsuits" by Habib Toumi in Gulf News

Almost all the news stories include that key phrase, "provided there are no disputes," but the headlines and lead sentences, and indeed the rest of the wording of each article, totally ignore it, as if it were a technicality or an unthinkably rare and meaningless exception. This is as bad as the reporting on no-fault divorce laws or covenant marriage laws -- blowing up changes to sound far more drastic than they are, by making crucial exceptions sound like meaningless recitations, and naively ignoring or belittling the role of agreements and disagreements between divorcing spouses.

There is no change in favor of foreign or non-Muslim women, as far as I can tell.

Other substantive changes the Minister announced:

The circular also gives the mother the right to carry out all formalities related to her children at government departments, embassies, education offices and schools, and to apply for and collect her children’s passports.
She will also be able to collect all child support and maintenance from government and civil entities, but may not travel with her children outside the Kingdom without a judge’s permission.

-- "Divorced Saudi mothers win new rights to child custody" by RUBA OBAID in Arab News

To see what this is a change from, here is what looks like the most up-to-date background on child custody in Saudi courts:

"THEMATIC REPORT ON MUSLIM FAMILY LAW AND MUSLIM WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA," report to CEDAW, February 2018, by Musawah: For Equality in the Family


My comments on proposed limited-scope representation rules; your comments due March 1

The Virginia Supreme Court and the Judicial Council are considering a new rule to deal with limited-scope representation, especially assistance to people who are already in litigation. My comments on it are below. The proposal, and where you can send comments by March 1, 2018, are at:

Advisory Committee on Rules of Court, Judicial Council of Virginia, "LIMITED-SCOPE REPRESENTATION ISSUES".

Overall comments — 
 
This is a very important reform. Full-scale representation in family law litigation is often unaffordable even by people who would be considered upper middle class. And it takes both divorcing spouses to prevent any particular divorce from becoming unaffordable, long-running litigation.
 
The proposed rule has many extra cautionary requirements for the attorney, or the attorney’s name and contact information, to be present in court, and on documents, even for issues where the lawyer is not involved. Please bear in mind that each of these requirements comes at a cost, not only of the attorney’s time, attention, and availability for other cases, but also by sowing predictable confusion among clients and especially their opposing parties, who aren’t involved in the limited-scope agreement. When lawyers’ names are on papers or a lawyer is present, lay people are going to assume that the lawyer is a prime mover in whatever is going on. Lay people, and even the lawyers themselves, will often feel that the lawyer has some responsibility to intervene or advise about whatever comes to the lawyer’s attention. Lawyers' instinct to be helpful will inevitably cause “mission creep” in many cases. So all such requirements should be kept to the minimum necessary.
 
As lawyers comply with these additional requirements, clients and other members of the public may feel that the lawyer is hanging around like a vulture waiting to insert herself into the proceedings and expand her involvement so that it is no longer limited. Or interfering, intruding and violating the client’s desire to limit the scope of the lawyer’s work, by writing to the client with repeated notifications of well-known facts about hearing dates, etc., whenever the lawyer is cced on something the other side sends out. Many clients already respond this way to communications that court rules and ethics rules require us to send.
 
Line comments
 
9-10 
 
 I agree that a lawyer should not be present but generally uninvolved, only popping up now and then with objections. That would be chaotic and unfair.
 
But I can also see the value in having an attorney handle only a particular motion in limine or motion to suppress. It seems fairly clear that the intent is to allow that, but it would help to make that explicit.
 
11-13
 
" A notice of limited scope representation is not required for  … (ii) services performed by an attorney before any litigation is pending”
 
Does that dispensation also apply to the requirements to “indicate” or “identify" in (1) (F), Alternative versions 2 through 5?
 
I believe it should apply. Either way, that question should be answered explicitly.
 
26 et seq. — Alternative versions of (F)
 
In all versions, the term “papers for submission to a court” is intended to be clear, but what about marital separation agreements? They are not court filings. They are binding contracts when the parties sign them, regardless of whether they are submitted to a court. But whenever one gets signed by both spouses, perhaps 95% of the time there is going to be divorce, and the agreement i8s going to be submitted to the court as part of the divorce process.
 
I think limited-scope assistance is crucial, so I oppose Alternative # 5, which essentially bans limited-scope, and Alternative # 4, which creates a presumption against it; imposes a needless requirement to essentially file a notice of appearance, and then to file a notice of disappearance.
 
86
 
“Papers” sounds vague. I think you mean litigation documents such as pleadings or discovery requests, but we need a more precise, comprehensive, understandable, and distinctive term for that.
If it’s intended to mean everything, including settlement correspondence, that’s reasonable, too, but that too would need to be clearer. Because the word “papers”, to a lot of people, vaguely indicates papers that are somehow official, binding, and/or threatening.
 
88
 
The requirement should be to notify the “sender”, not “the adversaries”. They might not be the same people.
 
 
notify the adversaries in writing of that fact
should be changed to  
notify the adversaries, in writing, of that fact
or
notify the adversaries of that in writing
 
But really, “that” or “that fact” might not make clear to everyone which of the facts mentioned earlier in the sentence it refers to, so it would be better to say, 
 
“the attorney must notify the sender that the documents received deal wholly or partly with matters outside the scope of the limited representation,"
 
107-108
 
"(D) Contacts by adversaries or co-parties on matters within the limited scope of 108 representation shall be with counsel …"
 
What about family law cases, where many couples legitimately continue some kinds of negotiation between themselves, even when they both have counsel who are negotiating at the same time? 
 
110-111
 
“copy served upon the attorney making a limited scope appearance” — 
 
Would serving the attorney require that attorney to respond and notify as required in (3)(C)? If that happens once, it makes sense or is at least harmless. But in litigation where filings go back and forth almost every week, it’s going to drag the limited-scope attorney into a lot of busy work, and confuse litigants — the client and/or the opposing party — about the attorney’s role.
 
115-116
 
(A) — attendance at all court proceedings, outside the scope,  should not be required if the rule is truly allowing limited representation. I would expect attorneys to charge for this time, and it would be a major burden on the clients and the attorneys.
 
John Crouch
VSB Council Member for 17th Circuit
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers (Formerly IAML)
and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals
 

Federal "diversity jurisdiction" exists to prevent unfair home-court advantage, so why doesn't it apply to family law?

"Family Law Is Not 'Civil': The Faulty Foundation of

The Domestic Relations Exception To Federal Jurisdiction”

By Joseph A. Carrol, Dickinson School of Law

ABA First Place Schwab Essay Contest Winner, 2017

 


Is family-court duty cruel & unusual punishment for judges who cuss out criminals?

<<According to the Tribune, Sacks “has long had a reputation for delivering strongly worded rebukes from the bench.” He was reassigned for four months to domestic relations court in 2004 for what the Tribune describes as his “profanity-punctuated lecture” during a sentencing hearing.>>

Judge's sarcasm was 'unwarranted and wholly inappropriate,' appeals court says