The Only Family Court Case You Ever Need to Know About!

I was witness to a child relocation case that was taken to trial which I think perfectly encapsulates the entire Family Court experience.  The names have been covered up of course to protect the innocent.  It goes like this:

Mother has placement (physical custody) of the minor children.  Meaning they live with her, and visit with their Father.  Father pays support.  The parties share legal custody (decision making) and genuinely love their kids.  Kids are happy, healthy, and caught in the middle.

 

Father is making the most of it, enjoys his visits with the children, wishes he could see them more.  The bond between Father and Children is admittedly strong.

Mother is offered an opportunity for a promotion, earning significantly more money.  As in, twice as much money.  The problem is, she has to move out of state in order to take the job.  She has to relocate to FL – with the kids.  To take a job that will increase her salary significantly and thus the quality of life of the children.  But, they would have to move far, far away from the Father, with whom they have a strong bond.

So far, so typical.  A toxic Family Court case with no real winner.  Intractable.  And the parties didn’t help themselves, either.  Taking everything personally.  Never giving one another the benefit of the doubt.  Bickering, backstabbing, the whole nine.

So they hold a trial.  Several afternoons spent in court (instead of at work, or with family).  Lots of testimony.  Lots of money spent.  Lots of stress.  And they finally get a decision.  Is Mother permitted to move to FL with the kids – away from Father – but into a whole lot more income?  No.  The judge did not allow Mother to move.  She and the kids stay right where they are.  But, in order to make up for the extra income Mother lost out on by not being allowed to move, Father’s child support is DOUBLED.  Father leaves miserable.  Mother leaves miserable.  If you only ever remember one case I blog about it should be this one.  This is Family Court.

 

 

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A Note on Transparency in Family Court

The Family Court sometimes lends itself to … uncomfortable issues.  Sensitive discussions.  Past sexual abuse, financial desperation, domestic violence, a parent’s criminal record or medical record, sexual dysfunction.  What have you. The items to be argued must be weighed by the audience suffering the argument.  Only the most cruel Family Court attorney would blithely argue difficult matters in open court.  Hence the “chamber conference” – beloved by attorneys and judges but a subject of great frustration for the parties involved.  A chamber conference takes place away from prying eyes – and objections.  Involving the attorneys and the judge only, without the parties or the stenographer, attorneys utilize the chamber conference to argue the heart of a client’s case without any frills (concerns about how each party may receive the argument, worries about formal use of the rules of evidence, the minutiae of the matter).  A chamber conference forces the attorneys to adopt a 30,000 foot view of the case and move away from quibbling over the smaller issues.  It forces the attorneys to be, above all, reasonable.  In fact, a chamber conference is foremost a competition between the attorneys to couch his or her argument in the most favorable light.  There is no theater, no client to impress, no cheap points to be gained.  It is bare bones and we count on it for intractable cases (or parties).

This is because a chamber conference has an audience of only one (the judge) instead of an audience of several (the judge, the parties, the families of the parties, the public).  No grandstanding, no ego, no nonsense, the chamber conference if used properly allows each attorney to present the most important part of his or her client’s many concerns, to address those concerns, and more often than not come to a creative solution to address those concerns.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a chamber conference when an attentive judge, after listening to an attorney, asked simply, “What’s really the problem here”.  That’s what really happens.  But what the client sees is that his or her attorney goes in the back (into chambers) for ten or fifteen minutes and comes out with an idea or two about how to proceed which comes straight from the judge and may or may not be exhaustive in dealing with the concerns of the divorce or child custody matter.  If two skilled attorneys are involved they can take an abbreviated discussion with the Family Court judge and nurture it, adapting it to meet the questions and objections of the parties and create an Order (even just a temporary one) that can get each party out and on with their lives, even if only in the short term.

Of course, some matters are too complex, or the enmity between the parties is too deeply rooted to fully address in a conference, but we attorneys often find them more helpful than might be expected.

So, if you see your attorney head to the back to chat with the judge, this may well be in your interest, and the interests of everyone involved, including the kids!  Your lawyer is not just practicing their putting back there…
 

 

Shop Around

If you are in need of a Family Law attorney, you’re stressed.  Maybe you are getting a divorce; either the divorce you need terribly and RIGHT THIS MINUTE RIGHT NOW TOMORROW, or the divorce is something that is happening to you and that want nothing to do with, thank you very much.  Either way, you face losing the house, half your assets, your health insurance, your family, or all of the above (you stand to lose this whether you desperately want the divorce or not btw).

Or you are hoping to adopt a child that has been living with you for a year and you cannot imagine waking up one day and not having him there at the breakfast table.  Or you’re that child’s mother and you are fighting for your life because DCYF has filed to terminate your parental rights.  Forever.  And you cannot imagine him never coming home.

Or you have suffered domestic violence for much longer than you can remember and have finally had enough.

Or you need child support to make the rent.

Or the other parent wants to move your child to Kentucky.

Etc., Etc.

Point is, if you are in the Family Court, you don’t need an attorney, you need the attorney.  So here is some candid advice.  Meet many of us.  We are legion and we are all very different (and we all have very different rates).  Shop around.  The consult is free (or it should be!).  Meet a lot of us, and get quotes. In writing.  On letterhead.  There are plenty of Family Court attorneys out there who can help anyone, but only a few who can help you and your family.

Hopelessness and Birthday Parties

Pacing the halls of the Family Court, ducking hurled shoes, deaf to hurled swears and the occasional voodoo curse (usually from one party to another, and only sometimes from a judge to an attorney or two…) with the tension, the screaming children, the screaming adults, and the general sense of hopelessness even grounded, practical attorneys can feel hopeless.  What is to be gained?  How can one possibly maintain his or her sanity here and still somehow craft a beneficial outcome for the client?  There are many ways tax attorneys and criminal attorneys gauge success.  New Audis.  Yachts.  But in family court – where the attorney / client relationship comes under acute strain early and often – it can particularly difficult to picture a finish line.

Which is why what happened to me recently took me by such surprise.  I am in the midst of a particularly nasty child custody battle (and that’s really saying something).  My office represents the Mother of the World’s Cutest Little Girl.  She is beyond adorable.  A week or so after our last court appearance I received an invitation from Mother / Client to attend her three-year-old’s birthday party.  Now, I must say, I have had plenty of happy clients in the past.  I have gotten the positive reviews, the invoice payments, the slaps on the back.  But I have never, ever, been congratulated like this before.  Being invited to the birthday party of the threenager you have been fighting over?  Tax attorneys don’t get that.

Co-Parenting During and After Divorce

Many parents choose to co-parent when they share joint custody of their child or children. This method of parenting makes children feel secure and can add consistency and structure back into a child’s life after a divorce. However, even the best parents can have a difficult time co-parenting effectively after a divorce.

Sometimes, the key to effective co-parenting is as easy as changing your frame of mind. First and foremost realize that while your marriage or relationship was about you and your former spouse, your new post-divorce relationship is solely about your child or children. Whatever happened or didn’t happen in the marriage likely has no place in your co-parenting communications. If it helps, try to look at the situation with almost a professional tone – your job is to raise a healthy and happy child, and completing that job effectively means you need to communicate with and spend time with your former spouse. Try to keep conversations polite, respectful, and about the children. Never put your children in the middle of your problems and don’t use them to send messages; if you need to communicate with your former spouse, make sure that you do it.

Co-parenting, as with any relationship, takes work and dedication, but the end result is worth it.

Disclosure

When you go to a Family Law attorney, be prepared to talk! Typically, a wide range of issues needs to be discussed depending on the subject. For divorces or separations involving children, you may need to discuss: custody, visitation, support, other people in your child’s life, health insurance, life insurance, possible education expenses, religion or other social issues, and any tax issues. For some divorces, you may need to discuss: support, property, jobs, income, real estate, assets, liabilities, pets, taxes, cars, support, history of domestic violence, protection orders, resuming maiden names, etc. These lists are not exhaustive and are just a sampling of some things you can be expected to talk about.

It is important that you talk with your attorney candidly and honestly. It is also important that you provide them with the documentation that they need in a timely manner to make sure the process itself stays timely. Don’t forget that your attorney is working towards a solution that best fits your needs.

Marissa McGill

Traveling (with shared custody)

Traveling is a great way to educate children about different cultures, places, and way of life. However, parents who share custody typically need to take a few extra steps to prepare for their trip, especially if they plan to take their child out of the country. In many cases, you will at least need the other parent’s permission, and it is a good idea to get that permission in writing, and possibly even bring that document with you on your travels. If the parents can’t agree on whether the child should be traveling or not, the courts may have to get involved.

If a child who is 15 years old or less needs to apply for a passport, both of his or her parents need to go with them to apply for the passport. If both parents cannot go, then the absent one must fill out a special form. If the absent parent can’t be located, the court may be able to grant permission.

The government also has a program where you can sign up to be notified if someone has applied for a passport for your child without your knowledge. This is of course to prevent the situations where one parent takes the other child out of the country without the other parent’s knowledge.

Traveling with shared custody can be a tricky situation and it is always a good idea to consult a lawyer beforehand. It is also a good idea to research the passport requirements for your particular situation. It is always better to be overcautious than to have any issues when trying to leave or enter the country.

Marissa McGill