The experience of the family law court system is brutal and with having to personally experience this one more time, I want to stress to those women who are in the trenches right now, don’t give up, see it to the end, there is relief.
I sat in the court room last week and watched the judge as he calls the cases and I am intrigued more and more, he doesn’t read any of the documents prior to calling the cases on calendar. What is most disturbing is that you will have to explain what is going on and get him up to speed about the case and often, the judge becomes frustrated when the parties are battling it out, especially if there are attorneys involved.
I watch his demeanor with the lawyers and how he interacts with them, which gives me a heads up on his mood. I observe how his hair is styled, which also tells me a lot about if he was running late that morning. I watch and listen very carefully to the parties representing themselves and how he treats them, which gives me another heads up as to how I will go before him to plead my case; under the assumption, that he has reviewed the documents I just filed with his clerk prior to court being called. The judge looks disheveled. Great! I continue to listen as the judge goes through his list, anticipating when he will call my case. For me, my heart pounds so fast, it feels as though it will pop right out of my chest. Going to court no matter who you are, provokes anxiety, I even see anxiety on the faces of some of the seasoned lawyers, which makes me laugh. What is really entertaining are the female attorney’s who dress like little old ladies, their hair is frumpy, their shoes are worn and they are very loud, trying to overcompensate with the amount testosterone in the room.
Ahh! Family Law attorneys.
Since I’m the plaintiff, I sit on the left hand side of the court room. I never glance to the right of me where my ex-husband sits with his attorney, I can only hear their loud voices, their hope is to try and intimidate me. I have become very wise to the tricks over the past six years and it reminds me of how childish and foolish they appear, I smile to myself and take a deep breath. The judge just finished with a case and he became agitated as one of the parties’ didn’t like what he had to say and was running out of the court room before the judge excused him. Great, I mutter to myself, watch him call my case next, I am screwed.
Then all of a sudden, “on the XXXX matter, what is this all about?” I stood up not knowing if I should approach the bench, then the bailiff motioned me over. I placed my file on the table and I said, “good morning your honor as did my ex’s attorney. ” The ex and his attorney are standing strong as if they are about to divide and conquer, the ex has this soft voice almost like peter pan and his attorney thinks he is bad to the bone. Ahh! The Victim role. It’s so phony, it makes me want to puke, but nevertheless, I proceed by serving his attorney with my declaration, just like how the pros do it and he never takes his eye off the judge.
I got him!
He was uncomfortable, because he knew I wasn’t fooling around which meant I knew what I was doing. Let the games commence.
The legal dance is fascinating, almost comical and for some scary. I already learned my lesson with my ex’s previous attorney and wasn’t going to fall prey to that again. The judge says, “This is a restraining order, is that correct?” I spoke up quickly, “yes, your honor. ” The judge continues by directing his question to my ex and his attorney by saying, “there’s a criminal case pending in Los Angeles County, is that correct?” The attorney replies, “Yes there is your honor and we need to continue this case, as Mr. XXXX is set to go to trial next month. ” I interject by saying, “I don’t want to continue this hearing your honor, I want to deal with this today and I don’t want to have to return one more time for this restraining order. ” The attorney interrupts with, “your honor, he didn’t do it, he is innocent, there is no need for this restraining order, the defendant just wants to see his daughter and if she doesn’t want to come back, drop the criminal charges against my client. ” Listening to this, my heart starts to pound harder, oh no I say to myself, and with my reflex, I say, “excuse me your honor; he made criminal threats to kill me, my family and take my daughter away from me. He wants to see his daughter, well he screwed that up himself by disappearing for seven months, then out of the blue, he calls, makes his threats and wants to see his daughter. No! He doesn’t even pay child support, he owes $11,000.00. ” “She owes my client, $16,000.00 and refuses to pay it. ” The attorney proclaims. “Enough! Commands the judge, I take it your client pleads the fifth today, is that correct?” My ex replies in that peter pan voice, “Yes, I plead the fifth. ” Done, the judge states, Ms. XXXX this hearing will be continued until September, the relief you get is that the restraining order will be re-issued and will remain in full force and effect, is that all right with you?” “Yes, your honor. ”
What just happened?
The judge did not review the case nor did he review my declaration that I filed with his clerk, if that were the case, the judge would have ruled on the restraining order and it would have been made permanent. The judge clearly did not want to be bothered with it. He was short, unprepared and frustrated. He must have been running late that morning. Instead, the attorney was hoping I would negotiate with him and drop the criminal charges against my ex as he stated above, “If she doesn’t want to come back, have her drop the criminal charges against my client. ” It’s a game and if you watch what happens in court with the judge and the attorney’s you become more aware of the legal tactic. Judges for the most part don’t read the case before them.
Judges rely on the attorney’s to make them aware of the status of a case. What happens when the parties are acting in pro se? Then what? It’s the judge’s civil responsibility as an officer of the court to review the case and listen for the facts and then proceed with a ruling. However, that doesn’t happen. I think this is terribly wrong and does not follow judicial protocol. The judge is to hear both sides, review all documents and based on what was presented before him or her; make a decision based on the facts and the law.
I hear about cases that were simply tried inappropriately, mine for one, and I believe those cases should be reviewed and charges of judicial misconduct be brought against those judges who simply refuse to follow the law. Family Law Reform.
If your case is not handled properly and you feel that you are not being treated fairly, file a complaint. Don’t allow yourself to fall prey to a miscarriage of justice, take a stand and take action. If you need help, contact Women’s Legal Resource and Survivors In Action , advocates are there to help you.