In writing this, I am going to assume you already have your case on file and are wondering how to proceed. If you don’t have your case on file, which means you have either filed a petition for dissolution, or the other side has, and the other party has responded, then go see your local family law facilitator, a paralegal, or better yet, an attorney.
I fully realize most of you reading this do not have an attorney. Approximately 200,000 new petitions for dissolution were filed last year in California. The courts are impacted, budget cuts continue to pop up, and the economy has not really recovered. That means you are entering a system that has a lot of difficulties. These problems will become your problems.
I am often appalled to see the line of in pro per (self-represented) litigants lined up at the windows of the clerks for the family law department. These are people who are often uneducated, who are caught in a system designed for people who have been through years of formal training, and who themselves are often confused by the system. To watch a clerk try to explain something to an in pro per, who is trying to resolve a legal issue, is sad. The in pro per is frustrated, the clerk is frustrated, and there are no easy answers.
Having an in pro per go to court is like having a passenger of an commercial airliner pop into the cockpit and take over. It’s a setup for failure. And when the stakes are that high, it’s real problem. The money is real and the children are real, and you can lose everything.
To that end, I am going to be blogging about the family courts and the manner in which a normal case proceeds through the court systems. Now, every case is unique, and every Judge, litigant, and lawyer is unique as well. There is no way to predict what will happen and how things will play out, which is actually a major flaw in the system. The legal system works best when people can predict how things will play out in a case. If you commit murder, you will be charged with murder and the criminal court will hear your case. It’s relatively simple in that respect. No such thing in the family court, where judges have such broad discretion that one expects, sooner or later, for an in pro per to be sentenced to death by hanging or be granted full custody of the kids that he or she attempted to drown in a bathtub. Or perhaps both on the same day.
Obviously this is hyperbole. What I am really saying is that as an attorney, I understand your struggle, and while that doesn’t mean I am going to take your case for free(I already have a few of those) and let you move into my house, it does mean that I care, and I want what is better for you. Dentists don’t like their patients to get cavities. I don’t like your life to be ruined. I am not perfect, you are not perfect, we are all just people trying to get by, and to that end, my family law series hopes to lessen the impact this horrific event will have upon your life.
Recognizing the mistakes you have made, and being committed to fixing them, rather than blaming your ex for the situations you are in is the first step toward making your life better. For the majority of us, the court is correct when they assume there are two people who are making this problem. If you are a victim of a vicious ex or a perpetrator dedicated to the destruction of your ex, you will be convinced you are the victim no matter what anyone says, and if you are reading this, you will not know the difference, and probably never will. For that select group of people I can only offer the following advice: do not assume that because you have been the victim of vicious, evil lies and acts that you will prevail when you tell your story. I speak from real experience when I say that you will find no more justice in a court than you would on a battlefield. The good guys do not always win, and the bad guys can be very skilled, well-armed, and well-funded. In war, the first casualty is the battle-plan. In the family court, the first casualty is the truth.