The Toxic Swamp of the Family Court (This is How it Works, People…)
You’ve just found yourself lucky enough to be a party in a case in Family Court. If you happen to be the defendant that was just served with a summons, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, what the $#&%@.” If you happen to be the plaintiff (that was smart enough to file first), you’re either stressed out/freaking out; getting together every single document and piece of paper you can get your hands on; pondering about vengeance towards your ex-whatever; or you might even be thinking, Oh no, What. Did. I. Just. Do. You might be brooding over all of these at once, possibly dreading the entire thing, accompanied by a plethora of possible scenarios.
Either way, whether you are now the Plaintiff or the Defendant, you’ve most likely hired a lawyer – or you’re about to. He/she gets the rundown from you, collects all those documents and papers given by you, or pulled them from the online judiciary portal. (Yes, there is a public e-service portal that anyone with internet can access. USE IT.) Your attorney has looked at the judge assigned to the case, considered the opposing counsel (which they have most likely based your retainer fee on), aaaaaaand charged you.
*Tip: If you are headed to Family Court with your ex- husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, or the other parent of your child – actually, if you’re headed to court at all – and the opposing party has hired an attorney: You. Need. An. Attorney. Period. I don’t care how cheap they may be; get one. Still can’t afford one? Figure it out. Sell stuff on eBay… or Facebook Marketplace. Do the Etsy thing. Make the pallet signs! Or, you know, get a side job. You need a lawyer. Going into a courtroom pro se against opposing counsel? Not a good idea.
[Do I sound like an attorney yet?]
So. You have a court date. You have an attorney. The panic has settled, you’re a little stressed, but you’ve met with your attorney who assures you that not only will you have NO problem at all and he or she can ABSOLUTELY take down/ destroy/ obliterate opposing party and win the case. It should be quick, maybe 4 or 5 court dates, max, depending on the circumstances.
I have news for you.
Not true! (At least the second part, depending on just how fabulous and delightful your attorney may be.)
I have been involved in the RI Family Court system for over years now.
I have seen it all. And I mean ALL of it.
I know what you’re thinking.
You’ve got this! Ex-whatever is a jerk, you can prove it! Look at all the text messages!! The pictures! Oh, and [insert numerous accusations here.]
Listen. I don’t care if you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, if you’re the plaintiff, if it’s a custody case, a divorce, a restraining order, a DCYF case (Good luck! Just wait for your number to be called… seriously). I don’t care if you’re the defendant and are COMPLETELY innocent, or if you are the defendant and completely guilty (prove it). I don’t care if you are Mother Theresa!
Don’t do it.
Do not get yourself involved in Family Court, EVER.
(***Note: This absolutely does not apply if you have been abused, if your child is unsafe or being neglected, if the other parent is violent or abusive – to your child or anyone else for that matter – if other parent commits/has committed actual dangerous or violent crimes that you can prove, if you have a real, LEGITIMATE reason to file for a Restraining Order, etc.)
The second you are filed in a family court case, get ready to miss a day of work about once every eight weeks, minimum.
Why is that? Why can’t it be simple? YOU are in the right, opposing party is in the wrong. It should be one and done- right?
No, it’s not. This is generally how it will go for you:
Court Date #1: Entry of appearances, maybe a quick bench conference. Continued 8 weeks.
Court Date #2: Continued 8 weeks. (You saw several people cry while waiting in the hallway for three hours.)
Court Date #3: Continued 8 weeks. (You’ve stepped in something unidentifiable in the bathroom and ruined your shoes.)
Court Date #4: Yay! The judge is FINALLY holding a chamber conference regarding the motions filed in your case. Court is scheduled to start at 9 AM, and this is most likely happening at 11:45. The judge has now been in chambers with your attorney and opposing counsel for about 45 minutes. During these three and a half hours of standing in the hallway, you’ve not only seen people wearing the most outrageous clothing in western civilization, but a baby has spit up on you, and if that bailiff comes out of that courtroom to yell another party’s name ONE MORE TIME you might just scream. Your lawyer finally comes out of chambers: good news! Your lawyer takes you aside looking satisfied. This must be great, you must have gotten what you wanted. “Hey! So, Judge _____ just wants to know ___x____, ___x___, and ___x___, needs to see ___x___ document (probably the ONLY one you couldn’t find), child support/ alimony/ visitation will be ordered (next time), and he needs all of your financial records from your entire life by the next court date. In eight weeks.”
What… just happened? Wait. …..What?
Yup. You just sucked up your entire retainer fee. It’s gone – better get back to those pallet signs, because your attorney needs another retainer. You just (sort of) patiently waited after your first scheduled court dates were continued, figuring you’ll be getting exactly want you want today, or at least SOMETHING. Discovery? Discovery of what?! S(he) said WHAT about me/ my kids/ the house?!?! Wait… didn’t I already fill out and give you all of that paperwork?? ANOTHER TWO MONTHS?!
Court Date #5: Continued
Court Date #6: Continued. You’re getting used to this now. You brought a book and were somehow able to sneak in a water bottle and cheese stick.
Court Date # 7: Referred to mediation! …Opposing counsel/ ex-whatever refuses. Continued.
Court Date # 8: Continued. You’ve also seen an attorney in the hallway wearing the most hideous suit you’ve ever laid eyes on.
You’ve now been in court for a year, congratulations!! It must be over soon. It has to be! This can’t last forever; 8 more weeks and something will happen for sure.
Court Date #15: Your attorney has negotiated and talked things out (battled, really) and there’s been a judgement!! You’ve gotten ______, _______, and ______, but ex- got _____, _______, and _____. You also have to split visitation with your cat (the kids weren’t even talked about??), give up your car or pay opposing party, and depending on ex- ‘s eleventh return of financial records, you may or may not be getting child support/ alimony/ reimbursement for all those maxed out credit cards of yours. Cool? Sign here.
Court Date # 16: Review. The cat is adjusting well to split visitation and you’ve managed to sell enough pallet signs to pay off that vehicle. BUT: the opposing counsel just filed a new motion.
Refer to Court Date #4.
[DISCLAIMER: Much of this does not apply to every case; some Family Court cases may take only 2 or 3 court dates, such as an uncontested divorce, for example. Some may take over four years. Each and every court case is different – the circumstances, the parties involved, the type of case, the judges, etc.]
by: Anonymous Guest Blogger