As I've often written, family law attorneys are in court more often
than any other type of attorney. Ours are seldom the first case on the
calendar. This means that we get to sit through many other cases before
ours is heard.
I was in court last week, awaiting the call of my case, when I heard two
cases in a row that I have to share for the moral to their story.
The first was a woman in her mid thirties who was there to prosecute her
ex- husband for back child support. Her ex was many, many months behind.
The judge could not hear her case because she hadn't properly served
her ex. She was convinced that she had. She had sent the complaint and
notice of that hearing via certified mail. She argued with the judge about
whether she had served her ex a few times. The argument took probably
all of five minutes but the silence in between each exchange was painful,
for her, for the judge, for those of us in the gallery.
The judge knew the problem but the party didn't. The judge is prohibited
by law from letting the party know about her problem. He cannot give her
advice. And we attorneys in the gallery couldn't give her advice because
we are prohibited from beginning a face to face exchange with a person
that we know who needs legal services. The first line must be theirs, not ours.
The answer to her dilema was simple, you cannot serve process on an opposing
party by certified mail. It has to be personal service. But the judge
couldn't tell her and no attorney could rush up to her to explain
the simplicity and complexity of the law on service of process.
The very next case was just as frustrating but for a different reason.
In that case, both parties were present but the ex-husband was not represented
by counsel. He had filed a contempt on a probably pointless claim. His
ex-wife had filed a separate action for back child support and moved to
consolidate the actions.
After announcing ready, the first thing the ex-husband said when he took
the stand was that he probably needed to put off resolution of the ex-wife's
claim because he hadn't been served it that long ago. You don't
begin a trial and then say you need more time. Once the gate has lifted,
you're off. You'd better run.
He proceeded to make every mistake in the book. By the end of the case
you knew he'd woven enough rope that he was going to hang quite well
and quite long.
What an idiot. His own company grossed around $200,000 per month yet he
was crying poverty. While it is almost certainly true that this company
has expenses, and maybe substantial ones at that, this ex-husband was
publicly committing suicide because of his vanity and stubbornness. At
the end of the case, the judge confirmed the suicide we had all watched.
The end was definite and quite expensive.
In both cases, for reasons very small and very large, the parties would
have fared much, much better if they had hired an attorney to assist them
in their cases.
The first case is prime Justice Cafe' material. For $75 for an hour,
that party could have resolved her deficiencies and begun down the road
toward forcing her ex-husband to pay his child support.
In the second case, while the ex-husband could not have used the Justice
Cafe' very well, he would have been well represented by the traditional
firm, The Manely Firm, P.C. If nothing else, he needed someone to steer
him clear of shooting off his own feet. He was firing so much you would
have thought he was a centipede.
The moral to these stories is don't go to court without an attorney.
Stop heaven and earth to find one, a good one, for a good family law attorney will
earn his keep in ways obvious and subtle.