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.