Judges want all issues resolved but especially custody and parenting issues. No issues are more difficult and heart wrenching to decide – especially when facing a true, bona fide custody dispute (and I am not sure that there are really many of those – but occasionally they occur.)
The New Jersey Court system is set up to try to resolve custody and parenting time issues first. There is a mandatory parent education program in each county that the parties have to attend (separately) not long after filing. There is no mandatory alimony, child support or property distribution workshop. Shortly thereafter, there is mandatory custody and parenting time mediation at the court house – again at the very beginning of the case. The point is to ferret out those cases where custody really is not in dispute.
Why? Because the process gets painful and expensive when custody is in dispute. If custody is not agreed upon, the parties may agree or the court may appoint a custody expert. Sometimes the parties each get their own expert. Sometimes, the court adds a third, court appointed expert to the mix. If things are really bad, sometimes Guardian Ad Litems and/or attorneys for the children are appointed. Everyone undergoes psychological testing, perhaps more than once (the appropriateness and repetitive testing is a discussion for another day.) The children are interviewed one or more times by each expert. They are interviewed and observed with each parent and perhaps their siblings. Collateral sources are contacted. Sometimes there are custody interrogatories to be answered and depositions focused on custody issues. Again, when there is a real custody issue, all of this is fair gain and much, if not all may be necesssary.
But what if it really isn’t necessary because custody and parenting time is or can be resolved except that one parent refuses to settle the issue unless they get what they want financially. There should be a special place in you know where for these people. In light of what I described in the prior paragraph, think about what they are putting their kids through, not because of a good faith custody dispute, but because of money. Think about what it costs that could be better spent on the kids. Think about the added stress on everyone, over money. Think about the ethics of this. Is this extortion on some level?
Yet it happens all of the time. We have more than one case in the office now where the other side wont actually settle the custody issues or even address them until the finances are resolved. In one, they refuse to go to the custody expert either – thereby delaying resolution of the entire case if our client won’t capitulate to unreasonable financial demands.
Unfortunately, this happens way to often at an expense not merely measured by dollars.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland and Morristown, New Jersey offices though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.