Is there a crisis in the courthouse? Have backlogs, delays, deferrals and/or the downright refusal to actually decide things created a lack of confidence in the judicial system? Is it possible to get a “real” trial date when you really need one? Has the system turned in to one of costly busy work, trials and/or decisions don’t come? If you do get a trial date – as elusive and mystical as Big Foot – will you get another one in the same season, much less week or month? If you actually complete a trial, will anyone remember what it was about when the decision comes, 6 months, a year or longer, after the trial was completed. More importantly, is there anything left to fight about by then? Troublesome, if not scary things are going on out there.
- We have a case that has been going on for more than 4 years and has been touched by no less than 6 or 7 judges. Numerous “fake” trial dates had been scheduled but none in months. In fact, we recently got an Early Settlement Panel notice 4 years into the case and have been ordered to get the custody evaluations updated which will delay the case by a year. In fact, it has gone on so long that 2 of the children have already aged out of the custody dispute.
- Because a case is going to eventually be scheduled for a settlement conference with the trial judge, the motion judge decided to neither really substantively decide a motion or refer the matter to DCPP as she said was appropriate.
- A temporary suppport motion filed in June and argued in August still not decided by December, such that a second motion had to be filed in which the first request for relief was to decide the first motion (all the while, the wife was getting no support.
- While a motion was pending, before anyone read it to determine if it was ripe for mediation (and most of it was not because it was enforcement), it was referred to mediation that was doomed to failure.
- On a motion to determine the validity and enforceability of a marital settlement agreement that the parties had lived under for several years, a referal to mediation because the agreement had a mediation clause (begging the ultimate question – don’t you have to find the agreement enforceable before your can enforce the mediation clause?
- Rampant referrals to parent coordinators for things that cannot go to them (enforcement) or cases that cannot be there (because of domestic violence restraining orders).
- The refusal to decide enforcement motions, instead appointing experts, or GALs, or parenting coordinators, to investigate and make recommendations – delaying adjudication, and in some cases, parenting time, for months and months.
- Rampant delay in both the hearing and/or the deciding of motions.
- Being forced to come to court for multiple ESPs and/or intensive settlement conferences, or blue ribbon panels. In fact, I was recently a blue ribbon panelist for a case that had been to several ESPs, Blue Ribbon panels and at least 2 mediations. I asked why/how, my opinion (possibly close to the 10th they had received) could be any more helpful than the prior nine. Was this justice or a war of attrition?
- The refusal to actually enforce Orders or impose sanctions, especially with custody and parenting time violations, even where the facts are largely not in dispute.
- An attitude that both litigants should be punished, or unhappy with a decision, because someone felt they had to bring the issue to the court. A pox on both your houses, so to speak.
These are just a few examples. I could go on and on as can my fellow familly law attorneys. The problems have become so pervasive that they created a cottage industry for retired family court judges. While 7-8 years ago, there seemed to be only a handful of them out there, most having gone off into the sunset of retirement, now they are plentiful and extremely busy – so much so – that it is not always the quick fix that it had become. Any way you slice it, these things cause litigants to lose faith in the system. That is an untenable result.
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.