When you go to Court, you might think that the Judge is the all-powerful decider of things. After all, she/he sits on an elevated chair and gets to wear a special robe. The Judge is empowered to make all kinds of decisions; he/she is in fact obligated by law to make rulings on all requests presented properly to the Court.

But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, a timid Judge or Commissioner (an unelected temporary Judge) will defer to the investigations of third-parties. This can lead to a pointless and expensive prolongation of a case, especially when the third-parties are waiting on each other.

For instance, there might be an incident where the police are called over a reported disturbance. Maybe nothing happened, but the police open an investigation. Then Child Protective Services (CPS or CWS) catch wind and they open their own investigation. Meanwhile, there is an open Family Law case. Opposing party takes advantage of the situation and files an ex parte request to temporarily suspend your access to the children. Out of an abundance of caution, the request is granted–after all, there are two investigations pending, and the Court is concerned.

Then you’re stuck on a merry-go-round. CPS is waiting for the police report. The Court is waiting for the CPS investigation to end. Until all investigations are closed and official reports submitted, the Court may do nothing for weeks, even months (despite law requiring that all ex parte orders be reviewed within 20 days). I’m not making this up as a horror story. This was one of our cases.

Here’s a simpler situation, one that recently happened: CPS started an investigation based on something the child said out of context. On an ex-parte basis, the father, who is the higher time-share parent, lost all access indefinitely, despite the mother having a history of making similar false/unsupported allegations. CPS stressed that the investigation was being closed as unfounded. They said as much at the review hearing. Yet, the Court refused to reinstate access for the father until it received a letter from CPS officially stating the investigation was closed. In fact, the Court stated it couldn’t make any orders until then, which is patently untrue. The Judge further stated that it would grant no relief (such as make-up days or attorney fees). The father would have to file another request at his expense.

This meant multiple, expensive trips to Court for a client who could’t afford it. Without representation, the father might have never seen his son again, and in fact, that was the situation he had been in for the year and a half before he retained our firm.

So it pays to do some research on your Judges. Does your department have a Judge who will make independent decisions? Or do you have a meek Judge who waits for third-parties to make decisions for her/him? While the latter is not necessarily good for the justice system, it may be good for your case–if the Official Truth is on your side. And if the Official Truth isn’t on your side, you may be able to get your case into a department where that will not be such a hindrance. Of course, how you present your case is as critical as where you present it, and it takes an experienced attorney to make the most out of the conditions at hand. Family law, and custody disputes in particular, are very subtle and difficult endeavors. You want to think hard before you try going it alone.

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