Michael Mastracci, an attorney from Baltimore, Maryland, publishes one of my favorite blogs, “Divorce Without Dishonor.” He is a huge proponent of utilizing the collaborative law model in divorce and custody matters whenever possible. He recently posted an excellent piece, with which I agree, well worth sharing. I have added a few of my own thoughts at the end.
When I was in law school one of the adjunct professors was a circuit court judge with years of experience presiding over cases involving dueling parents arguing about virtually every aspect of their children’s lives. His advice, probably the best advice in three years of law school, was to know your judge. His Honor was not speaking about knowing the judge personally (although that never hurts) but knowing what he or she is likely to do in any given situation or factual scenario. What does that mean?
People often tend to forget that judges are people, people who likely either knew the governor or knew people close to the governor in order to get appointed. Judges are not necessarily appointed because they are smart. There is no judgeship test or certification to wear the robe once appointed (that is appointed and not anointed as some may think).
There are many judges who care deeply about the divorce and child custody litigants that come before them. There are many fine judges that have earned the respect of the lawyers and the citizens that appear before them. They may have the best of intentions and have all the good qualities one may hope for and yet they may make a ruling that will haunt you and your family for years to come. Why would you let this happen?
While judges generally receive a great deal of respect you cannot forget that they are people too and we all have shortcomings and we all have faults and areas of our lives that could use some improvement. A judge goes to work just like anyone else. For a judge, deciding the custody and child access issues of your case would be just a routine part of any given day; just another day at the office. Don’t lose sight of these sorts of things when you decide to take your business to the courthouse. From this day forward, make sure you are in the business of co-parenting.
And remember, when a court order is entered, it lasts until your child reaches the age of majority unless modified by agreement or subsequent court order. Look for alternatives to litigation and do all you can to Stop Fighting Over the Kids.
In our area of Ohio, many cases are litigated in front of Magistrates, who are lawyers working for the Court and assigned the cases by the Judges. In most all ways, Magistrates have the same duties and powers of a Judge. What Mike said about Judges is equally applicable to Magistrates.
I always tell my clients that it is generally a much smarter approach to try to settle and resolve a case first before resorting to the trial in the courtroom. A negotiated settlement allows the parties to craft an agreement that usually isn’t perfect but is livable. A judge or magistrate may come up with a decision that is supported by the evidence but is totally unworkable. I have seen some wildly bizarre decisions over the years that seem to have come from “left field”! Remember that the Judge’s life isn’t going to be impacted by the decision in your case. Having input and some degree of control in hammering out the terms of a divorce or custody order, usually, just plain makes sense!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.