Client’s frequently ask, “How long will it take to finish my case?” The answer is not always predictable as it depends on a number of factors. However, one factor is the recent State budget cuts which are affecting the number of available Family Law Judges, the availability of Court Reporters to make a record of the proceedings, and the hours of operation by the Clerk’s Office to file and process documents.
At a recent child custody hearing in December, the Judge did not have time to complete the matter and asked the attorneys, “When do you want to continue the hearing?” That produced Family Court gridlock and ultimately prevented needed rulings on important issues.
One of the ways to circumvent Court delays is to consider non-Court based resolutions such as mediation. Although not every case is suited to mediation, it should be considered. Likewise, the parties can consider using a private Judge, but again the cost is often prohibitive. Other ways to reduce gridlock is for the attorneys to begin early to try and resolve issues. The parties can also agree to seek appropriate experts such as real estate appraisers, business valuation experts and private custody mediators to resolve difficult issues. The parties can also narrow their issues by using four-way meetings so that they do not spend time and money on matters which are not in dispute; for example the tracing of a separate property interest in a community asset or the division of a community pension. For the foreseeable future the Family Courts will be seriously congested. This makes it even more important for attorneys and clients to consider settlement and alternative dispute resolution whenever possible.