Stay Civil: How to Get a Judge to Issue an Order You Like
By Bob Derber
The feedback from last month’s column was incredible. There are divorced parents who do collaborate! It’s so important for the kids. We welcome Judge Paul
Marigonda, one of our two Family Court judges, to the column. He will contribute information from the
other side of the bench.
Last month we stressed that it is best to reach a parenting agreement with your ex rather than ask the court for a decision. That is critical. But, if you must ask a judge for help, be careful!
Our judges have hundreds of cases every month. Santa Cruz has only two judges for family matters. Judge Marigonda, and his counterpart Judge Baskett, are both very able, but they have limited time for each case. They are seasoned veterans and have ‘seen it all’ before. You must persuade them that you need the orders you request.
When you request court orders, you will likely submit a statement on why you need your order, and why you cannot agree on the matter with your ex. Some words of advice for your statement:
Ask Only for What You Need
Parents hurt their credibility by seeking orders that reflect anger rather than need. Take care before you ask the court to keep children away from the ex. Think of alternatives, perhaps limited visits or asking that another person to be present for visits: either a professional or a trusted friend.
Be Tempered, Brief, and to the Point
Your judge is not going to appreciate a 10-page rant. Keep your statement short, factual and to the point.
Present Only Issues You Cannot Agree Upon
Reach agreement where you can. Perhaps the kids need therapy and your ex agrees. You won’t need an order for this, so don’t ask for one. The judge will appreciate that you both limited the issues to areas where you could not find a middle ground.
Consider the Emotional Impact Your Statement Will Have on Your Ex
Your statement can affect co-parenting well into the future. Mean-spirited words can result in years of future conflict. You will be co-parenting for many years to come. For your children’s sake, consider the impact of continued conflict.
Your Statement is a Public Document
People, whom you never imagined would do so, may see your statement. It may be a future employer or a public official. The FBI accesses divorce records for security clearances. Reporters access files to ‘get dirt’ on public officials. Even worse, your children may get a copy of this document years later if they do a family history. Your statement can last forever.
The world your children had was shattered by the divorce. Long-term effects of this are well studied by psychologists. Divorce is hard for them, and co-parenting can make all the difference. Keep them feeling safe, loved and sheltered by both parents. If this is lost, children often become emotionally challenged, fall-behind in school, or even worse, turn to unhealthy alternatives, like poor relationships or drugs and alcohol.
You come to the court for help, not to ‘get back’ or ‘ruin’ your ex. Protect the kids and find a healthy balance. Your anger will show, and not look well for you. You might ‘get back’ at the other parent, but in the process, you might also harm your child.
Bottom line: stay civil.
From the Bench
“Children are our most important asset,” says Judge Paul Marigonda. “I am dedicated to them first and foremost. When you need my help, ask and I will do my best. But if you try to use the court to punish your ex, it will show and you may likely be unhappy with the result.”
Bob Derber is a local attorney practicing family law. He served as a State appointed Guardian ad Litem in high conflict matters in the State of Utah before returning to his home in Santa Cruz four years ago. Your situation may differ and the above is not intended to be legal advice to you in your own custodial matters. Be sure to consult with your family law attorney as appropriate if you need help in this area. Have questions for him to answer? Send them to [email protected]