Monday, August 1, 2011

Who Do You Want Controlling the Outcome of Your Case?

One of the core elements of Collaborative Law is that we remove the case from the court system and let the parties create their own terms, rather than have a judge decide issues. People who haven't been through the court system sometimes don't appreciate that difference between litigation and Collaboration.

In Tarrant County, Texas, we have six family courts that have two judges each, a District Judge and an Associate Judge. The Associate Judge hears most preliminary matters and the District Judge is usually the one to hear any final trials. When the parties cannot agree, the Associate Judge usually ends up making decisions on temporary issues, including custody, child support, visitation, who stays in the house, how the bills get paid and how the money is allocated, among other things.

There was recently an extensive article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about one of our Associate Judges. The article should not be taken as a scientific or completely accurate study of Judge Beebe, and definitely shouldn't be generalized to describe all of our family court judges. In fact, we have 12 judges with 12 personalities that are very different. While the judges all work with the same Family Code (statute) that we use in Collaborative cases, there is a tremendous variation from court to court as to how our judges make decisions, how they run their courts and even what issues are important or not important to them.

The Star-Telegram article does give a glimpse into what life can be like in the court system. Our judges in Tarrant County have a variety of experience and each has their own way of reaching the "truth" or dealing with the essential issues. All the judges know that there are two sides to every story. They have a hard job trying to come up with decisions that protect the rights and interests or both parties and any children. Unfortunately, the judges have limited exposure to the case and limited time to deal with it. Sometimes the parties are happy with the judge's decision, but often one or both parties are very unhappy.

If you are about to get involved in a family law dispute, you have a choice to make. Do you want a judge deciding the outcome of your case, or do you and your spouse want to make the decisions yourselves with the aid of neutral professionals for communication issues, children's issues and financial decisions?

For some people, turning everything over to a judge is a relief. Other people like to maintain control over their future and make their own decisions with expert assistance. If you are facing family law issues, it's a good idea to consult with a Collaborative Law attorney, as well as a litigation attorney, before deciding what course you will follow.

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