When Family Law Gets Ugly

People who've been through a family law case are probably laughing at the title, as family law is notorious for getting ugly, quickly. Many clients who come to me with what they think will be an uncontested divorce quickly learn otherwise, and of course anything with kids in it has a high potential for some vicious in-court testimony. 

However, there's ugly and then there's ugly. Verbeck Law's focus on hybrid law leads us into mare cases that involve things like restraining orders, criminal charges, and dependency cases. I find that most family law firms can more or less handle restraining orders, though it's clearly not a speciality, but a lot of firms will turn tail when required to attend a different courthouse or to deal with a fairly foreign set of rules. This can be pretty rough on the client, who may not be able to pay two firms, and who shouldn't take the chance of facing a criminal charge without knowing what the implications might be for other cases. 

Restraining orders I'll cover only briefly, as these are neither rare nor particularly ugly, comparatively. ROs are, in most counties, fairly easy to get granted, and can be a useful tactical tool for the unethical litigant. If a couple is fighting over a house, for example, one party can get a significant advantage by having the other party forcibly moved out under the terms of an RO, and similarly in a custody fight most courts will look askance at a potential parent with an RO against them. The crucial thing is to make sure that you can advise the client of the risk, familiarize them with the procedure, and make sure they know how not to make things worse. In the criminal law world, it's an old and boring story: Alice gets an RO against Bob, Bob gets dragged off, Alice later says it's fine for Bob to come over. Bob comes over, they fight, and then he's arrested and charged this time, for violating the RO. While an RO is in force, it needs to be obeyed, or the client loses nearly all their leverage. The other crucial thing is to contest the RO properly, to evaluate to see if a counter-RO makes sense, and to inform the family court before the other side brings it up. 

Criminal charges are a bit more complicated, due to the dramatic consequences. Most of the things that divorcing parties accuse the other party of are potentially felonies, and in a custody case, it's not terribly rare to see one party accuse the other of sexual offenses. This calls for some quick prioritization; no advantage in family law is worth a felony conviction, or any sort of sex crime charge. Counsel for such a party needs to make sure the client knows to shut up immediately upon arrest, and needs to know how to explain to the court why the client will not be participating in mediation or depos until the criminal charges are cleared up. Family law is often about justifying yourself, and hopefully it goes without saying that this is exactly the opposite of what you should do in criminal law. 

Dependency cases are complicated as well, and will be the topic of the next post. For now, I hope it's helpful ti have an outline of some of the concerns in family law, and more specific ideas of why you need a firm with broad experience.