Monday, September 28, 2015

Completing Divorce in One Year

In 2003, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an administrative order requiring all county family court judges to complete divorces within a year of their filing. Since that time, county family court judges have struggled to comply.

Under the Supreme Court's administrative rule, a family court must submit numbers of filed and completed cases to the State Court Administrative Office. All cases listed on the docket that were not, or are not going to be completed within the year must be accompanied by an explanation from the judge.

An elected sitting family court judge does not want to be explaining her slow-moving family court docket to state court administrators. This would only risk getting on the Michigan Supreme Court's radar.

Earlier this month, a Wayne County Family Court judge had the misfortune of lagging in this regard so badly that a formal complaint was filed with the Judicial Tenure Commission. Apparently, this judge developed a very "fast-and-loose" procedure whereby he would take brief testimony as to the breakdown of the marriage, or even accept the representations from counsel if the parties were not present, in order to count the case among those "resolved" when it came time to report his numbers to the SCAO each month.

Another tactic adopted by this judge back in 2010 was to dismiss the case from his docket, but then allow the lawyers to continue to work on the case. This way, the judge's numbers could stay off the Supreme Court's radar.

The ploy did not work, however, resulting in this Supreme Court order of rebuke. That did not prevent the good judge from developing other tactics to stay abreast of his administrative requirements.

All this has led us to question the wisdom of requiring divorces to be completed within one year. In most cases this is sufficient time to start, negotiate and complete a case.

Not all cases, however, fit the typical pattern. In some cases, there is the obstructionism, recalcitrance, and obstinance of one or both parties. There is also the lawyers’ and the judge’s agendas.

Complex high-value marital estates, for example, often require extra time to evaluate businesses, or assess stock grant contracts or non-qualified compensation packages. In other cases, custody disputes need extra time to sort out an acceptable resolution in the best interests of the minor children.

We suspect in such instances, a judge could avail herself of a reasonable explanation that would be acceptable to the case-counters.

Not all counties lend themselves to complete every case on the docket in a year. In Wayne County, for example, there may be a higher per-judge caseload then in some out-county family courts that have less population and thus, fewer cases filed.

Attempting to deceive the Supreme Court is never the way to go. Despite a docket backlog, the public and the judiciary should be able to expect that every judge in every county will use their best efforts to keep the cases on their docket on track and will see them through to timely completion.

This is just how the system is designed to work. Parties to a divorce do not wish to prolong their agony.

If you are experiencing a divorce that is going to drag out longer than one year, consider contacting our law firm for a free consultation so that your option of making a change of counsel can be assessed.

1 comment:

Sam Fisher said...

I never really thought that it would take more than a year to complete a divorce case. It does make sense if both parties can't agree on certain things or if they can't find a court date to both be there. I have always thought that they take a few months. This is probably because I've never had to go through a divorce. Then again I am not married. About half of my friends are married and aren't having any problems from what I can see. However if anything does come up, then I'll see that I give them some of the information listed here.