Should family lawyers dividing up community property and dealing with custody issues be making 10 times their civil and criminal counterparts in California's Courts?
Should Family Law Sanctions Cost More in One Part of The State Than Another ?
If you are a divorcing parent and don't return your child on time to the other parent , should that cost you more if you live in Los Gatos, than if you live in Los Angeles?
If you miss a hearing due to illness and draw sanctions as a result during your divorce, will it cost you more if you live in Walnut Creek than if you live in Walnut Grove?
It shouldn't because other than local rules governing family court administrative issues, California's Family Code applies in all divorce and probate matters , regardless of where you live.
In 2014 Jane and John Q began to collaborate with other groups in a massive investigation of sanctions and attorney fee awards abuse in family courts. The preliminary reports on this investigation are startling. Here is a summary :
1. There is no standard for a court to determine FC2030 fees, and typically it is up to the discretion of a judge , who is required to review specific information before issuing these awards. The term " as fair and just " appears to be exactly what is missing from the orders of California Judges related to these fee awards.
The trend over the past 10 years has been to deny fees requests , or continue them off calendar until litigants , and their unpaid lawyers tire of asking, typically leaving one party in a case unrepresented, and without the legal parity the state intends during divorces.
California's Courts do not track or document these fee awards and orders, leaving no publically available information on them , and leaving judges too much power to abuse in issuing these awards to their buddies.
Initial reports show counties leading in highest the attorney fees and sanction awards connected in family law cases to be;
#1 Santa Clara
#2 San Mateo
#3 Contra Costa County
#5 San Diego
#7 Marin County
Research thus far shows these fees all over the map. The one consistent factor is that fees are not awarded in cases where there is financial disparity for women and stay at home dads, in a manner necessary to assure legal parity. Over the last ten years, fees are not being awarded to make sure both parties have legal representation , and as a result cases involving one represented parent pitted against another unable to afford a lawyer has increased by over 50%.
2. FC271 fees are raging out of control in Silicon Valley family courts. A review of the three counties covering Silicon Valley, shows in what should be considered middle class divorces that judges are imposing sanctions with no rhythm or reason . These sanctions often appear to correlate to women fighting to address fraud , void orders or child support in cases where their former husbands have an ability to hide money in trust accounts, real estate and other business ventures.
In most cases , sanctions imposed by family court judges can easily outstrip child support ordered in the same case. Sanctions of $100,000, $250,000 , a life time of savings for most divorcing couples appear to be commonplace with judges who have no eye to the long term injustice these sanctions impose , typically on the undereducated and under funded parent in a divorce case.
Sanctions also seem to be more widely imposed in family law cases where socioeconomically disadvantaged parents , who struggle with calculating and enforcing child support and custody orders, receive sanctions for failing to understand the law, and for having an inability to pay to retain an attorney. It is not uncommon for a parent to draw sanctions for filing motions attempting to establish or modify child support orders , such that sanctions often result in mitigating any child or spousal support a parent could ever hope to have legally and fairly addressed.
People who act without lawyers in family law cases, mostly do so involuntarily , yet initial research shows that people who can't afford to pay their lawyers, to assure legal parity , are often sanctions for acting pro per , despite having no formal education or training in the law. Courts then appear to be burying parties in sanctions, so the hole gets deeper. Courts that are to do no more than divide property appear to be breaking one parent , and allowing the other parent to fund a legal army to do so , with sanctions judges are all too willing to impose against litigants they don't like, or against people who have to act as their own lawyers in divorce cases.
3. Hidden fees in Court Appointments
Initial research also shows that costly court appointments are also out of control in family law cases. Today too many judges are willing to order appointments of Special Maters, Referees, CPAs, Receivers , Minor's Counsel , Visitation Supervisors, Realtors , Vocational Examiners and just about everyone imaginable, charged to the parties, even when one parent can't afford a lawyer. These fees are the hidden costs in California's divorce cases. Where property values are high, as they are in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and San Diego counties, courts are feeding these experts with equity from homes, through court appointments.
These issues make disclosures and conflicts of interests of even greater significance. Judges and lawyers have a legal and ethical obligation to disclosure both their personal and professional relationships, where many do not.
The detailed collaborative report showing fees and sanctions by county, and judge issuing the orders, is expected to be published in 2017.
Jane & John Q are still collecting Income and Expense declarations, attorney fee declarations, attorney bills and bills of experts used in family law matters. Please redact and send copies to: CalJohnqpublic@gmail.com