First, I apologize for the long delay since my last posting.
Second, let’s get back to business. As most people are aware (to varying degrees) there are a whole host of laws that exist for family law cases. Most people (unless they run into the family law buzz saw) assume these laws are followed and judges make their decisions based on these laws.
We have worked hard in California to pass laws protecting children who are exposed to family violence. We have some pretty good laws on the books. The problem is: family law judges routinely disregard the laws. And there has been very little oversight to correct this problem. When criminal case judges make an error in law, the case is appealed. If the judge made an error, the case is remanded back to that court. The defendant may get a new trial as a result. When this appellate ruling is published, it becomes the current law to which future cases should refer.
In family courts, cases are seldom appealed. Unlike criminal courts, participants in family court are not represented by an attorney if they can’t afford to hire one. Appealing a case usually costs upward of $50,000. And, it appears that the appellate courts have not been excited about taking on family court cases, even if someone could afford it. Consequently, family law judges have been allowed to make their own law, regardless of the written laws. Without appellate ruling to declare the law, the family courts have become way out of order.
Well, the times they are a changing. Spearheaded by students and faculty at Berkeley School of Law, we now have the Family Law Appellate Project. They are a non-profit organization who are taking family law cases pro bono. They pick cases that will have a wider application than just the individual case, in order to get case law that will require family law judges to follow the law. They have been very successful. (If you want to learn more about their specific cases, go to their website at http://www.fvap.org)
In California we have Family Code Section 3044 that deals with issues of child custody in domestic violence cases. Routinely, judges have not followed this law, frequently giving custody to parents who have committed domestic violence. We now have an appellate case that will be the standard by which judges impose FC3044. If they do not follow the law, their cases will be overturned by the appellate courts. And judges do not like to have their cases overturned.
We might finally have some power behind the law that we passed to protect children from domestic violence. One big step. Many more to go, but we are on the right path.