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Divorce Court: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

An appellate court recently overturned the decision of a Family Court Judge in Essex County concerning a very contested divorce that the Judge heard the trial of. What is remarkable is that the trial took two weeks while the husband and wife fought over everything. According to the court opinion, the husband was a doctor with several offices and one of the primary issues was the value of his practice which would be the basis for the child support and alimony award to the wife.

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Four months after the full trial, the Judge ruled on all issues. She signed an Order providing for custody, child support, alimony and the valuation of the medical practice. Seven months after the trial and four months after her initial Order, the same Judge wrote a written opinion concerning the case which substantially contradicted her earlier Order. For example, the Judge increased the valuation of the medical practice by 133%. Other changes were also notable.

So, the Appellate Court held that the Judge had goofed and that the entire case would have to be retried. The lawyers, of course, would get thousands of dollars in new fees to re-try the case.

This is not a very unusual situation. Family cout judges have a lot of discretion and often do whatever they want. When you enter divorce court, you are rolling the dice. Often the judges are new judges who may never have practiced family law before becoming a judge. The family court is also very busy. So, you may end up with a judge with a huge amount of discretion, little experience in divorce cases, and a busy calendar.

Be afraid, very afraid.

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