Divorce Court: What the Judge Can and Cannot Do
Several times a year, I hear from someone (usually prospective clients) who want something that the courts just can’t deliver. So here is what a court can and cannot do.
Courts can order someone to pay a certain amount of money. Courts can order someone to do something. They can order someone NOT to do something. So, a court can make someone pay a judgement or pay child support. A court can order someone to turn over property or a child. A court can order someone not to take a child near a certain person or use a certain bank account.
But there are people who want the court to do something that it simply cannot do. For example, I talked to someone last week who was upset at the way that his father, now deceased, left his property to other children. I also see spouses who want to punish the other spouse for for some real or perceived transgression such as an affair or cruelty. Revenge is something that a court simply cannot deliver.
Sometimes, a person simply wants a court to give him or her something that does not exist, such as dividing a marital estate on divorce so that the spouse gets $150,000 even though the estate is only worth $100,000 total.
Frequently, these people express their desires by saying that it is the “principle” of the thing. Well, in a lawsuit, “principle” is ridiculously expensive. You can spend a small fortune and get little in return. I have even had people tell me that they don’t mind if they spend everything in the estate as long as the other person does not get something.
There are a lot of things that a court can do. If there is a good reason in a divorce, a court can give one spouse a disproportionately high percentage of the property (this one is common.) If someone is abusive, a court can remedy that.
But the court cannot make the other party feel bad or guilty. If you think about it, if the other person is truly bad, they won’t even recognize that they are in the wrong when the judge tells them so; they will simply think that everyone else got it wrong. If your attorney tells you that a certain goal is not achievable or that it will not improve your overall circumstances you should listen. The attorney may not be ignoring your feelings or not caring about you, but simply trying to protect you and your court case from failure.