Divorce: How Long Does A Judge Have To Decide?

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Copyright (c) 2010 Lucille Uttermohlen

If you are waiting for your divorce to be final, it can be agony. After all, not knowing what property you will have to work with after the divorce makes it hard to plan. Debts that you will be responsible to pay can also effect your future budget. Most annoying and downright scary is what the judge will do with your kids if you and your spouse were fighting over custody.

Unfortunately, the remedy to get the judge to move things along isn’t very satisfactory. He is under an obligation to render a decision as soon as he can. Many states give a certain time limit for a judge to make his final decision. If he doesn’t enter an order by that time, your attorney can ask the he be removed from your case.

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In my 27 year practice, I have invoked the “lazy judge” rule once. I had filed to modify custody for one of my clients. From the moment we entered the courtroom, I knew I was in for a long, frustrating day. Every question I asked, and many I started were interrupted by my colleague’s monotone “objection”, and the judge’s “sustained”. It was clear that my client wasn’t going to get a fair hearing, and I was reduced to asking opposing counsel not to interrupt me before I even got my question out so I could at least make my record for appeal

I think the judge must have known an easy way out when he saw it. I would have advised my client to appeal, for the obvious reason that she had not been allowed to present a case. The judge never let it get that far. He just didn’t make a decision at all. Finally, I was free to file a “lazy judge” motion.

The “lazy judge” motion takes the case away from the judge automatically. All you have to show is that the hearing occurred on a certain date, and the judge didn’t render an order by the time the legislature says he had to. In this particular case, I was happy to get the case away from that court.

Most of the time, a “lazy judge” motion isn’t a good choice. It does cause the case to be assigned to a new judge, which in some cases, like the one I described, can be a good thing. However, the only recourse you have once a new judge is appointed is to try the case again. This is all right from the stand point that you can introduce evidence that may have been missed the first time around. However, it also means you have to pay an attorney to prepare the whole case for you again, and most people simply can’t afford to do that.

The best thing to do in most cases is to have your lawyer nudge your judge into ruling. Some of my colleagues are hesitant to do this, and you may have to light a fire under them to get them to cooperate. We have to live with our judges, and getting a reputation as a nag is not something any attorney gains happily. However, I find that a call to the judge’s secretary can usually get the folder in question placed on the judge’s desk, and tactfully brought to his attention.

Judges are very busy in this country. The only way to lighten their load is to raise taxes and hire more of them. We attorneys might like that idea, but most of the tax paying public would prefer to avoid the additional expense. For this reason, many of us are forced to wait for answers to our most pressing legal issues. However, there is a point where even a busy judge needs to get his work done, and when that point has arrived and passed, litigants may do well to take their problems to another forum.

Going through a divorce can be scary. Even your attorney can’t take the time to answer all of your questions and concerns. http://www.couple-or-not.com is an easy to use resource for all your divorce questions. If your answer isn’t there, write to Lucille Uttermohlen at lucille@couple-or-not.com to get your answers.

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