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There are certain unwritten rules that have more to do with the outcome of a divorce case than the written rules of civil procedure, and it's imperative that women learn how to protect themselves from the chaos these rules can cause. 

When you become involved in a divorce, you become a consumer of sorts. You pay a lawyer and expect a high standard of care in return for that payment. You pay court costs and expect the courts to protect your legal interests.

Unlike most businesses that cater consumers, the Family Court System isn't regulated and there are no safeguards in place to make sure we get what we pay for. No one is standing guard at the gate, so to speak. What follows are actions you can take to protect yourself.

Know your rights:

Knowledge is power! The more you know about what legal rights you have in court, the less chance a lawyer or judge will have to dismiss those rights. Study the divorce laws of your state. Learn what the laws are concerning property distribution, child support, child custody, and spousal support. Get online and bookmark your state's rules of civil procedure. Refer to them periodically to make sure your case hasn't gotten off track and that all rules are being followed.

Keep meticulous records:

Insist that you get a copy of every piece of correspondence your attorney has with the opposing counsel. Also get copies of every thing that's filed with the court clerk and tell your lawyer that you want an accounting of every phone conversation he/she has with the opposing counsel.

Keep a log of every phone conversation you have with your lawyer. Note the date, time and length of the conversation and what is discussed. Do the same for every office visit you make. After meeting with your attorney, keep a detailed, written account of what was discussed and any actions your attorney is supposed to take. If your lawyer should fail to act in your best interest, such records could be used later should you need to sue for legal malpractice.

Take a witness to meetings and to court:

If you are having doubts of about your lawyer's abilities, take a third party with you to all meetings with him/her. If you lawyer tries to intimidate or force you into settling for something you don't want, you will have a witness to his/her actions. It's my opinion that a person should have a witness at each meeting and settlement negotiation. This person would take notes and can back you up if your lawyer attempts to lie about what took place while he/she was representing you.

Stand up for yourself:

If your lawyer doesn't return phone calls, refuses to keep you informed of what's going on in your case or does anything that is a violation of your state bar's code of ethics, report him/her. Call your state bar association and request a complaint form and file it. Don't be afraid to stand up for your legal rights and hold an unethical lawyer accountable.

The same goes for judges. Learn your state's canons of Judicial Ethics. If you feel a judge has violated laws or ethics, call your state's Judicial Inquiry Commission and file a complaint against the judge. Every state has a commission that is set up to investigate and prosecute complaints of ethical misconduct by a judge. Judges who make rulings in bad faith, rule out of malice, ill will or inappropriate motives should be made to answer for their actions.

Don't allow your inexperience with the Family Court System to cause you to become a victim of the Family Court System. No one has more invested in the outcome of your divorce case than you; take a proactive stance in your divorce case.

Cathy Meyer is the head of About.com's Divorce Support channel. To hear more from Cathy, go to: http://divorcesupport.about.com.

 

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7 comments

  • Comment Link Bernadette C. Barsloue Wednesday, 07 September 2016 05:56 posted by Bernadette C. Barsloue

    I appreciate you informing others of the worthless judges working for the family law courts. I too am owed over 200,00.00 in back child support. I just keep going to the AG's office to make sure it stays on record. Or sometimes i call. So you can spread the word for me from Tx. Even back child support is bigger here. I am an older mother and he still owes my children. A beautiful daughter and 2 sons that served in Iraq and Afghsnistan. Michael Stewart Barnes definetly belongs in jail or send the payments through the Attorney General's office to me.

  • Comment Link Shweta Murali Ganesh Sunday, 28 August 2016 03:31 posted by Shweta Murali Ganesh

    Dear Cathy,

    I truly appreciate your motivation but every time I face underhand tactics of my ex husband acting pretentiously and mollycoddling my toddler in front of supervised visitation exchange, he asks my toddler do you want to go back to mommy?
    The child just wants both his mummy and daddy and also embraces him so no one leaves him ever. That I can understand but I'm biting my tongue And getting humiliated.
    Added to this the third party, which in my case is police as my ex demanded for this are mentioning that my toddler wants to be with his father and in fact looks like he really wants to be with his father.

    That is unfortunately just a facade, as the situation was that he left us on the second day after I bought my son home. He had been out of the picture for a year before I approached family court for child support. That is when he came back to torment me because I'm asking for it and even called me a shameless bitch for taking child support.
    Unfortunately my foreign trained health Doctor degree will get me nowhere and I really regret to have earns my dental degree at all. I am exhausted and not motivated for much and that itself is another sorrow but I swallow it all inside and yet I need to face barraging comments about how even my toddler prefers his father and not I by third party observers.

    All I can do is lure my kid with gifts that s all like I how I thought I could lure my ex when my marriage was alive.
    The plus side is I'm from a well to do family

  • Comment Link KJ Sunday, 14 August 2016 15:27 posted by KJ

    My lawyer is costing me over 20,000 and it is still going on. I have been trying to get a divorce for a year and half. I am living with a friend because I have not received anything from my soon to be ex and my lawyer is taking more money, but I have none left to pay him with. We went to court three times now and nothing got settled. If I would have known this I would have shopped around for a better lawyer, but now I am in it for the long run. I am afraid I will be dirt poor when this is all said and done. But I will have a life of my own.

  • Comment Link saramamabear Sunday, 17 July 2016 20:01 posted by saramamabear

    I hear you Terrabella,

    It's not just CA and it's a huge issue.

    Corruption/conflicts of interest in the family/civil courts is everywhere because:

    #1- There is less oversight in "family/domestic law" than any other branch of the law. The State Bar/Judicial review boards take money from members, and take care of their own. The other options are to appeal of a malpractice suit, both of which are the most expensive actions which are not at all P.C. so there are very few willing to take it on.

    #2- "family law" has looser rules allowing "interpretation" and "hearsay" to be accepted as fact, unlike other civil and criminal courts where evidence, conduct and the law/codes are considered the foundation.
    There are many "unwritten"rules, but the "open to interpretation" aspect is one that has effected many, making the legal process more of a popularity contest than any form of "justice" and people need to know that going in.

    # 2- More layer of Politics
    I learned the hard way it's not a level playing field, so knowing the real rules, players, and politics are is very important to the outcome...

    It does matter if your attorney is friends with the judge, opposing counsel, and the entourage of court appointed "experts," as is who pays them all. If you can raise the funds, make it be you.

    ...and speaking of politics, if a judge is not directly appointed by the governor, they run for that office just like any other politician and take campaign contributions from any person/organization/business they wish. Get the picture?

    It pays to know who's who and be allied with the right attorney/legal team at the right time.

  • Comment Link eagle1 Sunday, 17 July 2016 16:49 posted by eagle1

    Wonderful article. Unfortunately we are taught that lawyers and the legal system is there to protect us. It is a false sense of security that is so ingrained in our societies belief system it becomes an impediment to the unsuspecting wife.

    I was assured by lawyers, and support workers from shelters that the legal system would make sure I was safe, that justice would be done. I blindly let the lawyers do their job, for they are the experts. Abusers use the legal system to continue the abuse,with the help of like minded lawyers. My ex has been keeping me in court for five years.

    The legal system in my province is trying to address this flaw, but it takes time. Family law seems to be unlike and other area of law. It seems to have many gray areas, many areas for "interpretation". Each lawyer and judge has their own views, bias...and yes agenda.

    Unfortunately as the article states at the most stressful point in our lives we have to educate ourselves, be are own advocate.
    Thank you for a very necessary article!

  • Comment Link terrabella Wednesday, 02 December 2015 18:04 posted by terrabella

    IU respectfully disagree that there is recourse for a bad judge or attorney. There is no legitimate oversight. In California, judges are almost never reprimanded. The judges are in charge of judges and the attorneys in charge of attorneys. The State Bar is a professional organization not regulatory agency. The Bar complaint respondent told me that the lawyers know how to maneuver such that they get around being sanctioned and reprimanded. Many lawyers try to malign their clients and characterize them as mentally ill so they can spend down the retainer doing nothing but reading pleas for their help, then drop their client, saying the client is unstable and not fit for trial. It's a thing. it happened to me over and again because spouse conflicted out any decent lawyer, leaving me the scum of the earth.

  • Comment Link Samantha Friday, 02 January 2015 06:54 posted by Samantha

    Seeking legal counsel was my last resort and done only after my narc retained an attorney. I got notice 2 days before our court date that he'd retained counsel. So I scrambled & found someone willing to take my case on such short notice. To my horror, he proceeded to gang up on me with the other attorney, pushing me to agree to all kinds of things to appease the narcissist! When my ex blew thru all the stipulations & disregarded court orders, he filed motions without even telling me. Once I read the motions I knew I needed a new attorney. The things he filed were factually inaccurate & completely inflammatory. The motions caused the other counsel to threaten to report him!! I ended up getting another attorney to take over & things went so much better after that!

    Bottom line, make sure your attorney is representing YOU, not just throwing bombs & making things worse! I felt the first guy never really heard me at all but was too afraid to stand up for myself!! If I had it to do all over again I would have interviewed several attorneys in the very beginning even though I was hoping not to need one! I did open a credit card in my name a few months prior & it was the only way I was able to pay my attorney.