Coaching for RI Family Court Judges Feed

Affordability Doesn't Come Cheap When Trying to Find a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer!

Picture of Attorney Christopher Pearsall
Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

Google+ Author Profile

Publisher on Google+

There is a huge PRO SE movement going forward in the Rhode island Family Courts.  The court schedules have people representing themselves in their own cases every day.  Beside each listing for those people it says "PRO SE."  The listings used to be few and far between on the Rhode Island divorce and family court calendars but today they are everywhere.

I started wondering why this newer "PRO SE" movement had grown so large when your legal rights relating to your family law matters are so very important such that even one mistake can cause irreparable harm. 

So months ago I began listening to people more intently at court, in my office, and in public commentaries in print and online.  For my result I focused on three (3) questions that might help understand this PRO SE trend on the family court calendars.


1)  Is it that all divorce lawyers are viewed as being too expensive? 

2)  Is it that people simply don't have the money to hire a divorce lawyer in any capacity? 

3)  Or could it be that the Rhode Island family court is making divorces easier and people don't see the perils of representing themselves?

The answer related not to one or two of the questions but to all three (3).

The vast majority of people I listened to and considered related mostly to Rhode Island divorces but still I kept my ears open about comments by people talking about lawyers, their consultations with other lawyers, editorials and other materials.  I found that the vast majority of people in the middle class viewed lawyers as being drastically overpaid, expensive and not worth the monies they would be paid and so they would rather go PRO SE and save themselves expensive attorney's fees.

A good many people also believed that representation in a divorce or family law matter was the only option available to them and therefore concluded that since they simply didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to represent them to protect their rights that they were forced to go forward PRO SE and represent themselves.

Lastly, there were quite a few people who didn't want to spend any money on getting divorced and heard through a friend or relative that not only was the court giving out the questions that they should be prepared to answer at the hearing but that the judge's were, in fact, leading them through the divorce and therefore a lawyer was unnecessary.

The reasoning used by most of the people who were part of my private study was interesting but flawed for two reasons. 

First, people need to understand that representation is not the only form of legal assistance available in the Rhode Island legal community.  Coaching in divorce and other areas of law has been around for years.  This is legal assistance that lawyers provide to clients on an "as desired basis" or "as affordable basis" to clients who cannot afford full-service "in court" representation but who must represent themselves due to the cost but still need to know their rights and the proper procedure for asserting those rights. 

The challenge of finding one of these "Coaching" attorneys is that many of them still focus on full-service in-court representations and they do not openly promote their "coaching services" which brings in a small amount of income and a greater level of liability exposure for what they are paid.  As you can imagine then, this is not the focus of many practitioners and this option is often only revealed when a prospective client discloses that he or she cannot afford the full-service representation.  Yet coaching has become a substantial way to exercise your constitutional right to represent yourself, save a considerable amount of money compared to full representation and yet still have access to an experienced lawyer to learn about your legal rights as well as the procedure you can use to press those rights before the court.

Yet coaching and it's affordability doesn't come cheap.  It's price?  It can take substantial time and effort to find an attorney who offers coaching in the area of law that you need assistance with (family law or otherwise) and therefore if you want the affordability it comes at a sacrifice of your time and effort to find such an attorney.

Second, people need to understand that the questions provided by the court in the divorce papers are merely general questions that can relate to many divorces.  They were not created necessarily to help the public but to help the judges by providing a guide that PRO SE people could follow, regardless of whether it was right or not for your divorce.  However, that particular determination is yours to make because you are acting as your own lawyer and the protector of your own rights when you are PRO SE.  The judges may even ask you the questions on that sample sheet.  Litigants look at this as kindly helping them through the process just as they should be going through it.  This presumption is dead wrong.  The judge asks you questions that the judge knows apply to most divorces because the judge needs to make findings of fact and a decision affecting the parties' rights at the end of the hearing.  Without specific content the judge can't make the required findings of fact and the decisions in the case.  The judge's job is to give you your day in court and to clear his or her docket properly and legally of the cases on it.  It is your job to protect your own rights.  The sample questions you are given DO NOT protect your legal rights.  If the judge asks you the sample questions or other questions during the divorce proceeding, this is not designed to protect your legal rights.

It is YOUR JOB and ONLY YOUR JOB to know your rights and to protect them during any divorce or family law proceeding in the Rhode Island Courts.  So, if you represent yourself, PRO SE, and you miss something, forget something, mis-state something, or misunderstand something then you should understand that you should not expect that you should or even can sue the State of Rhode Island or the Judge who presided over your proceeding.

If you want a cheaper or more affordable divorce and you feel up to representing yourself, then by all means you have the constitutional right to do so but you should most assuredly get some coaching from an experienced family law practitioner who offers coaching and can inform you about your rights, the procedures, etc...  Naturally your level of protection and safety in the proceeding relates to the amount of coaching and advice you are willing to engage the attorney for, but it is better than thinking that you know as much as a lawyer who has been doing this for many years and has read the law, or than thinking that the court is already protecting you so you don't need a lawyer at all. 

If you don't know your legal rights in a divorce and how to protect them, you might as well not have them.

RI Family Court Judges - Is Your Eye on the Ball in each Rhode Island Case?

Picture of Attorney Christopher Pearsall
Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

Google+ Author

Published on Google+

Within the past few months I've had several calls from people who had the same problem and I was able to identify it simply by asking a few questions.  Unfortunately it's something that I've seen happen dozens of times over the years.  Though I wouldn't call it an epidemic I would certainly say it's something our newer judges could do well to focus on.

So what is the problem?  In a nutshell it is the failure to keep their eye on the ball.  What does that really mean?  

Judges have a coinsiderable amount of latitute and discretion in the Rhode Island Family Court System.  They can continue motions over and over.  They can defer to family court investigators.  They can rely on a Guardian Ad Litem's recommendations without question.  They can shuffle a matter off to mediation even if it is a matter in which mediation makes no sense.  It's there.  Discretion is part of our family court system and we count upon our judiciary to use it wisely.

Yet ultimately, it isn't used all that wisely when a judge doesn't keep his or her eye on the ball.  For instance, I had one case where my client filed one motion.  Remember that number now.... just one motion!  The motion had such substantial merit that the opposing party and the party's attorney could do nothing other than to try to prevent it from being heard.  In the case, the judge was not "on the ball" as I call it.  Though I brought this to the court's attention at each and every hearing, it was ignored and the judge diverted on tangents as the opposing party filed countless and meritless motions that were titled as "Emergency Motions."  In the end, the judge fell for it every time.  At one point after 2 1/2 years of bogus motions from the opposing counsel I literally lost my temper and said to the Judge, "Judge, with all due respect you are doing my client and these children and injustice.  We have had one motion pending for  2 1/2 years while this court has allowed itself to be pulled off on tangents by the 118 motions filed by the opposing counsel in an attempt to bury the one meritorious motion we filed to start all of this."

The truth be told, my client and I had been patient over and over as bogus motions continued to fly in and cost my client money and time.  In the end I represented the client for the last 8 months for free because I was so disgusted at the way the matter was being handled by the court.  All that was needed was for the judge to take a clear look at the file and see what was going on.  It was as plain as the nose on your face that the opposing party was trying to bury his manipulation of the children and his failure to pay child support.  

No matter what motions are filed I have learned one thing from countless judge in family court in Rhode Island.  The judge's discretion controls everything!  If the judge sees that the underlying problem is that a child needs counseling then the judge will act and go right to the route of the problem.  When a judge does that, I applaud that judge.  He or she does not end up being controlled by motions which may or may not have validity or even valid foundation (though they are supposed to if counsel is involved).

I think the greatest thing I have learned is that a good RI Family Court judge will see the crux of the issue and then focus on the ball to resolve it.  Judge's who loose sight of the real issue usually do so because they listen to a lawyer who is spouting or whining or arguing about something to throw the judge off on a tangent so he or she will not see the REAL ISSUE and keep their eye on the ball.

A constant flurry of motions is not only a sign of a lawyer that may be trying to make more money but also a lawyer that may be trying to bury a key fact about his or her client  that he or she doesn't want the judge to see.  It is also a good way for some lawyers without scruples to abuse the system by requiring the opposing party's attorney to have to spend more time and money to respond so the responding party will be drained of resources as quickly as possible so he or she can't afford counsel to defend himself or herself.

These are all things that a judge can see from the file.  The motions tell the story.  The orders tell the story.  Sometimes a brief review of the file will help them keep their eye on the ball.

A good judge can keep his or her eye on the ball in most cases and keep the case on track.  No matter how many cases may be in the system, a case that is prolonged for no reason or is decided unfairly or inequitably because justice was not done because the judge was distracted from the main point (the ball) is merely a case that might be closed by frustration or one party becoming broke or defenseless

In the end, it is not justice!  Once a judge fails to keep track of the ball on a case.... justice falls between the cracks.  It is my sincere hope that our judges take a few minutes in each case to look, to listen, and to find the ball once again!