The struggle to get the trial in motion is very real for many divorce litigants with manipulative or vengeful spouses. The frustration of dealing with repeated delays based on highly suspicious, or outright nonsensical excuses is enough to drive anyone up the walls. This abuse of the family court system can be quite challenging for the judges, who must use their discretion to determine the validity of a defendant's excuses. Judges must also back up their decisions with a reasonable basis, which may include efforts such as speaking to the defendant's doctor or other certified professionals. Such actions take time, which is why judges typically impose an adjournment of the proceedings until they can verify certain information.
At some point, however, these back to back delays may seem like a violation of your due process rights, regardless of the other party's intention. After all, aren't you entitled to be heard by the court “at a meaningful time”. The language might be rather vague, but surely, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't mean for legal proceedings to take a year or more because of the other party's ability to keep coming up with excuses, right?
Well, that rationale is not quite just according to the state the Appellate Division. The appellate court's stance on this issue can be seen in rulings such as Ross v. Ross. The original case involved the wife's menstrual flow, which according to her doctor, was heavy enough to recommend bed rest. As you can imagine, this is a highly sensitive subject for any judge to examine, considering the history of misogynistic attitudes towards menstruation. On the other hand, should “I'm on my period” be a valid excuse for a woman to not attend a hearing scheduled well in advance, especially if she had already been granted several delays?
The trial judge declared the excuse invalid, citing that the hand-written note on a prescription pad, simply stating that the defendant “is suffering from menorrhagia” didn't seem legitimate, considering that there was no proof that the doctor had conducted a live examination. However, the Appellate Division reversed the decision, citing that the judge was improper in making such decisions without even speaking with the doctor. Regardless of the timing or suspicious nature of the note, the judge cannot automatically determine the worthiness of a note based on it being handwritten. These suspicions, as well as further information about the defendant's condition, should have been verified with input from a medical expert.
What the appellate court is trying to uphold here is fair treatment by the courts for both parties. While the decision seems one-sided, it would be rather unfair to say that a defendant's excuse is not good enough without some legitimate verification by the court. It's a harsh reality for frustrated plaintiffs, but patience is the key when it comes to divorce litigation. For more information on your divorce rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.