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DivorceOverlapping Jurisdiction of the Family Court, Supreme Court and Criminal Court

August 14, 2007

Lindsay Loans’ parents divorce highlights one of the problems with the family law system in New York. As highlighted in Newsday, while the parties’ divorce is heard in the Supreme Court, other issues are being heard in the Family Court.

The fact that two courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide some of the issues could lead not only to inconsistent rulings, but also to added confusion, delays and strategic “shopping” for judges, not to mention, increase litigation costs.

Newsday provided gave this short synopsis of the Lohan divorce and custody case:

In December of 2005, Michael and Dina Lohan signed a separation agreement. The fight had been heated and [Justice Robert] Ross had shown little sympathy for Michael. In August of that year, Ross wrote in a decision that “for all the defendant’s professed interest in his children, his criminal ping-pongs back and forth between cases reflect extraordinary selfishness and gimmicky schemes.”For Dina, he had only praise, saying the care she gave to Lindsay was “a parent’s dedication and love for a child.”

So perhaps it was no surprise that when Michael wanted to spend more time with his two youngest children, he decided to try his luck before another judge. When he was released from prison in March after serving nearly two years on assault and other charges, Michael filed a petition in Family Court for expanded visitation.

In June, Dina filed a new action for divorce in Supreme Court.

I have personally represented litigants who have related matters pending in three courts: a divorce action in the Supreme Court; an order of protection issued out of the Family Court, and a violation of the order of protection in Criminal Court. This multiple forum scenario gives three different judges opportunity to render a decision inconsistent with other findings in the case.   In an extreme case, a party could have been found guilty of violating an order of protection that should not have been granted.  The acts could even be found to be insufficient to establish a cause of action for cruel and inhuman treatment for divorce.

Some counties have introduced a specialized court where the judge is equipped to handle cases when there is a pending divorce, criminal and family court matter pending. This good idea. There would be one judge who would be wholly aware of all facets of the case. The potential of inconsistent findings and forum shopping is eliminated.

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