Ms. S., originally unrepresented, entered the court system through family court in New York City. A survivor of domestic violence, she originally went to family court for an order of protection. While in family court, she filed for custody of her two children. After her spouse was served, she went back to family court where she received assigned counsel for her cases. Her spouse also retained an attorney and her children were assigned lawyers. After several appearances, Ms. S filed for child support. She now had three cases going forward in family court before two separate judges on different days. When her spouse filed for divorce, they entered a new venue — State supreme court.
Hearing about the divorce, the Family Court judge dismissed the custody case, adjourned the order of protection and the support magistrate also adjourned the child support matter. Ms. S went to supreme court without an attorney for the first appearance because her family court attorney did not want to represent her in Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, aware of the pending family court matters, consolidated the order of protection but not the support case and Ms. S was assigned a new attorney for these matters. But she did not have a lawyer to help her to navigate the financial aspects of her case. Ms. S’s children’s attorney would also not appear in supreme court, so they were assigned another attorney. The supreme court refused to consolidate the child support, so even though that was integral in the divorce, it remained in family court. The supreme court originally did not want to consolidate the order of protection, even though the issues would have to be litigated because of the custody in supreme court, but they relented. Otherwise, she would have to endure the trauma of telling her story of abuse to two separate judges at different times.
Does this sound confusing and inefficient? It was both.
Ms. S. was in two courts, before three judges and has had two attorneys (as have her children). She will continue to litigate in both family and supreme court – wasting resources, losing days from work, and trying to find child-care while in court. Eventually, she was able to retain LAS and we stepped in on all of Ms. S’s pending matters. Almost six years after Ms. S first entered a court, after three judges, two attorneys for her, two attorneys for her children, four separate proceedings and re-litigating the same issue over and over, Ms. S finally received a divorce, custody, an order of protection and support.