Temporary Setbacks, Part II

December 31, 2013 § 1 Comment

Yesterday we visited the subject of temporary hearings in cases where ID is the sole ground. The practice across the state is, well, varied.

What about the manner in which temporaries are conducted?

In this district, we schedule all temporary hearings on a R81 return day. Many are negotiated to a settlement. The ones that do no settle are taken up for hearing in order from oldest filed to most recently filed. Each side is allowed one hour, total, for the presentation of all witnesses and other evidence. One hour is by consensus among bench and bar an adequate time to develop the pertinent proof. We had a chancellor once who limited proof to ten minutes per side, which produced a lot of groaning among the lawyers. I set an expiration date of six months on my orders in hope of promoting movement toward finality.

In other districts, I experienced a broad range of ways to approach temporary matters. In some districts, a temporary hearing can consume an entire day. I often wondered in those cases what the difference was between that ordeal and the final hearing. I also wondered where the chancellor found the time.

In many districts, the proof is limited:

  • One chancellor, now retired, would call the parties and attorneys to the bench, where all stood in reverent silence while the judge examined the parties’ 8.05’s. He seldom had any questions. He would simply say something like, “Okay, the wife will have custody and the husband will pay $250 a month child support. Next case.”
  • Another judge called the parties to the bench and based his temporary order on a colloquy with the clients with limited input from the attorneys.
  • In one district the judge allowed only the parties to take the stand. He would interrupt and ask his own questions until he was satisfied that he had a clear picture, then would say he had heard enough, and would direct one of the attorneys to draft an order.

Your experiences, I am sure, will vary. I would welcome your comments about how temporary hearings are handled in your area.

Temporary Setbacks, Part I

December 30, 2013 § 4 Comments

A reader of this blog in N. Mississippi emailed me with an interesting question week before last. He asked whether the following is a common practice in other areas of the state:

I have recently been on the receiving end of opposite counsel filing for divorce on sole ground of Irreconcilable Differences, asking for temporary relief-custody, support, use of home, setting for hearing. I have objected by 12b failure to make a claim for which relief can be granted. We have worked around the 2 cases without necessity of a ruling.

Before proceeding further, I can say that in this district it is a longstanding practice not to allow temporary hearings in cases where the sole ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences. Our thinking is that an ID divorce requires an agreement, either a PSA or a consent, for the court to act, and that absent that agreement no relief is possible. Please note that I am talking only about a complaint on the sole ground of irreconcilable differences, and not: (1) a complaint in which ID is an alternative ground; or (2) where there is a separate count for, say, custody.

The authority of a chancellor in such cases is MCA 93-5-17, which states that “The chancellor in vacation [and presumably during a term] may, upon reasonable notice, hear complaints for temporary alimony, temporary custody of children and temporary child support and may make all proper orders and judgments thereon.”

As far as I can discover, there is no case law on point. Temporary orders are not appealable, so the dearth of decisions is no surprise.

I polled some chancellors to see what the practice is in their districts, and, as one might suspect, the answers are all over the ballpark. Now, before someone opines that “we need to come up with a uniform practice” for temporaries, keep in mind that the statute specifically says that the chancellor “may” grant temporary relief. It has long been the practice that it is discretionary with chancellors whether to allow a temporary hearing at all, and, if so, the form of that hearing (more on that point in Part II). Here is what the various chancellors who responded said:

  • “No.”
  • “If they allege and show ‘urgent and necessitous circumstances’ I would allow a temporary.”
  • “Assuming you are talking about temporary relief relative to custody and support and use of marital home incident thetero, yes we do allow temporary hearings.”
  • “I do not allow temporary hearings in ID divorces. The statutory premise for ID is agreement on all issues. I do not think you can expand on what the statute allows. I am sure that someone will opine that it could be done statutorily by ‘consent’ but I would counter that with, the issues tried by consent can be appealed, a temporary cannot. As an aside, it seems when you do a temporary in an ID the court may be tipping the scales one way or the other in the negotiations.”
  • “I have never conducted an actual hearing but I have signed agreed temporary orders incorporating the PSA.”
  • “[In this district] temp order[s] setting support and custody (at least) are issued in ID divorce cases all the time … to say this is a common practice in our district would be an understatement.”
  • “I do not allow temporary hearings on ID only complaints. I would sign [an order adopting] a stipulation between the parties …”
  • “No. Never. No justiciable issue.”

That’s about 20% of the chancellors.

If you wind up with a temporary hearing in an unfamiliar district, you would do well to contact a lawyer there who practices in that court and can let you know what to expect.

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