Each case is different, so there is no universal answer to this question. However, everyone who is about to start the divorce process should be aware of the comment attributed to Lenny Bruce, the acerbic, satirical humorist from the ’50s and ’60s: “In the halls of justice, there is only justice in the halls.”
The divorce process (“the system”) is rarely a friendly place. Litigants who are entering the matrimonial process should understand the dynamics of the system. They should understand that the system’s primary concern is to move cases expeditiously. The system’s priority is processing and concluding cases — not addressing the daily indignation or unfairness litigants feel that they experience at each other’s hands.
Of course, there are great variations from judge to judge. After all, judges are people too, and there is as wide a range of capacities and caring in the judicial population as there is in the general population.
Regardless of the judge, there are times when a litigant has no choice but to bring the case to a judge for a determination. If your spouse will not negotiate reasonably and gives an ultimatum or proposal that your lawyer thinks is not in the “range of reasonableness,” then there is no real choice. To have a chance at a fair resolution, you must try your case, either before a judge or, if your spouse will agree, a designated arbitrator.
Judges have vast discretion; frequently, that discretion is exercised based upon the personal values, biases, and upbringing of a particular judge. Principles of matrimonial law are general and broad enough that they can accommodate many diverse personal values. In other words, the same facts presented exactly the same way to two different judges may result in two different decisions, both of which might be sustained on appeal.
Consequently, the more you can keep control of the case and make your own decisions, the better off you are likely to be. Of course, there are some cases where the voice of reason is unilateral; one party understands what is appropriate and the other does not care. In those cases, you have no choice but to prepare thoroughly and carefully and to present your case to a judge.
John E. Finnerty, Jr., Esq. is the senior partner of Finnerty, Canda & Drisgula, P.C. in Fairlawn, New Jersey. He is a certified matrimonial-law attorney and the former chair of the family law section of the NJ State Bar Association. Finnerty has received the Saul Tischler Award in recognition of his contributions to the development of family law in NJ over a lifetime.