Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kentucky Nixes Arbitration in Family Law, As, Among Other Things, Classist?

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has held that an agreement to submit all or a portion of a family law dispute to binding arbitration, without independent review by a sitting "real" judge, is an impermissible delegation of the court's power.

Among the more notable comments the court made, however, was the following, made without any citation of further authority:

Notwithstanding that the parties agreed to pay the arbitrator fees, what is most distressing about this scenario is that arbitration is obviously not a viable alternative or available to parties with lower incomes who can not afford to pay an arbitrator the sum of $225 per hour. This effectively creates a class system within Jefferson Family Court proceedings where more affluent individuals have the opportunity to pay for a “private judge” to conduct their proceedings – while
parties of lesser means and income must have their case heard by constitutionally elected judges in perhaps a less expeditious time frame.

Regardless of how noble
the intent of utilizing arbitration in divorce proceedings, such a system that permits affluent individuals the opportunity to expedite the disposition of their domestic
relations cases in family court that is otherwise unavailable or cost prohibitive to persons of lesser incomes, appears to be both unconscionable and unconstitutional on its face, in our opinion.

Now I know, from reading the rest of the opinion, that commercial arbitration is permissible in Kentucky, and I'll bet that, whether they know it or not, Kentucky bank customers, HMO patients, customers of real estate brokers, and lots of other folks have entered into arbitration agreements regarding the services of those providers, just like their California cousins.

I also know that there are a significant number of folks in Kentucky who end up going to family court without a lawyer, because they can't afford to hire a lawyer. I'll also guess that in general, they don't do as good a job in presenting their cases as attorneys would have done for them.

So, seems to me, there's a "class system" in place already. It also seems to me that if litigant couples have the resources and the mutual willingness to take their cases "out of the system" to an arbitrator, mediator, psychologist, clergyperson, or even a guy who'll adjudicate their dispute using a Ouija Board, this actually works to free up scarce judicial system resources for everyone else.

Am I missing something?

A tip of the big grey fedora to Diana L. Skaggs of Kentucky for the pointer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Custody and Religion, Again.

A Chicago court may be about to jail (link repaired, see also here and here ) a law student/parent for taking his child to church in what seems, from the interview he gave, to be a clear and deliberate violation of a court order.

While a California court would clearly not make a similar order, the manner in which the issue arose here raises a couple of interesting questions:

To what extent can/should a court in a custody case consider, or attempt to govern, conduct of a parent which, without context, is pretty clearly within that parent's core Constitutional rights (whether it's this case, or publishing the details of the custody litigation on a blog, or saying critical things in a public forum about the other parent, or the parent who named his kid "Adolph Hitler") but is actually done in a manner which is clearly calculated to have an impact on the other parent, or at least is reasonably foreseeable to have a substantially unfavorable impact on the child?

You'll note, if you read the story, that Mr. Reyes took his three-year-old daughter to church with a television news crew in tow.

Is parental selfishness, or even plain bone-headedness or vindictiveness, entitled to additional protection if it occurs in the context of parent's exercise of a protected constitutional right?