With many years as a custody lawyer in Denver under my belt, I have come to draw certain assumptions about the law, the court system, and how things work. Most family law attorneys use those assumptions, which are formulated with experience, legal knowledge, and a keen sense of each court, to guide them in their representation of their clients. However, as in any profession, from time to time, an attorney may hear of situations or outcomes that go against what those years of experience tell them.
In the last two weeks, I have heard of two similar Denver area custody cases, in two metropolitan area counties, with almost idential facts and two widely different outcomes. Though one might think the law is the law and the facts are the facts, the reality is that each case can be decided based solely on the specific court or judge's beliefs, perspective, and perception of the law. Though this is a fact I have known for sometime, I still try to believe that the law is the law and the facts are the facts. I guess I am the eternal optimist. I have written at least one blog posting regardng the subjectivity a court can bring to a family law case. Below, I will use the fact patterns of the two cases I heard about to give a real life example to my readers.
Before getting into each fact pattern, I will let you know that the court's, counties, and judges will not be divulged. Likewise, specifics will be altered. The gist of each scenario will not.
In the first case I heard about, the father of a child had left the state of Colorado with that child, roughly 5 months before the case was filed, and had taken the child to California. In that case, the mother had filed a Denver area custody case around the time of the fifth month. Along with the filing of the petition, the mother also filed an emergency motion indicating that father had fled with the child, concealed his whereabouts, and denied any contact. In that case, the court granted mother's emergency motion and entered an order granting mother custody and authorizing the issuance of papers for mother to retrieve the child, with the assistance of law enforcement, in California. Mother's emergency motion indicated that the child was in "emotional danger" based on being removed from Colorado and her presence. In this instance, the court granted the motion "ex parte," meaning without having heard from father. Father, upon being served with the petition and the motion, roughly two weeks later, contacted an attorney to deal with the issue. As part of the process, father filed an emergency motion of his own, indicating that he had left Colorado based on a pattern of domestic violence, had provided mother information where he was, has received mail from mother during the time in question, and had in no way concealed his presence. In scenario one, the court did not care and ordered the child returned to Colorado and mother's temporary custody.
In the other case, in a completely different county, the father left Colorado with the children, for New York, roughly a week before mother filed her custody case. In addition to the filing of the petition, mother filed an emergency motion, which contained similar language to the emergency motion filed in scenario one. In that emergency motion, mother sought an emergency order, ex parte relief, and orders regarding return of the children to Colorado. In scenario two, mother's motion was initially denied becasue father was not yet served with any of the court pleadings. In scenario two, mother filed a second motion upon father being served. In scenario two, the court did not grant mother's emergency custody motion, but rather indicated she could set the matter for a forthwith hearing roughly a month down the road.
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