As I write this blog, the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” is all the rage. I, too, got sucked in, and watched all ten episodes. It is a fascinating, true-life story. It is also very eye-opening in how it sheds light on the fact that maybe not everything is as the legal system perceives it to be.
Watching the documentary from the perspective of a divorce lawyer, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels to family court. Despite the fact that Steven Avery was exonerated after 18 years for a crime he did not commit, he still had a target on his back. He still had a reputation. He still was perceived as a bad guy. Even after DNA evidence conclusively established that someone else committed the crime, law enforcement officers still expressed doubt about his innocence. No matter what he did, there was no way that he could shake that reputation.
The same thing can happen in family court. Judges, custody evaluators, and Guardians ad Litem are human beings. They are not robots. They form opinions about people the same way that you and I do. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. If someone in the legal system forms a bad opinion about you, for whatever reason, that can be difficult, if not impossible, to shake.
So, what can be done about this? The simple answer is to always be on your best behavior and don’t give anyone any reason to form a bad opinion about you. But that’s not very realistic. No one is perfect. We all engage in behavior at some time or another that we probably aren’t very proud of. And divorce tends to bring out the worst in people.
The best advice is probably to recognize that the legal system is not perfect. It is run by human beings. And it is human nature to form opinions about people. Ask yourself (or your lawyer) how you are perceived by the Judge. Judges have a great deal of discretion in deciding family court matters. Remember this, and consider your reputation (fair or not), in deciding whether you want to have a Judge decide your fate.
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