The importance of Rhode Island Family Court Orders can't be emphasized enough. It has often been said, "a court speaks through its Orders." Though Orders in a divorce or family law matter often summarize the majority of information contained "on the record" of the court (i.e. transcribed in real-time by the family court stenographer) this quotation carries substantial truth.
Each time a divorce or family court matter is brought before a Rhode Island Judge designated to address that matter, the Judge almost universally checks the file, reviews the docket sheet and looks at the Orders entered in the matter to tell the story or the history of what has taken place before the particular matter is heard.
Thus, the importance of the wording of the Orders becomes even more significant because once an Order is entered, its language will tell the Judge not only the history of the case but it will tell the Judge the posture of the parties.
Here's where you or your attorney need to be on your guard when reviewing a proposed order or proposing an order in your case. You should review a proposed order carefully for wording and/or distortions that may look your position look less positive. You should also look for language that is slipped into an Order because it may have been discussed but not agreed upon or the Judge was less than definitive on in his or her ruling.
Typical Examples you may run across might be as follows:
The attorneys have a chamber's conference with the Judge to try to narrow and resolve some issues and agree to bring various offers to their clients to consider. The clients then approve the agreed upon terms and the attorneys confirm for the other attorneys and the judge that the terms are agreeable.
Then comes the scrutiny of the Order. A proposed Order comes in from an opposing party and it states that "after hearing thereon, and by agreement of the parties, the following is Ordered, Adjudged and Decreed."
In this instance your eyes should gravitate to the words "after hearing thereon". Why? Because there was NO HEARING. A hearing presumes either oral argument on the record of the court or a full hearing with live testimony on the witness stand. This did not occur here and a judge who is reviewing the file will assume that arguments were made by the parties or that testimony was taken, either of which justified the entry of the Order by the judge. This gives the judge a substantially different picture of the circumstances surrounding the entry of the Order than if the Order simply stated "by agreement of the parties." Strive for accuracy and as much positive language you can include that supports your position as possible.
In another instance let's say there is a hearing on placement with live testimony before a judge and the judge Orders on the record that placement is temporarily ordered to be with the Plaintiff for a period of 90 days. However, the proposed Order arrives from the opposing counsel and it states in Paragraphs 1 and 2:
1) Plaintiff is awarded placement of the minor child, Constance.
2) The court will review placement of the minor child on May 14, 2008.
Assume you represent the defendant or that you are the defendant. What's the problem here?
First, there is no mention that the Plaintiff is temporarily awarded placement of the minor child. The difference is that temporary placement implies that the Defendant previously had placement of the minor child. Without including the word "temporary" the Judge does not know or may not look to see how long the Defendant had placement of the the child or why. In fact, without that word, a judge might be inclined to see that as a non-issue in the case and not allow you to address it before the court, placing you at a disadvantage to your case.
Second, a careful reading of the the proposed order to be entered in the Rhode Island Placement file may cite May 14, 2008 which may, in fact, be the 90th day for review, but again, this is NOT what the judge ordered. The judge did not specify May 14th. Therefore, if you don't catch it, an order may enter either by agreement or after hearing that does not reflect the 90 day limitation on the temporary placement, just as an order after hearing is much different than a Consent Order where the parties agree to a 90 day period to test the situation.
The language of Orders can make or break your case simply because you or your attorney did not pay close enough attention to the details.
The Devil is in the Details! Ask your attorney to send you each proposed Order before it's entered if you are at all concerned because the issue is crucial to your case.
My Point? Consider every order carefully! The Judge will! Shouldn't you be twice as careful?
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Copyright 2008 - Christopher A. Pearsall and Pearsall Law Associates (All Rights Reserved.)