…and why they should always hire a lawyer.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who felt he got a fair hearing in Shelby County’s Juvenile Court. The complaints are all the same: “the judge didn’t let me speak, they didn’t give me credit for what I paid, the mother lied like crazy and they believed every bit of it,” and so on.
The problem is men just don’t understand what goes on in court and are disastrously unprepared for the hearing. It could be male bravado or simple naiveté, but men seem to think that just telling their side of the story will solve everything and that the judge will understand where he’s coming from if he would just listen. That’s not even remotely true, and most men get screwed in court because of it.
Hearings in Memphis’ Juvenile Court are not conducted by judges but by magistrates appointed by the one Juvenile Court Judge to hear cases on his behalf. Being a magistrate is a pretty lousy job as far as judgeships go. They hear nothing but depressing, awful cases of adults mistreating and neglecting children or simply ignoring their parenting responsibilities. Whatever excuse you think might help your case, the magistrate has already heard it ten thousand times and is not interested in your version. There’s even one magistrate who opens his court sessions by going through the list of common excuses and how he’s not going to listen to them.
There are a wide variety of reasons why men don’t get a fair shake at Juvenile Court for child support and custody, but most reasons can be boiled down to the fact that most men don’t take care of their children or spend nearly as much time raising them as the mothers do. That’s not bias; it’s a fact. You can’t complain that the magistrate didn’t give you any credit for visitation days on the child support worksheet when you haven’t seen your child in three years. Women can go into court and lie about how much money you’ve given them and get away with it because the burden of proof is on you to prove you’ve supported your children. The magistrates are more than a bit cynical and have seen it all, so if you don’t have documented proof of what you’ve paid, it’s like it never happened because legally, it didn’t.
All hope is not lost for men in Juvenile Court, but success only comes when men take extraordinary efforts to protect their rights. If you are facing a case in Juvenile Court, then you need a lawyer to provide you with a solid game plan about how to approach the problem because if you go in there alone with no strategy, you will get screwed. Here are some helpful tips to protect yourself in Juvenile Court:
1. Never Pay a Woman in Cash. Ever. It’s a rare thing to find a woman in the Juvenile Court system that will readily admit receiving cash payments from a man for any reason. Every payment made to her should be by check, money order, or paid through the Child Support Receipting Unit in Nashville. If she asks for money to buy the kids clothes for school, send it to Nashville and let them send her a check.
2. Document Everything. If you don’t have documented proof that something occurred, then it didn’t happen. I’ve heard magistrates order parents to each get a calendar book and mark the days of visitation so there won’t be any confusion or debate as to what happened when. If the mother won’t let you see the children, then get a calendar and record the date and time you went to her home to pick up the children and what she said. If you don’t, she’ll say the last time she saw you was the last time y’all were in court.
3. Get Your Case Started ASAP! The longer you wait to get the child support started with the state, the worse things are going to go for you. The problem is they will retroactively award child support back to the date of the child’s birth, so the longer you wait the worse those arrears are going to be. I once had a consultation with a man who got assessed an arrears judgment of over $70,000.00 because the mother didn’t put him on child support until the child was 17. The law on this issue is insane, but it is what it is. You should want child support to begin the first month of your child’s life.
4. File for a Specific Visitation Order. You would think the court would include visitation orders with child support orders at Juvenile Court, but they don’t. This does happen in divorce proceedings, which makes everything nice and neat, but Juvenile Court is overly bureaucratic and sloppy. If you want to have a regularly scheduled time to see your children that the mother cannot say no to, then you have to file a petition for specific visitation time. This is yet another area where the law needs to be changed to require child support and visitation be combined in a comprehensive parenting plan, but until it does, file for a visitation order.
5. File for a Modification Whenever Your Income Changes. One of the common excuses magistrates will routinely roll their eyes at is that you couldn’t pay your child support because you lost your job. You owe child support in full every month regardless of how much money you make. If you get laid off, then it is your responsibility to file for a modification of child support to lower the obligation. They are not going to go back and let you off the hook because you were too lazy to file one sheet of paper with the clerk’s office. The first thing you should do when you lose your job (after filing for unemployment) is to request a modification of child support so you don’t get behind.
These are just some of the tips and strategies you could learn from your lawyer. If you want to learn more about how to protect your rights or have your case reviewed by a lawyer, don’t hesitate to contact our office today.