As an attorney, I’m in court a lot. Most weeks I scarcely go two days without going to court. It’s what I do. I go to court to help my clients achieve their ends, whether it’s adopting a child whose parents have been terminated, protecting a child from abuse or neglect, establishing more child support for a stay-at-home mom, or helping a father get time with a child whose mother has been in hiding.
Whatever the situation, my primary job is to advocate for my clients in court. The end result of all this time in court? A stack of papers signed by a judge…something we call a court order.
Parents, grandparents, caregivers get this stack of paper and sometimes wonder: that’s it, all this time and money and I get a stack of papers? Yes, that is it. My efforts lead to a court order, and that’s it. But this is no ordinary stack of papers.
What is in a court order?
Your court order is a stack of papers defining your powers and responsibilities to your child or children. It sets out your legal rights and obligations. Rights like getting your child on set days, at set times, at a set exchange spot. Rights to receive child support of a set amount at set intervals. Rights to make important decisions as wide-ranging as consenting to marriage, consenting to risky surgeries, and consenting to educational decisions like playing high school football. Whatever it is, it’s all in your court order.
And your court order is extraordinary in that it’s backed by the legal system. If your child’s baby momma doesn’t pay child support, denies you possession of your children or violates other terms of the court order, you can file a motion for enforcement. Baby momma can be penalized for non-compliance and be forced to pay for your attorney’s fees, be put on probation and even jailed. No contract or agreement has the government’s backing quite like a court order.
Are court orders required?
A court order is important. But is it always necessary to obtain a court order? No. In fact, I’ve advised and will continue to advise prospective clients that a court order isn’t always needed for their specific situations. You need a divorce decree to be divorced, you need a court order to establish paternity (that you are the father) in certain cases, you need an order to terminate a parent’s rights, and an order to adopt.
Indeed, in the vast majority of cases a court order is not merely desirable but necessary to achieve your ends. But you might not need a court order when you and the other parent are cooperating. You might not need a court order when you are getting the financial support you desire from the other parent.
It’s important to consult with an attorney if you are in doubt. While obtaining a court order is usually desired or necessary, my advice might surprise you. There could be more cons to litigation than pros… in your situation. But as always, each situation is unique and there is no substitute for an attorney’s advice.
Attorneys are uniquely situated. They know, more than anyone, the pros and cons of litigation. Thus, they can be the strongest advocates for litigation, but also the most reliable advocate against litigation.
Abraham Lincoln, one of the most famous of attorneys and a strong advocate against litigation, implored the public:
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.