The Best and Worst of 2009 in Arizona Family Law

by Annette Burns on December 30, 2009

Everyone else is publishing lists.  Here are my rants and raves to bring this year to a close.

Best Correction of an Earlier Mistake

East v. Matthews is depublished by Order of the Arizona Supreme Court.  This Court of Appeals’ decision had decreed that in a child support case involving unmarried parents who had never lived together that the “standard of living that the child would have enjoyed had the parents lived together” was a relevant factor in the court’s determination of child support.  

The unfortunately published opinion instructed trial courts to create a fiction (parents who never created a standard of living together in the first place cannot have one if they “stay” together) and based child support on that fiction.   While the Supreme Court did not reverse the ruling for that case itself, the depublication of the opinion at least limited the damage to that particular case, and ended the possibility that that ridiculous argument will be made in cases involving other parents who never created a lifestyle or standard of living together.

Best reason to be a family court judge now.   

The battle raging between Maricopa County criminal department judges and the county attorneys’ office suddenly has judges asking to be on the family court assignment, or happy to remain there.

Worst prediction about how the economy will affect a family law attorney’s work. 

The predicted downturn in divorce filings has probably happened, due to the recession, but it hasn’t affected the workload of attorneys handling the highest of high conflict cases.    If anything, the level of conflict has increased.   Added to the mix is the question of whether it’s effective for a litigant to try and challenge final decrees, property settlement agreements, or Rule 69 agreements that were entered into before the economy collapsed.  The answer is probably no, but significant money is still being spent trying.

Best Judge get-together

The Judge’s panel held at the Orangetree Resort on October 16 was the best judge get-together in recent memory.   The judges offered good and timely information, and welcomed questions and feedback from the (very large) attorney audience.  So when are the family department lunch meetings (brown bags, etc.) going to restart, so we can have that experience with our judges more often?

Worst decision for the family court’s relationship with mental health professionals.

The decision to cancel the annual orientation and update for mental health professionals who want to work in the family court system was ill-advised.   The update is usually held in December of each year, and was a longtime requirement for a mental health professional to appear on the court roster in order to be appointed as a custody evaluator, parenting coordinator, or therapist.   With no session in December 2009, I question how new mental health professionals will get onto the roster, at a time when many of them are looking for work and new sources of income.    New guidelines, standards of practice, and research that affect these areas of practice are coming out continuously, and I’m wondering how Maricopa County can assure that the professionals assigned by the court are up to date on new developments, without this mandatory annual session.

Best contributions of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Arizona.

The Family Law Section has provided periodic case law updates with appellate decisions, and those case updates are very helpful to Section members.     The Section’s newsletter is outstanding in terms of articles as well as visual pop.  But why did the Section see fit to re-print the case law updates (already periodically emailed) in the newsletter?   It made the newsletter an unwieldy 42 pages by just repeating information we already had.

Best Way to Find a Case.

Google Scholar has been around awhile, but only in 2009 did it start emphasizing legal research.  Now it’s a cinch to find a needed case, fast and free.    No, it’s not intensive and complex legal research (or if it is, I simply haven’t tried that part yet), but it’s an unbelievably convenient way to find cases I consistently need, including internal links to related cases.

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