The ins and outs of the legal system
Part one: Civil court
The legal system is unfamiliar to most of us, and if we must “go to court,” whatever the reason, we most likely will feel anxious. The system, though supposed to be “fair” and pick out “the truth” and make rulings that are consistent with those things, doesn’t always work that way. It is an adversarial system where each side has a say in what evidence is presented, and the judge decides which evidence is admissible. It doesn’t matter if it is a CIVIL action or a CRIMINAL action.
In Civil litigation, one party sues another for some form of wrong, or “tort” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tort you might sue or be sued over a debt, or a doctor be sued over an instance of malpractice. Civil litigation can include any “wrong” that is not criminal. It can also include “class action suits” where many people have been wronged by the same person or company, such as a drug that causes some damage. Frequently civil litigation concerns domestic disputes, divorce, custody, asset allocation, etc.
A victim of a crime can also sue, in Civil court, the person who committed the act for which they were tried in criminal court. The family of Nichole Simpson sued and won a “wrongful death” suit against O. J. even though he was acquitted in the criminal trial. However, I don’t think they ever received any money from this judgment. Keep in mind, you may get a “judgment” against someone, but they may not have the money to pay it, may file bankruptcy to cancel it, or simply may hide assets. It is up to you to collect on this judgment. The court will not do it for you.
Regardless of what legal action you’re facing, courtroom drama/trauma and the anxiety that surrounds it is manageable, and survivable. Whether you are attempting to collect a loan in Civil Court from someone that simply used your good intentions for their own purposes.
Keep in mind to that unless you qualify by extreme poverty, you will have to pay an attorney in a criminal conviction, but if poor may qualify for a publicly paid defender attorney. The quality of these varies of course.
In civil litigation, you may in a “small claims court” represent yourself without an attorney, these courts are usually limited in the amount of money you can sue for. In my state it is $5,000 but I have been successful in these courts several times. Normally though in anything except “small claims” court you must pay your own attorney or represent yourself which is a dicey prospect unless you are well versed in the law yourself. Or in some civil courts you may find an attorney that will sue for you for a part of the winnings if the case is won, this is usually 30 to 35% of the judgment, but many times in a big case, it is the only choice as you can’t afford $100’s of thousands of dollars infees or other costs, plus an attorney. This is called contingency representation, like for car wreck or other “deep pockets” defendants.
Civil actions, such as divorce, family court custody/visitation, collection of debts, or lawsuits, are based upon a “Preponderance Of Evidence,” which simply translates into documentation. Document, document, document. If your civil action involves finances, collect and copy every receipt, every notice, and every communication, even if you have to take time off from work to do it. Do the legwork to secure and copy documentation. Your attorney may do the legwork to collect all documentation, but it’s going to cost you. In my case, I contacted my investment company and secured documentation that reflected gross fraud and forgeries, and this would have cost me hundreds of dollars if I had asked the attorney to do it for me. This also gave me a clear understanding of precisely what I had been married to and helped me to realize that I had done nothing to deserve what had happened.
If you sue for a damage done to you, you must show that you were actually HARMED either by accident or on purpose by the action of the other party whom you are suing for damages.
CUSTODY and DIVORCE
In situations of custody battles, we may “know” all about the non-custodial (or, custodial) parent, but we cannot insure that anyone is going to hear our concerns, our experiences, or our feelings. This is what the attorney’s job is: to listen, guide, and help their clients process the worst of the worst, and to work within the parameters of the Law. Period. There is no “Handbook” for those who work and live outside of the Legal System that can prepare us for the absurdity of many of its aspects, so understanding and accepting that there exists “What Should Be” and “What Is,” and that the two rarely ever cross paths is 90% of the battle.
Understand this: involving Social Services or Child Protective Services in a custody/visitation matter can be a double-edged sword, especially if you’re dealing with a toxic or disordered parent. These agency employees are human beings with human flaws and strengths, and many of them are so utterly swamped by their case-loads that they often have difficulty seeing the truth from fiction in a hotly debated custody battle. Many times women who allege that their partner has sexually molested the children find that they are not believed and the child(ren) are awarded to the abusive parent. Also some people allege that abuse has happened when it has not happened. The court has to decide on its best judgment and that is not always correct. Children are allowed visitation with parents who have threatened to kill them, and over the protest of the nurturing parent, and when the abusive parent gets his or her hands on them, they follow through on the threat.
The “Do’s and Don’ts” in all legal matters:
- DO remember to take care of your emotional, physical, spiritual, medical, and nutritional needs, first – regardless of the action, you will not emerge from your experiences “unchanged,” but you have a far better opportunity to emerge from them carrying understanding and strength if you attend to your own needs first
- DO seek counseling therapy if you are finding that you are overcome and overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, and fear even long after the legal matter has been settled
- DO maintain your courage and dignity, at all times – you did nothing to deserve what happened, whether it was a divorce action or date-rape, and your dignity, decorum, and courage will shout louder than any human voice possibly could
- DO NOT attempt to predict the outcome of any legal action – doing so is a catalyst for extreme anxiety and depression
- DO NOT allow fear or being perceived as a “bad” person to influence your choices, decisions, or testimony in any legal matter. Whether you are testifying to a robbery, or you are trying to settle a divorce, “feelings are not facts,” and speaking truthfully during testimony or fighting for what you are entitled to in equitable distribution does not make you a “bad” person
- DO NOT expect others to understand, appreciate, or accept your situation, outside of the courtroom. Leave family, friends, and children out of all discussion, especially children involved in custody/visitation issues – yes, talk about it if people are genuinely concerned, but keep details to yourself and share them with your counselor and those few others that “get it”
The DOS and DON’TS in Civil Litigation
- DO remember that you were victimized and to be gentle with yourself
- DO expect to experience depression, anxiety and even Post Traumatic symptoms and speak with your primary care physician about your experience(s) – symptoms include insomnia or changes in sleep habits, hyper-vigilance, changes in eating habits, migraine headaches, onset of obsessive/compulsive behaviors, inappropriate anger or rage, or inexplicable fear
- DO accept every resource available to you and disallow shame or guilt to enter this equation – there are many resources available, and it’s not “wrong” or “bad” to accept help
- DO expect a Defense Attorney to question your character, your past, and to blame you for the choices that their client made – this is typical, and it is outrageous, but it is allowable, so visit your counselor as often as you are able in the weeks prior to, during, and after trial to prepare for, and process these events
- DO NOT rant or rave directly to the defendant – sort out as much of the anger, rage, and fear that you can prior to, during, and after trial
- DO NOT feel that you cannot cry, weep, sob, or express emotion during testimony, but keep anger and rage out of your testimony as per the Prosecuting Attorney’s preparations
- Don’t count on disappointment, but be prepared in the event that a case doesn’t pan out and your counseling therapist will help you to prepare for this possibility
- DO NOT speak to friends or family members of the other party, under any circumstances, and
- DO NOT stop your counseling until your therapist has determined that you are ready – too often, victims believe that “it’s over” when the trial is concluded, and that is typically when Post Traumatic symptoms can develop into PSTD
- DO NOT let the acts of an offender define who you will be, for the rest of your life – remember that you are priceless and unique in this vast Universe, and that you will recover and heal from your experiences, in due time
Legal matters, regardless of whether they are Civil or Criminal, can test the tensile strength of our very souls, and, many times, those souls are shattered when they experience courtroom drama/trauma that are compounded by the impact of betrayals. The Law is never “fair,” and tragically often, falls short of what is even “right.” But, we need to understand and accept that the Legal System is not based upon feelings or emotions, and though we see courtrooms in movies and on television as places where emotional pleas are met with sound and reasoned judgments, this is simply not true. Courtrooms are and endless conga-line of tragedies and dramas that we simply cannot imagine hearing on a daily basis, and common sense is often absent in many matters. We have no control over this truth — we cannot control what perception a Judge will have, what will be done, said, or how any given matter will be resolved. But, we do most certainly have control over our own actions, thoughts, and beliefs, and we can adjust ourselves to accept how those proverbial dice will roll out. When we come to that place of “acceptance,” we have the ability to wade through the cesspool, with the help and guidance and the support and encouragement of those who truly “get it,” to the other side. We are not required or obligated to go it alone, without support, and bearing the shame that is generated by the choices and actions of someone else. Once we climb out of that foul bog, we rinse ourselves clean and hold the lessons that we’ve learned close and repair our boundaries to be high, thick, and strong.
Whether or not you have a strong set of religious or spiritual beliefs, know that “Karma” does, indeed, exist outside of any and every legal action. Good cannot exist without evil, and bad deeds cannot be done without a day of reckoning. Whether it’s at the Gates Of Heaven, or inside prison walls, an atonement is required by the Universe and a balance is set in order. We don’t necessarily need to know when (or, if) this occurs, because we are rebuilding ourselves and our boundaries to be at peace, to be vigilant, and to heal.