Hidden Tax on Divorcing Couples

Everyone talks about reducing taxes. Congress, the legislature, elected officials, and the man on the street all talk about reducing taxes and government spending. The problem for divorcing couples is that each year the local courts that are supported by state taxes receive proportionately fewer dollars to handle more cases filed by a growing state population. The end result is that there are not enough courtrooms and judges to handle the increasing number of cases filed by divorcing couples. The judges and court personnel work hard, but there are only so many hours in the day.

In Wake County, NC the courts are handling cases faster and faster, but the length of time before a case can be heard is getting longer and longer for cases that require a lengthy hearing. Many times it takes 4 to 7 months to schedule a hearing and frequently the hearing is not held when scheduled because of a crowded court calendar. The case then has to be rescheduled another 4 to 7 months out. There simply is not enough money spent on the court system to make things happen faster.

In response, many lawyers and their clients are using alternative dispute resolution methods to settle cases outside of court. At first this might appear to be more expensive. Usually the parties split the cost of a well-trained mediator to meet with the parties and their lawyers to settle the issues in dispute and reach a written agreement or consent court order. However, because of the relative speed of completing a case using mediation, it frequently is less expensive than using the court system for multiple hearings that may or may not happen when scheduled because of the overcrowded dockets. Resolving all issues in one or two mediation sessions turns out to be much less expensive than going to court.

For more complex cases with difficult legal issues, arbitration is often the best way to resolve disputes and get a resolution similar to a court ruling, but on a faster timetable. In arbitration, the decision-maker is usually a respected family law specialist with years of experience in the courtroom. The arbitrator’s fee is generally split equally between the parties. Once again there is a cost for having a “private judge” hear and rule on your case, but that cost is more than offset by avoiding the long delays and attendant costs of multiple hearings on separate dates in the court system.

It is disappointing to see the judicial system unable to fully perform its traditional role in domestic cases because of underfunding and too much volume, but it is an established fact of life in Wake County and other urban counties across North Carolina. Anyone facing divorce and its related issues should seriously talk with their lawyer about mediation and arbitration as alternatives to a slow and expensive court resolution.