My Declaratory Judgment Journey – Part 1

Filing a motion for Declaratory Judgment in Family Court is bound to raise some eyebrows.

Should you go down this path?

I believe every parent should. It’s prudent for your case. I have been going through the destructive Family Court for more than seven years. I have followed the rules and jumped through the hoops. You need to assume that your attorney won’t know how to properly argue the Declaratory Judgment motions. Fortunately, that gives you a huge opportunity to empower yourself and learn this process. Your attorney will be managing other cases and may not have the opportunity to learn more, or your attorney may not bother, under the assumption that this will never materialize anyway, because Family Court judges are so accustomed to ignoring the Constitution, even on a state level. You may not get the support from your attorney that you expect.

Learning about the motions and how to help your attorney:

Although my attorney said “yes” when I approached her to argue this in court for me, I admit I was somewhat crestfallen when she didn’t appear to “get it”. But instead of panicking, I simply educated myself on this topic, even though I felt like I was learning Swahili. Looking back, I’m thankful my attorney couldn’t figure it out, because it put me in a position to learn even more. What choice did I have? Attorneys come and go, but knowledge stays with you forever. And boy, this may become the Swiss Army Knife in Family Court proceedings that parents have been lacking!

Everyone has different learning styles. When watching the Palmers’ Declaratory Judgement motion webinar, I literally absorbed about 8% of everything being spoken about these motions the first time I listened. So I learned by osmosis and repetition. That’s right. I learned by immersing myself in the “language” of constitutionality, and Supreme Court case law, as though I was suddenly transplanted to Tanzania and forced to communicate in Swahili. I was intrigued by this concept of asking a judge what my Constitutional rights are as a fit parent.

I played all the webinars over and over again on a hot summer day in June. Then I went to sleep, woke up, and started the process over. I cooked, cleaned and worked on a painting while listening. For the first time in my life, I learned that the mind knows how to open and learn when you occupy a different part of the brain with mindless tasks like cleaning, and also with more creative tasks like painting.

After a couple of days, I read the motions out loud and recorded my own voice doing so. I played this back, over and over again for a couple more days. Once again, I did this as I worked on my painting. I even listened to it while sleeping once. Knowing that it was up to ME to pull this off, if I didn’t want to get swallowed up by the jaws of Family Court, I had to learn some way, somehow. Afterall:

1. Hoop-jumping was not working.

2. Following court orders to the letter wasn’t working.

I believe I could have won the Nobel Peace Prize and still be a four-day-a-month parent. I knew I had to change direction.

In order to be successful with these motions, I knew that I needed to be informed about what nastiness I could face, and be prepared. The court has tried to intimidate me to drop the motions and has even punished me for insisting that the motions be ruled on. When I refused to have the judge proceed with trial before ruling on the Declaratory Judgment motions, the judge booted my ex and me away from our home courthouse (it may as well be my home, for I have been going there consistently since the Bush administration), and transplanted us to the courthouse reserved for “naughty” parents (aka “high conflict couples”) 40 miles away. I objected to having a trial in the “naughty parent” court without a ruling on the Declaratory Judgement motions. The judge proceeded anyway, stating that she will make a ruling on them after trial is finished. My court can take up to 120 days to return a final ruling, but they have long overstayed their welcome, as I await a ruling on motions that I filed eight months ago: a seemingly simple request from the court to rule on the rights at issue in this case and the protections that the court provides these rights. The court clearly does not want to rule on them. Can you blame them? They know that they have violated my rights and do not want this to be transparent.

Why did I keep insisting on a ruling of these motions?

From what the Palmers have told me, in their words, part of the purpose of these motions is to get the court to declare what rights are at stake and what due process applies to these rights. It is my belief that the current statutes in the state of Connecticut do not have proper guidance in them regarding fundamental rights of fit parents. The Declaratory Judgment is designed to eliminate and/or reduce litigation, which is what I explained to three different judges over my eight month ordeal, ad nauseam. If I could get the court to admit that these are fundamental rights, then I could argue that caselaw has determined that fundamental rights require an adjudication hearing and show cause, before the court can proceed to trial. The court of course has resisted this, and I was forced into trial regardless. Yes, you’ve probably figured out that the court can abuse their power. However, I can now challenge that abuse of power – and these motions have provided me with the protection that I needed to preserve my ability to raise this issue on appeal. That is the strategy I learned from this process.

Do I have any formal legal training?

Now, I have ZERO training in the legal industry. I only knew my own experience in the system, and the collective decomposition of parental rights that others suffered through. But the best tool in which I went into this was common sense. Common sense guided me, and that’s why I even bothered to entertain this unconventional way of standing up for myself in Family Court. Eventually, it all started to tie together nicely. I started explaining things I learned to my attorney. She came up with a lot of rebuttals, which I appreciated. It’s always better to field off rebuttals from your trusted attorney, than a Family Court judge. Soon, my attorney figured it out, and everything clicked. I was so grateful for this!

Can I do this in my state?

As far as I know, all 50 states have statutes for filing a Declaratory Judgment. Find yours, and also learn their definition. You will need it to manage the voluminous objections you may get, especially from the other side, once you are in front of your judge. Also, look up the Declaratory Judgment section in your state’s Practice Book. Have two sources that assure you that you are within your rights to request this. In Connecticut, the statute is §52-29 and the Practice Book section is 17-54&55. Have both the statute and the Practice Book section open. The statute you can print, but the Practice Book you can usually access right there in the courtroom. Just flip to the proper section before the judge enters the court. Judges respect when you read from the book directly, as I have seen.

Good luck!

* The picture above is a photo of me painting my acrylic paint-by-number last summer. The smartphone on the table was tuned into a recording of Ron and Sherry Palmer with Fix Family Courts.