What do you do if both parents have moved from the county where a divorce action is pending, and you don’t like the assigned judge? You try to move the case to another court. The father in Chacon v. Chacon did not succeed in an effort to move his case.
Both parents in Chacon were West Point graduates and veterans. They had 2 children, and one more on the way, when the wife filed to dissolve the marriage in Creek County, Oklahoma, where they lived. The parties entered an agreed temporary order giving wife custody of the children, and setting specified time for father to spend with the kids. Three months later, husband filed a motion to modify the temporary order in Creek County. Mother wanted to relocate to Pennsylvania to be close to her family, and return to school. After a hearing, the trial judge allowed mother to relocate to Pennsylvania with the children. The parents agreed to a modified parenting time schedule.
After mother and the kids moved to Pennsylvania, father moved in with his girlfriend in Pittsburg County. Six months after the relocation order, father filed a motion to transfer venue, that is, move the case to Pittsburg County, as everyone had moved from Creek County. Mother responded that father was forum shopping, and had waived any objection to venue by participating in the case to this point. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing.
The matter went to trial in front of the original judge. That judge entered final orders granting mother custody, ordering supervised visitation for the father, dividing marital property, and awarding wife support alimony. In ordering supervised visits, the court cited father’s failure to follow court orders while the case was pending. The Court found father’s conduct particularly unacceptable in light of “his West Point training to follow orders.”
Before a hearing on wife’s request for attorneys fees, father asked the trial judge to recuse, or step aside from the case. The trial judge denied that request, and awarded wife a substantial attorneys fee award. Father appealed.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held the trial court properly denied the change of venue. The opinion states that father waived any objection to venue by participating in the case, and asking for affirmative relief in Creek County. The appellate court did lift the requirement for supervised visitation. It affirmed the trial court in all other respects, and granted wife’s request for appeal-related attorney fees and costs.
Judges have a lot of discretion to decide cases before them. This father felt the trial judge was prejudiced against him. A series of adverse rulings does not by itself provide grounds to change judges, or to remove a judge from your case. However a judge feels toward you, and however you feel toward the judge, it is never a good idea to fail or refuse to follow the judge’s orders.
by David Tracy