I understand that most of the time the man in divorce/custody cases are (usually) legitimately to blame, and are looking to litigate for the sole purpose of causing his former spouse pain, with little regard for the damage to children. I’m also aware that’s why legislation is written the way it is, although it seems to be swinging back in a more fair direction the last decade. For these reasons, I can of course sympathize with an organization like NOW’s perception that John Phillips is partial to men whenever he rules in their favor (maybe because he tries to irrationally balance out the lopsided outcomes of most family law cases?). I don’t know. My feelings about sexism intertwined with family law do not influence the insane outcome of the 20 minutes I spent in John Phillips’ presence.
My experience is neither on record, nor was Phillips assigned to my case. This event is also several years old. After my divorce was finalized, my ex-wife’s behavior became increasingly erratic and included intensive substance abuse; the custody dispute began soon after. Initially I had an average of 3 days per week with my children, and was trying to either get my ex-wife put into a rehabilitation program or full custody of my children to get them out of the situation.
Whenever I see statements like the ones immediately above, I get skeptical and cynical. When you hear stories of divorced people, it seems they were married to the most awful, abusive and psychotic people possible. People never take responsibility for their own personal failings, or flat-out lie about their former spouse’s actions because they want sympathy or attention. This is one of the rare occasions where rants about a former spouse are 100% objectively true. I won’t waste your time explaining my ex-wife’s every problem in detail (because it’s totally out of scope and irrelevant), but as an indicator, 6 years ago she received nearly a million dollars in the divorce, and she’s now destitute, living with people she met on the internet and has a thick file with Florida DCF, mostly resulting from her multiple drug overdoses. My kids, now teenagers, have combined for 4 failed grades, two 3rd degree felony arrests and 175 lbs. of excess body weight since I had to give up custody. My point, in short, is that if my original requests were not in the child’s best interest, the evidence was obviously at least worth a look.
At the onset of the trial, our judge (not Phillips) expressed his displeasure that both parties opted out of mediation, but gleefully informed us that Judge John Phillips had some spare time to perform that function immediately. In about 10 minutes we were in front of Phillips for “mediation”. Twenty-six seconds (yes, I timed it) into his opening diatribe, I could tell the result would not be in my favor. He ranted forth about the ongoing litigation (many motions flying back and forth). He went on about how lousy parents put their kids through this. He only paused to berate my lawyer and I, claiming I was smiling (there was nothing to smile about). “You think this is funny?” he asked about my definitively unsmiling stunned expression. So it was, I suppose. He condescendingly marveled at the request, saying “you’re asking for full custody, the atom bomb of family law aggression.”
He started laying into my attorney, asking rather rhetorically what evidence he had. We had a very large amount of evidence: teachers notes, psychologist testimony, eight witnesses (including a Royal Palm Beach cop called to one of my ex-wife’s drunken rampages). My attorney began an overview. “The daughter attempted suicide…” my attorney began before being cut off by Phillips.
“Of course she tried to commit suicide. This is a stressful time for kids. What else you got?”
“There’s the substance abuse of the…” my attorney futilely started.
“Yeah, that doesn’t matter. What else?”
It was apparent that Phillips had no interest in any evidence in the case whatsoever. He had a point to make. Judges must watch a lot of Judge Judy, this one especially, because the interest seemed to be more in making belittling comments and feigning a personal affront to my presence than to actually looking at the case. I understand that many custody cases are unnecessary and vindictive, but I didn’t think that was an excuse to systematically dismiss all cases on the docket as frivolous.
After hearing a point or two about why we were there from my attorney, I guess only to supply some theatre for Phillips, the judge said he believed this was definitely a Rosen v Rosen instance. He was going to recommend to our judge to make an example of me and ding me for my ex-wife’s attorney fees “and as much more as he could get away with.” Having made his message clear, he left the courtroom so we could try to negotiate a “settlement”.
Of course, the only thing to settle was how much I was to pay opposing counsel. That’s what ended up being in the children’s best interest. Phillips returned a short time later to ask if we had reached a settlement. Once he’d been told that we had, he changed into a different person. He became an irritatingly sage old judge that dispensed wisdom about the tragedy of divorce and thanked the “fine lawyers like the ones before him” to help ease the process. Was he being overtly sarcastic or just schizophrenic? I was too shell-shocked to tell.
A few minutes later we were back in front of our judge, who proceeded to commend us for reaching an agreement. Sarcastic? Still too stunned to tell.
Six months after that my ex-wife filed a motion to get full custody from me, which I, now saddled with debt owed her lawyer, freely gave up, being too gun-shy to fight. The kids’ story disintegrated from that point, as expected, and now they live in another state amongst drug dealers and an ever-turning carousel of their mother’s sometimes violent drug friends. Best interests, you know.
I know this is too old and too undocumented (except for the total collapse of my ex-wife) to officially pile on to the mountain of damage Judge Phillips has done to society. If you got a petition, I’ll sign it. If there’s a protest, I’ll show up. I don’t want revenge. Too much time has passed. If there’s anything I can do to prevent this guy from endangering any more children as a cost of inflating his own weird ego, I’ll do it.