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The UCCJEA: Overcoming Judicial Inexperience

Even though most jurisdictions divorce and child custody cases are handled by judges who only preside over those matters, most judges are surprisingly unfamiliar with the Illinois Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”). This is because most judges have very few UCCJEA cases in their entire careers.

How Experienced are Judges with the UCCJEA?

Many judges in Illinois have very little experience employing the Illinois UCCJEA. For instance, consider this random sample of four judges in Cook County, Illinois. One judge, who previously practiced in a different area of law, sat on the bench for more than a year and a half before being involved in a merely preliminary Illinois UCCJEA matter. Another judge, who had been on the bench for more than a decade, had one case in first half of 2010, and a previous case approximately in approximately 2002 – eight years earlier. Yet another judge, on the bench for almost 20 years, could not remember having a UCCJEA case – though it’s unclear whether or not she actually had a UCCJEA case. A fourth judge, who had been on the bench for about 16 years, said she last had a UCCJEA case around 2000 – though a researcher who worked for the judge during 2009 said the judge had several UCCJEA cases during that time. In sum, judges in the largest court system in the country tend not to have more than two UCCJEA cases per decade – and sometimes don’t even remember them.

Problems with Judicial Inexperience with the UCCJEA

There are several problems with judicial inexperience with the UCCJEA. most of them, not surprisingly, cause additional litigation costs. For instance:

  1. Attorneys will receive less guidance from the judge as to what she expects them to address
  2. Attorneys will spend more time talking amongst themselves regarding the proper issues to litigate
  3. Inexperienced judges are more easily persuaded by judges from other jurisdictions to make findings and rule in ways that are actually contrary to the law in their own jurisdiction
  4. Attorneys will spend more time arguing in court
  5. Attorneys will spend more time writing motions and other documents arguing your case
  6. Attorneys that either are ignorant of the UCCJEA or purposefully trying to mislead the judge will cause additional investment in education and persuading the judge