United States: Must Courts Decide Everything?

Today a news outlet called NJ.com reported a recent 37 page decision by a New Jersey trial court adjudicating the question of whether a Father had legal authority to stop the mother of his eleven year old daughter  from taking the child to a concert by the singer-songwriter Alecia Beth Moore. Ms. Moore is known primarily through her stage name "Pink."

In case the suspense is overwhelming, indeed the 11 year old did secure judicial consent to attend her first rock concert in Newark, NJ. It appears that this decision may have come a year ago, but has now been deemed newsworthy.

The more challenging question is whether Courts ever have a right to "just say no" to every parental controversy that comes down the pike. Those familiar with the procedural laws governing child custody matters know the rules are stacked in favor of holding hearings on every controversy, no matter how small.  At this time of year, the subjects du jour are fights over summer camp and vacation schedules. Come August, children who have spent significant time with non-custodial parents will profess that they don't want to return to the primary custodian.  And from November 1 through to December 23, courts will see the primary focus of their work become just how to balance Thanksgiving, Christmas and mid-winter recess holidays."

Next year's budget is still in limbo but the Pennsylvania Courts are asking for $350,000,000 and the governor is proposing about $320,000,000.  Each year, there is more and more demand for "efficiency" in the judicial system. But how can one quest for efficiency in a world where an elected official sitting as a judge must pour over the lyrics of a middle aged rock star to assess whether the minor will be corrupted by hearing those lyrics in melodic form at 100+ decibels.  Pennsylvania judges, without support staff, cost about $4,000 a week or roughly $100 an hour. Is every issue worthy of those kinds of resources? And are we making good use of legal talent and training to decide whether the transition on Christmas Day should be at noon or six o'clock. Should the mother or father who wants to relocate to another state to pursue a job opportunity or care for a dying relative have to wait in line for their day in court while judges hear these issues? Should the taxpayer be asked to underwrite the cost of having a Court evaluate whether "Pink" is too raunchy and/or too loud for an eleven year old to experience? Our world is filled with some very serious problems. We are told our government resources to address those problems are limited. Are some of these matters really problems?

Realize that courts cannot be the unsupervised monitors of their own caseloads. This invites judges to dodge questions of importance because they are either uninteresting or difficult. But if trial courts refused a case on the basis that it was not worthy of judicial consideration, there should be a right to immediate appeal with the sole question being: "Is this truly a legal case or controversy?"  Certainly appellate courts would give wide berth to trial courts to consider matters where adjudication is "needed." But courts were not created to act as substitute parents and taxpayers should not be asked to underwrite trials devoted to assessing whether "Pink" is a worthy cultural experience or an auditory menace. If two loving parents cannot manage that decision on an agreeable basis, let them pay an arbitrator to do the right thing without burden to jurists or taxpayers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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