Courts meant to serve the public.

Byline: Bridgetower Media Newswires

Though I try to discuss new topics in each of my columns, every once in a while, there is something which merits further discussion.

Such is the case with a simple idea: Courts should serve the public. In particular, parties should be allowed to be divorced without the costs and inconvenience of a public court appearance.

Wis. Stats. 767.235(1) requires that "all hearings and trials to determine whether judgment shall be grantedshall be before the court." However, this is a statutory right. Criminal defendants frequently waive their rights to a jury trial, representation by counsel and other important constitutional rights. If a constitutional right can be waived, so can a statutory right.

During the pandemic, several counties allowed parties to waive a personal appearance and get a divorce by submitting the necessary paperwork, including an affidavit specifically waiving this right. The result was magical: Less cost, less pressure, no harm done. For some reason, some counties have either ended or are considering ending this process.

The primary argument for personal appearances is that it allows the court to confirm that the parties knowingly and voluntarily entered into the agreement and that preventing the court from making this assessment in person could lead to problems down the road if one of the parties challenges the agreement. That's possible, but how often does such a challenge ever occur? And in the rare event it does - is it worth the cost which is incurred in all of the other cases?

The cost of a personal appearance is not only the increased attorney fees for traveling, parking and waiting (for a virtual court appearance, an attorney can be doing other work while waiting.) But also, the parties may need to take off of work or find day care. In addition...

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