If you’ve ever had to deal with the idea of a “verbal court order,” you may have ended up scratching your head, wondering how it’s possible that the formal pronouncements of the judge, which happen in such an official setting, can ever be represented orally instead of on paper.
However, with deeper research into the byzantine operations of U.S. law, we find that verbal court orders are indeed, in some rare cases, a thing.
“Here in my area, if the family court made an order and you were present, the order is generally effective the moment it is made,” writes Domestic Violence attorney Gary Sparks in Walnut Creek, CA, in response to an Avvo poster’s questioning of a judge’s verbal order made during a court hearing. “More importantly, by not following the Court’s order, you may hurt yourself at the upcoming custody hearing.”
Here we see evidence of verbal court orders that are done in a court hearing with the involved parties present – and there is a transcript.
However, note that the granting of a “verbal order” is pretty much unheard of even in temporary proceedings that seek to ensure a child’s welfare pending, or replacing, a full trial, as in this guide from Nolo.
If in fact a judge deigns to make some verbal order in the course of a hearing, you’ll see lots of defendants in family courts arguing that verbal orders were vague or inconsistent. In fact, it seems that the judge can also change his or her mind between delivering and or order and then revising it on paper later. Here’s online testimony also on Avvo from a party in a case where a verbal order cast doubt on the outcome:
“My hearing for custody modification was continued because my ex retained an attorney at the last minute. The judge gave a verbal order regarding my child’s residence, and my ex’s attorney stated in court that my ex is willing to do such. This is obviously on the minute order. My attorney submitted the Findings and Order After Hearing documents with this order almost 20 days ago to the opposing attorney. Unfortunately, it has been extremely difficult to have a conversation with my attorney to find out when this order is official and can be enforced, or if it was even signed and filed! I know for certain that this verbal order has been broken and have proof, but I don’t want to file for an emergency temp order unless I know the order will be enforced.”
If this all sounds rather unfair to families involved in family law processes, we concur. Verbal orders should not be part of the legal lexicon.
It gets even more dicey when a verbal order is allegedly made without an involved party present!
Here’s our reporting on the Dale Scheidt case where a Colorado hospital detained a child against the wishes of his parents, citing a verbal court order by a judge as permission.
We have obtained the actual response to legal questioning from a social worker involved:
“Adams County Human Service Department (“ACHSD”) requested a verbal judge’s hold on Friday 5/17/19 which was granted giving ACHSD temporary legal and physical custody of your son. There will be a shelter hearing at Adams County Court House (1100 Judicial Center Dr Brighton CO 80601) on Wednesday 5/22/19 at 1:30PM. We request that you arrive at the court house at 11:30AM to allow time for your to staff with an attorney, fill out paperwork and attend the informational session.”
The catch-22 here is that a family fighting a hospital or other party that is seeking to abduct their child cannot in good faith trust that a judge has given a verbal order if they haven’t heard the judge pronounce that verbal order, and the intervening party has nothing on paper. That’s a ridiculous way to utilize the legal system!
Now, one could argue that if the hospital employees or other parties seeking to detain the child had in fact actually gotten a verbal order from the judge, they are ‘stepping out in faith’ that the judge will then convert that order onto paper – but meanwhile, they are in legal limbo, and the case is at the very least appealable – in a more extreme scenario, these preemptive actors are legally culpable. In other words, if the judge’s verbal order never makes it to paper, the abduction is a criminal act.
You see how tricky this all becomes in a legal sense. At GTKYF, we are committed to the idea that parents have inherent rights to their children’s custody, and that any challenge to that custody should face a high bar of scrutiny. That’s why we’re continuing to put pressure on guilty parties in this case since we’ve learned the facts – that social workers and others conspired to hold Dale Scheidt after treating the child for a minor laceration.
That brings us to the explanation of why we are involved as advocates.
In dealing with any kind of verbal court order at all, many legal experts recommend that those who are pursuing their rights under the law should hire the best lawyer they can find. What’s the problem with that? The problem is the better the lawyer, the more money the client has to pay.
In this case and many other cases around the country, we’re dealing with families with limited income and financial resources, and who may have a limited knowledge of the legal system in this country
Like the priests of old, today’s attorneys translate the psychobabble of law to the layperson. But they don’t do it for free.
Our advocacy exists to help families to access their rights without paying an arm and a leg for skilled counsel. It shouldn’t take a top attorney to apply basic principles of fairness to a case like this where a verbal court order is being abused as a tool of leverage to prevent public scrutiny and to prevent the facts of the case from getting out. We’ll continue to follow this case as it evolves!
This Article was originally published via Farm Fresh Media, 2019 Used with permission.