Editor's note: On June 6, the Texas Lawyer editorial department hosted a roundtable discussion in Houston, "Domestic Relations: How to Make Your Case in Family Court." Panelists included 312th District Judge David Farr, 308th District Judge James Lombardino and 247th Associate Judge Meca Walker. This is the second part of the discussion. The judges' discussion covered e-filing, morality clauses, courtroom security and their mediation policies. It has been edited for length and style.
John Council, senior reporter, Texas Lawyer, Dallas: At the risk of opening up another can of worms, I want to ask you about electronic filing. Are there issues with electronic filing, problems with electronic filings, and how do lawyers avoid those problems?
247th Associate Judge Meca Walker, Houston: Well, I don't know how you all are avoiding the problems for the e-filing. I just have some service announcements on behalf of our clerks. This is a new process for all of us. We're all learning. If you see something, if you encounter something that you think needs to be addressed, you can talk to me, you can certainly talk to Judge Hellums. We might be interested hearing from you guys what your experience has been so far in the 247, but one of the things . . . [that] happens is the attorneys are filing the parenting certificates without putting the cause number on the certificate. And so, what's happening is when they come in to prove up the case, I can't let you finalize the case without that parenting certificate being in the system, in the file. You've done everything that you were supposed to, you e-filed it but it's not showing up in the system because the clerks didn't have a case to attach it to. So, please be sure when you are e-filing your parenting certificates that you actually put the cause number on the certificate itself. Another thing is if you have a hearing the following day, please don't file whatever it is you need to have in the system in the file after 4:00 p.m. the day before. So, your hearing is on Wednesday. Please don't expect it to be in the court's file if you file it at 10:00 o'clock. It won't be there. What happens is Raven — she usually gets into the office around 7:30 or so and then she's trying to pull down everything that was filed previously and get it in the file for Judge Hellums and myself. If it's being rejected for some reason, you can call Raven. She used to work in Judge Bradshaw-Hull's court in the 280th and they've been electronic for a while now. So, she's really familiar with this stuff. But if you're having a problem, it's getting kicked back, you can call her and she'll try to help you. If she can't help you, please don't yell at her. Please don't yell at Pam. They are just doing their job. If they can't help you, they're going to send you to intake and then let intake try to work it out. I have had attorneys that will go behind their back and come to me during a case and say, "Well, hey, your clerks wouldn't let me file this today and it's the parenting certificate, I've got it right here, can I prove up the case?" It puts me in a bad position because I know your client's there and they are ready to get this finalized, but I have to support the clerks, as well, because they are doing their jobs. So, just try to be patient with us and if there's something that you see that's going on that's a problem, then just let us know and we'll try to iron it out. Has anyone had any weird situations that happened?
Audience Member: To me it's a simple kind of solution. I don't know why the courts can't put a computer station and a high-speed scanner there and if attorneys need to file something immediately without having to go all the way back to their office, just log in, scan it in, and you're done.
312th District Judge David Farr, Houston: It's coming. I've had a number of meetings with Chris Daniel about their implementation. Let me just say a couple things about that little building that six of us are still in. If you're e-filing now and you're in one of the six courts in the old building, you need to bring a paper copy with you, OK, because it takes three to four days for it to walk across the street. That's a district clerk issue.
308th District Judge James Lombardino, Houston: We have no proof that you e-filed in my court unless you tell us. And then we have to find it.
Farr: We just won't have it. And so, what happens is you e-file it and then it gets across the street and some clerk prints it off and then they walk it across the street and then it makes it into my file. So, if you stand up and say, "Judge, I filed my motion yesterday e-file," I just don't have it. So, just bring a courtesy copy.
Audience Member: You mentioned about pro ses. Is there any kind of exemption, say, for visually-impaired attorneys with the e-filing?
Farr: Not that I know of, but I can certainly ask Chris Daniel. We're having a recurring number of meetings about this implementation. I can tell you this. In February of next year, four of the six of us will move across the street to the 16th floor, and that will facilitate the e-filing. Shortly thereafter — I anticipate by the end of next year — the other two will move. So, by 2015 you should have all the family courts in the new civil building and everybody is electronic. There will be wrinkles. Chris Daniel is working through those now. Where I see the challenges on this — and I'll let Judge Walker tell me whether she's seen this as a problem, but where we see the log jam coming is with TROs. And so, if you're going to file a TRO, how does that work, how is it going to work electronically? In theory, it should be more efficient but we've pointed out because it didn't occur to anybody in the meetings that we need the ability to change them. If you file an ex parte TRO with your divorce for petition and you ask me for a mutual TRO on alcohol use or the morality clause, I'm going to strike it out because I think that's [an] extraordinary ruling and I can't do that in an ex parte manner. So, how do I do that if it's electronic and all I can do is sign it? One of the challenges we've had meetings about is to have a stylus where I can mark stuff up on the TRO, initial it, then sign it electronically all on the monitor and then email it back to the clerk so you can get a copy and go from there. So, there are a number of challenges that are currently being talked about.
Audience Member: Have you all considered standing orders to try and break that log jam?
Farr: I really hate standing orders. I think you're going to find most people in this room know that Harris County judges are a little bit different. We don't have revolving dockets and we're very specialized. So, I think how that manifests itself in behavior is that we all tend to be a little territorial about our cases, which is fine, parental if not about our cases, and I don't like the idea that I'm going to standardize relief. Again, leave my inherent discretion alone. If you trust that I'm doing a good job, re-elect me and leave me alone with my discretion. So, I would rather not have a one-size-fits-all TRO because it may not fit. I will on occasion with an affidavit grant an ex parte extraordinary relief. . . . Sometimes you have to go out on a limb with an affidavit and support and say, "I'm going to go out on a limb and grant an ex parte TRO extraordinary relief," and a standard TRO wouldn't really help me with that.
Council: Couple more things I want to ask. I would imagine this happens a lot. Let's say a party comes in and asks for a domicile description that keeps the children within Harris County and contiguous counties. Will you approve that restriction, given that this is a very large county?
Lombardino: If there's [an] MSA and both parties have agreed, then I just sign off on it. My general rule in my court is Harris County only and then smaller if we can do that.Especially if we have two parents that want to parent the child. So, I'll ask you, "Why do you have contiguous?" Well, that's what's in the form book. So, we strike that if we can. In my court you need to put on evidence [as to] why it needs to be contiguous.
Council: Judge Walker, I would imagine people just rotely ask for that without understanding the circumstances. Do you counsel them on it, or do you just sign off on it?
Walker: No, I won't counsel them on it. Unless it's an issue, I generally will grant it typically unless it's brought up and someone challenges it then we'll have a hearing on it. If you don't mind, I want to go back real quick to what we were seeing with the TROs. Someone told Pam the other day, "What happened? You-all used to be so efficient and sign off on the TROs." And I said, "Just tell them e-filing happened" because there's a big delay in me getting those TROs after they have been e-filed, and I'll see that it was e-filed, like, six days ago before it initially lands on my desk. So, that's what's going on there.
Audience Member: Once we have e-filed, if we need, say, a hearing date for temporary orders, how long can we expect to wait before that date is assigned?
Walker: I think when you e-file it, you don't get that date immediately. Right?
Audience Member: No. It still has to go up to the court to get the TRO signed and then they give us the date.
Walker: I don't know what the turnaround time is for you guys to actually get that date. I don't know what that time lapse is. I know it's a big gap and it's a problem, and Judge Moore warned me on it and he's been keeping a list of the delays that he's been experiencing so he can share that information with Chris. If you have an emergency TRO, my recommendation is to walk it through.
Audience Member: Can we walk it through?
Walker: I have had them walked through. Don't take advantage of this. Use it sparingly, but I encourage you just to walk it through so I can get my hands on it right then. And if there is extraordinary relief — because what I'm understanding is that if you file something right now you're not getting a hearing date in our court until the end of August and there's a lot of stuff that needs to be addressed way before the end of August and I'm happy to strike it through and give you a sooner hearing date if it lands on my desk. I've told attorneys, "Just walk it through."
Audience Member: When you say, "Walk it through," do you mean with a paper copy?
Audience Member: And should it have already been e-filed?
Audience Member: E-file it, wait until it's imaged, print it out, bring it to you?
Farr: That sound you hear are the flood gates opening, by the way.
Walker: It has to be truly an emergency, guys. Please don't take advantage of it.
Audience Member: . . . Do you see this being an ongoing thing where we have an order and an e-filing and we need to call and report to the court for that?
Walker: About the order?
Audience Member: Yes.
Walker: Yeah, that's a problem. The order still has to be signed by the judge, and we don't have electronic signatures yet. So, if you come in and I say, "Do you have an order for me to sign?" And you say, "Well, I e-filed it." That doesn't do me any good. You're being efficient by e-filing the order and I appreciate that, but I need something right there so I can sign off on it or it's just going to be in the abyss, OK?
Farr: Without making promises on behalf of Chris Daniel, I can tell you that some of this hopefully will be remedied by the fact that at some point next year we'll have the ability to sign electronically. And there's been lots of discussions in meetings with him about how to secure that, PIN codes, whatever. All that's coming. But, yeah, as it is now — realize, you have a hybrid system. . . . What's happening is you're filing, the clerk is printing it off, handing the judge a paper copy, they are signing it, they are scanning it, and they are putting it back in. That's not electronic. Still killing trees. So, hopefully when you cut that step out at some point next year with the signing electronically by the judges it will help.
Council: . . . Judge Farr, I think one of you just mentioned the morality clause. . . . It's the one thing that will get a family court judge in the newspaper — and it has — but what do you need to see before enforcing a morality clause?
Farr: I need evidence.
Council: Evidence? What type of evidence would that constitute?
Farr: You can talk to the media. I just need something. I am not going to sua sponte order that without — well, I probably won't do it. I need a request first, unless I'm real uncomfortable. Either way, I need some evidence. So, don't think that it's going to be a knee-jerk standard, pseudo-standard because it's just not — it's not a standard deal. It's not in the Family Code. It's one of those things I've seen develop and it's become standard in usage by the Bar, and sometimes that has a bad way of becoming ingrained in the system so that everybody thinks, "Well, that's just standard." And they start treating it like that, but it's not statutorily standard. So, yeah, I need some evidence. I can tell you this. I've had several of those on enforcements — and that's an interesting hearing. Those are very hard to enforce, and you'd better be very tight with your language on the front end because the evidence to prove it up on an enforcement can be very complicated to acquire and probably involves pseudo-stalking, as I've seen. Anything in evidence where there's been a history where the parties during the pendency of the divorce have been, you know, fast-tracking introduction of the children to a new significant other inappropriately, the overnights at the house with the kids. Look, I've been married for almost 20 years, I've got three kids, same wife, first wife. I look at people like that and think, "What are you complaining about? You have every other weekend off. If you want to go and get a 25-year-old girlfriend, you can do that on second and fourth weekends." That ain't me. So, I don't really have a lot of sympathy for you. So, just don't do it on first, third, and fifth weekends. It's pretty simple.
Council: Obviously morality clause, at least as I understand them, prevents a child from, like, spending the night at the ex-spouse's house if they are not married, I think. . . . The issue that's coming up is: What if the ex-spouse's new partner is a same-sex partner and they can never be married?
Farr: If it's an inappropriate relationship, it's an inappropriate relationship. Until the State of Texas says otherwise, I'm going to follow the law. I don't think I even need to get into opinions. My personal opinion about that has no bearing on that because I'm going to follow the law. It's not worded as to the kids. Normally the way it's worded is a time-specific — usually 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m., whatever — having unrelated, unmarried member — you can say opposite sex or not — intimate relationship around the children. You get into the wording for enforcement purposes, but I don't know that I would have that conversation until the State of Texas says, "Constitutionally we're going to change our mind about that."
Council: Judge Walker, has that ever popped up in your court? Have you ever had to deal with that?
Walker: . . . I haven't had the enforcement on that. The TROs, typically what will happen is the morality clause — if the parties are going through a divorce and I'm looking at the petition and I see that they're still living in the same house, then I'll typically go ahead and sign off on the morality clause in there. It's the cases where they have been separated for six years and they want the morality clause in there and I'll strike that out or it's on the petitions to adjudicate and they want the morality clause automatically in there and I'll go ahead and strike those out. I haven't had an enforcement, though, on the morality clause.
Council: Judge Lombardino, have you had one yet in your term?
Lombardino: No, I haven't.
Council: OK. . . . If you had to enforce one, what would you need to see?
Lombardino: You have to [go] backwards a little bit on the morality clause because in my court you're not going to get one out of me prior to a final order unless it's in an MSA. And on a temporary order I'm going to look and see how does it affect the children if you have multiple folks in there for those children, and that's what I'm going to look at before I even do anything. If you want it on a TRO, you have to have an affidavit. We strike morality clauses all the time, TROs also, alcohol clauses because it's so wide range of what the circumstances of these folks is. So, you'd better have a specific need. Now, enforcement I'm going to be very strict on. I don't want them folks to be using the morality clause just to harass the other side. The morals of folks these days compared to when I was young is completely different. Yesterday, there was a young man who had 15 children by 15 different women, you know, and it's just — you know, times have changed. So, I'm going to be reluctant to enforce a morality clause unless you can show us it's affecting the children.
Council: Judge Lombardino, I'll stay with you. What would you need to see before you would be willing to void a premarital agreement?
Lombardino: Well, first of all, . . . I would like to see: "Do both sides have a lawyer with a disclosure on the assets?" And from then on, if both sides have a lawyer, you meet the requirements, I think it's pretty much going to be — I'm not going to second-guess the contract. We don't micromanage in our court. We don't second-guess contracts that may be unfair, but —
Council: Judge Walker, I see you grimacing.
Walker: Well, no. It's going to be hard to bust a premarital agreement, you know. The public policy for the State of Texas is that they intended to [enter] the agreement that they entered into. So, for me, I just follow [the] statute and you're going to lean on the side that the premarital agreement is valid.
Farr: It's a contract. Bring me a reason . . . founded in law to break the contract. Otherwise, I'm going to be very conservative on the statutes.
Council: OK. Judge Farr, when there's threat of violence from a party in a case, how do you handle those situations?
Farr: As far as —
Council: I mean, "He's going to beat me. He's beating the children." This is a very real situation in family courts where you hear somebody's coming into the courthouse and is going to do violence and it's a very big concern. But, I mean, have you ever had that and how do you deal with it?
Farr: Obviously — I guess I won't talk about family violence because those are all in the 280th now.
Farr: So, we don't hear those among the nine of us. If it's an issue, there are certain things that I kind of standardize as far as policy in the court to account for that. In other words, for example, I won't order you to go to mediation on a custody case like I normally would — either on temporary or final — if there's an allegation of family violence because I don't want a discrepancy in bargaining power between the rooms of mediation. I'll just tee it up and try it and make a decision on that. You know — and then just follow the statutes. I mean, if you really look hard at 153 — I think it's [153.] 004 without a Code in front of me — in the history and pattern of family violence and when it prohibits me from entering certain types of possession and access orders and when it prohibits me from entering a joint managing conservatorship and just follow that bouncing ball, I'll go there with the evidence. And that's usually — to me, that's where the statute tells me how to react to family violence. It says, "Judge, if you get a history of family violence in the evidence, you cannot" — it's a shall not, not a may [not] — "you cannot make these parties joint managing conservators and there's an effect on what kind of possession and access schedule you can order." So, I think the statute provides you a way to account for that. Otherwise, I just think you need to respond to policy issues like not making them go to mediation. The more generic stuff, security in the courtroom, I'm a big one on security. I can tell you that one of the things that we've managed to accomplish during my term as admin[strative] judge the last several years is getting a second sheriff's bailiff in each of those courtrooms with the exception of three. We're working on those. So, you've got extra security over there now. I've increased the security in the lobby with Constable Precinct 1 over the last year and a half, and I may or may not be the only judge in the building that carries on the bench because I figure I can shoot straighter than my bailiff. So, yes, security is a big deal. You just have to . . . account for it, in my opinion. You have to think about it. You have to make sure your bailiffs are thinking about checking in across the hall in that AJ's office and not ignoring them.
Council: Yeah, that's my next question for you, Judge Walker. Associate judges sometimes — and other times do not — have bailiffs. Do you have them, and if the parties know something is going to be bad in your courtroom, should they call you first and alert you? I mean, that's kind of what I'm getting at here is your controlling your courtroom and making sure things do not get out of control or violent. What do you do?
Walker: Yeah, they can call or they can let our coordinator know and she will give us a heads up. We just got the two bailiffs. I don't know how long that's been. Maybe a couple of months. And so, the setup is different for us in the civil courts building versus the family center. And so, for us, we're — well, I think Conrad (bailiff) here sits in the attorney ready rooms, I think, but I'm in the jury room. . . . [T]he bailiff has his desk set up right in front of my chambers, the jury room. And so, I feel really good now because there's a bailiff in the main courtroom and the bailiff in the back. And so, if I know I'm getting ready to incarcerate somebody or I feel a little uncomfortable — I had a case just the other day where — well, anyway, it's still pending. So, you know, Eddie (bailiff) can hear me. And so, he'll just come and just kind of stay in there.
Walker: And so, usually if it's an enforcement and the attorney sees Eddie come in, they're like, "Oh, great." They know what's getting ready to happen. So, that's how we manage it.
Farr: The way we sold the second bailiff to the sheriff's office was security digits. That's how we got that accomplished. And so, that should be happening in the courts. That second bailiff should be wandering the halls for security, should be checking in at that AJ's office across the hall and make sure nothing is going on. But hopefully that will help calm things down.
Council: Judge Lombardino, has this popped up in your court, how do you deal with it when lawyers alert you that, "Look, this could get ugly"?
Lombardino: They can call Norma (Court Coordinator) the day before or you can just notify her that day. First of all, I think it sort of depends on the bailiff. If you have a good bailiff, they generally know to stand up there. They are not sitting at their desk. They're up there when there's a hearing next to the folks. And then we'll also get a second bailiff on occasion and they will both be standing up there. We do worry about that. We want folks to feel safe. You talked earlier about some of these alleged family violence issues. When I look at those things, I look at — see if there's some stalking going on, I see if CPS has been involved, I see if there's been any previous criminal action. I try to find out also whether this alleged violence just occurred just when they filed the divorce. I want to see if there's admissible evidence of the family violence. Again, I don't want to be doing something — a non-standard order would be — unless there's some evidence because you don't want to try and give — you know, you don't want to encourage one side to be making statements about things that may not be exactly true.
Farr: One thing on security. There are other assets out there. So, if you think you're going to have a problem, let the bailiff know or the judge. One of the things that we have used in the past are flex or what they call these ERT guys, Emergency Response Team guys. If you've seen them, they are wearing green jungle fatigues.
Walker: They look real good. (Laughter.)
Farr: Yeah, I'm not going there. They are trained professionals. And so, we have in the past — you know, we can flex with them. I had a guy convicted last year of threatening to kill me and we flexed with the ERT guys, and when he came into court the next time we had those guys standing around the courtroom and the two bailiffs. And so, he thought twice over what he was going to do. So, just realize you can check with the judge, check with the bailiff. We can flex and get more security in the hallway with those ERT guys. They are not that busy, as I understand. So, they have plenty of time.
Council: OK. Judge Lombardino — this is a pretty basic question. Less exciting and dramatic. Do you send every case that's filed in your court to mediation?
Lombardino: We have a policy that before TRO, you go to mediation. With family violence cases we can make an exception. I've actually started a new procedure where there's — custody is an issue, I find that if I can put an amicus on the case quickly — I'll bring the folks up. If you get a good amicus that also does mediation, I'll say, "Look, here's your amicus. Try and get this case settled. If you can, I'll waive mediation." So, they don't have the cost of going both ways. I find sometimes the amicus actually does better than a mediation but generally mediation before temporary orders and also before trial. . . . [A]nd what that does is actually give us more to actually get to the cases that need to be tried. Otherwise, the docket can just get overwhelming.
Council: Judge Walker, what's the mediation policy in your court?
Walker: Judge Hellums does not require mediation either before the temporary orders hearing or the final trial.
Council: OK. Judge Farr?
Farr: I have trouble contemplating a universe where it's a good idea to have a stranger in a black robe make a decision about a child as opposed to the parents. So, in deference to that theory, I order mediation on custody cases on temporary and on final. Now, if you have some timeline issue like you're coming on to final trial and you say, "Judge, we just mediated on temporary last month and it passed." OK, that kind of onesie-twosie sort of exception stuff I'm willing to entertain. But fundamentally I would rather two parents who know the situation sit down with a mediator over a full day in that process and make a decision about their children before I step in and decide what to do for that child on my own.
Council: OK. I would assume that's all —
Lombardino: Can I say another thing about mediation?
Council: Yes, sir.
Lombardino: In our court we have folks that will do it at a reduced rate. We have some good mediators that will do it at $300 a side, we have $200 a side, and special occasions we have people that will actually donate their time and do it. If you need a mediation, come talk to us. Just because — it doesn't always mean it's going to be expensive. We also have the $1200 a side, but we try and match the mediator with the case and what the amount of money that they have.
Council: Do you allow the parties to choose their own mediator or —
Lombardino: Generally we will do that. The problem that I find sometimes is if they think there's mediation, they will make it sort of a wink agreement: "We'll just go see you for mediation so we can say we've been there and then you do the same for me." So, that's happened on occasion, but generally if the parties can agree on — two attorneys can agree on somebody. They know their case better than we do. So, go for it.
Farr: And don't forget about the DRO [Domestic Relations Office]. DRO is a great asset. They charge on a sliding scale. They have got great mediators. They have had great mediators . . . [and] now currently and I've never had a bad experience with mediation through the DRO. So, if you have some concerns — by the way, they're great to send pro ses to because if you get pro ses, they won't be pro se. They'll stand up at a trial docket and look at you like, "Help us."
. . .
Council: Do . . . parties ever come to you and choose a mediator and you say no?
Walker: I can't think of a time that I would have done that. The only time I may not select a mediator is maybe if one of the attorneys is familiar with the mediator and the other one isn't and they feel uncomfortable with it or it's a pro se and they are not feeling comfortable that their spouse's attorney is choosing the mediator and I'll go ahead and just let the mediator. Other than that, people are free to choose who they want to mediate with.
Lombardino: Also if folks come in and they do ask for a mediator and they can't agree, I'll go through a list and I'll try to get down the list and [see] if I can get both sides to agree. . . . I think that is helpful.
Council: Opened up for questions. Yes, ma'am.
Audience Member: With regards to each one of your courts, when it comes to possession and access orders, if parents want to do something other than the standard possession order, what is your policy on that? I know that there are some courts that won't approve week on, week off, or split weeks. What are your policies?
Walker: Mine is case-by-case for me. I'm not comfortable with the week on, week off. I find that they typically work better when the children are very young, they are not school age. And then when they get [to be] school age, it kind of falls apart. I mean, if it's in an MSA, then I'm going to approve the MSA. But if it's a week on, week off or something weird like that, usually I'll just want a little bit of testimony to prove it up as to why that's in the children's best interest.
Council: Do you want to get that one?
Farr: Not my kid. If they decide that's what they want to do and they're both in agreement and they're going to testify under [oath] to me that it's in the best interest of their children, I'm going to sign it. Now, it will probably be back on a modification three months later, but —
Lombardino: We agree whatever the parties agree to. We just sign off on it. And I don't think I find that many folks that really come back and complain. Also in our court we don't have an arbitrary 3-year-old rule before you can have overnights. If you have a dad that changed diapers when the kid's 1. Well — and you want to get your overnights — my theory is to try and get both parents, if they are somewhat competent, to visit the child at least every three days if we can do that. So, we encourage that. If there's an agreement, there's an agreement.
Audience Member: What are the courts' policy — you've gone to mediation, the mediator has filed the agreement that everybody signed off to and you're done, you're ready to go final but the other attorney will not send back or even cooperate in the drafting of the decree and we have time lines for when child support is supposed to start and all those are passing. What should we do in this instance? What does the court want us to file that it will look at?
Farr: File an entry. Get an entry date and show up and enter by default. [Section] 153.0071 is very clear. If you have a binding mediation summary agreement you are — and I quote — "entitled to judgment on that MSA." So, what that tells me is, "Judge, enter an order." If you get sideways on that, then just get an entry date and show up on the entry date, show me notice to the other side, give me your version of the order, and I'm going to sign it. Now, where I've seen that get weird is if you picked an entry date with the mediator in the MSA and not told my clerk and then I don't have notice. So, just make sure you've nailed that down at the front end. Either pick an entry date that everybody is comfortable with and then when you walk in the MSA or make the mediator do it — when I mediated, I used to do it for them — and set that entry date with my clerk so that it's all in line. So, [if] one side show[s] up with a version of the order and the other side doesn't, I can do something with notice.
Council: Yes, ma'am.
Audience Member: Just two quick questions. Enforcing MSA. Say you haven't gotten to the entry and something happens in the interim and then agreements to no child support.
Farr: Have you been sitting in my court this week? You and I talked about this. Do you want to go into this?
Council: Yes. Yes, please.
Farr: [In re Stephanie] Lee is still out there. So, we don't really have an answer on that except I follow the statute. I just had that issue come up two days ago where literally the parties entered into an MSA in January — they weren't set for trial until May because they were being proactive, which I appreciate — and then events conspired three weeks after the MSA was signed where they weren't comfortable and one side wanted to bust it and I made findings and I entered the MSA. Part of my philosophy on that was if you look at [153.007]. . . . If you look at when the dates run to when you look to a material or substantial change of circumstances, remember that [the] statute says also from the date of the signing of the MSA. And so, OK, I enter an MSA that you don't like because something transpired after you executed it. Go file a motion to modify and prove to me something . . . happened since they signed the MSA. I think that's why it's that way.
Council: I should've asked this earlier. Judge Walker, if somebody comes to you with a mediated settled agreement and they all of a sudden change their mind, want it overturned — we've got this case pending at the Supreme Court where they are looking at that. What do you do?
Walker: I'm just going to follow the statute and approve the MSA.
Council: Yeah, yeah.
Walker: And then on the no child support request, typically I see those where it's the dad who's primary and the mom doesn't want to pay or he doesn't need her money or whatever. So, typically I will approve them but I just want to hear some testimony as to why they're doing it that way. You know, I try to tell them, you know, it's really the child's money and usually I'll hear there's a large disparity in the income and I'll go ahead and I'll approve it.
Council: Judge Lombardino, I think the issue in — correct me if I'm wrong — when a judge is looking at the child's best interest in determining whether or not to bust an MSA — it could probably be the linchpin in this — could you imagine [a situation] . . . in your court where you're like, "This is bad for the kid. . . . I'll overturn it."
Lombardino: I guess we all have our opinions on that Lee case. What I worry about is that it comes out and it's affirmed and does that mean best interest on everything? What about grandparent access? Does that mean that everything just go[es] finally to best interest? I don't think that's the way it should be. I wanted to also talk about her question. She said on no child support, we generally approve that. Sometimes we ask for a little bit of evidence, but sometimes that's just in the best interests of the child, whether it's the child's money or not. We have to — we look at those MSAs. You can't enforce until there's an order. I mean, you talk about enforcement. You have to wait for an order.