As Family Law Disputes Turn Violent, Dallas Judges Take a Stand

Before James Boulware shot up the Dallas Police Department (DPD) Headquarters, then took his own life this past June, he was fighting for custody of his son in Dallas Family Court Judge Kim Cook’s courtroom. As the Dallas Morning News (DMN) reported at the time, Boulware had threatened Cooks on social media and in messages left at her campaign telephone number.

Judge Cooks, who signed the final custody orders in Boulware’s case, told DMN, “I was afraid. He would speak so intelligently then instantly go into this rage.”

According to Dallas Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory, the Boulware incident was the tipping point for Dallas Family Court Judges.

Dallas Family Court Judges Demanded More Bailiffs

“After Boulware shot up the DPD, the Dallas Family Court Judges signed a petition and collectively demanded that all Associate Judges have bailiffs present in their courtrooms. At present, they are still working on budgets and sorting out details, so at this time there is typically one bailiff for every two Associate Judges.

The plan is to get to the point where every Family Court Judge has a bailiff in his or her courtroom at all times. It’s unfortunate that it took an incident so extreme to get a response. The Family Courts have metal detectors and other security measures, but those measures aren’t fool proof,” Abby says.

During potentially volatile divorce and child custody cases, lack of security in the Family Courts has been a concern for Dallas family law attorneys. This is especially true in the courtrooms of Associate Judges who issue temporary orders for divorce and custody disputes.

Some Dallas Family Law Attorneys Bring Back Up Security

As Abby explains, “The fact that the Associate Judges haven’t always had bailiffs in their courtrooms has been a huge issue and point of concern during some of our cases. So much so, that along with alerting the court coordinators that extra security and/or a bailiff is needed, we arrange for our own security team, private investigator or off-duty police officer to be with us if we feel there is any sort of risk.”

Tensions often run high in family courts, because the stakes can be so much more emotional and personal compared to other court battles.

“After the parties go to these hearings the ruling is final, at least for the time being, and it dictates when the parties will see their kids, who is going to live where, who will be kicked out of the marital residence and how things are going to be paid for. It can be a scary, emotional time where everyone is on pins and needles,” Abby says.

Family Law Matters Can Exacerbate Mental Health Issues

Divorce and custody disputes can also push people to their breaking points, especially when underlying mental health issues are involved.

According to Abby, “There are many people with mental illness in our communities who are also functioning members of our society. High-stress situations, such as divorce and family law cases, can definitely trigger or push mental illness to extremes and that’s why this point of concern over courtroom security needs to be addressed.

People don’t realize that these moments – where children are being taken away or someone is being kicked out of their home – are so intense and traumatic that it can trigger a psychotic break, a break from reality or a behavior that is not normal part of the party’s mental illness, even for those who normally function fine without causing harm to themselves and others.”

Family Law Attorneys Work with Mental Health Professionals to Help Clients Cope

Experienced family law attorneys often collaborate with mental health professionals to prepare clients in advance, so they know what to expect and how to cope. This can help diffuse volatility in the courtroom during divorce and child custody disputes.

Parties who don’t understand how the legal process works can also feel added stress and lash out during a divorce. As Abby explains, “People who don’t hire a divorce lawyer or get minimal legal guidance may feel they were cheated by the justice system. They don’t have someone to prepare and explain things to them, which can elevate tensions in the courtroom.”

Security in Dallas Family Courts Is Moving in the Right Direction

Violence related to family law issues is no joke, as the Boulware incident clearly shows. It can be dangerous for the client, attorneys and the judges involved, not to mention innocent bystanders.

“Emotions run high, people get angry, and it’s taken a long time to get to that point. Everything from affairs to money to the children to substance abuse, all those things can contribute to violence if people don’t know how to handle it. Adding more bailiffs to Dallas Family Courts is a good first step toward better protection for all concerned,” Abby concludes.

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