Preface: We love the Probate and Family Court. It struggles daily with unrelenting demand, a vulnerable population, a crumbling social safety net, short staffs and an indifferent funding legislature. Between us, we made our living, and served, in the Probate Court for more than 5 decades. But, sometimes, you just shake your head, and say “You can't make this stuff up”. This is one of those days.
Creedon v. Haynes is a perfect storm of Massachusetts Probate and Family Court dysfunction:
A separation agreement and divorce judgment required the husband to designate his children as beneficiaries of an existing life insurance policy with death benefits of $100,000.00.
It didn’t specify any security purpose for the insurance benefits.
He didn't have a life insurance policy.
The Wife sued in contempt.
A judge found Husband in contempt from the bench.
The judge didn’t issue a paper judgment.
The judgment never entered the docket.
The wife asked that the court issue a written judgment.
The contempt the judge had retired, so a new judge heard her motion.
The new judge dismissed the wife’s contempt complaint because the children were adults.
Five years after the start of the contempt action, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the dismissal and ordered the Probate Court to reduce the retired judge’s decision to writing. The appellate panel recounted, without any irony, its own decision to obtain the docket from the Probate Court, to search for the contempt judgment. Few Probate Court veterans are surprised to learn that the docket disclosed nothing useful.
How the wife successfully entered the appeal, without a paper judgment or supporting trial court docket entry, is mystery enough.
How the second Probate Court judge dismissed a complaint after her former colleague purported to enter judgment, on her own, and without request by the defendant, is equally curious.
Whether the first judge actually did not produce a written judgment, or if it somehow died in dictation, or if it sits in a dusty pile of paper somewhere in the courthouse to this day, is something that we will never know.
But, the wife will get her judgment; and, someday, she just may need to do something with it. Except, of course, when the wife finally does obtain her written judgment, and if it is docketed, the husband's appellate rights will begin.