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IN FAMILY LAW, YOU MUST ALWAYS "DO RIGHT" TO HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK THE COURT FOR RELIEF

It is a natural human reaction to want to retaliate against someone when they do wrong to you. For example, a mother might decide to deny visitation to a father who wont pay support. It seems like the natural thing to do, but in our legal system, it is the wrong thing to do. The doctrine of "doing right" is called, "the clean hands doctrine." It means that you must be able to show the court that you have done what you are supposed to do if you want the court to help you. The family law courts are not big on "self help." People should resist the urge to solve their own problems through retaliation. This is hard to do, and it is hard for clients to understand advice to continue "doing right" even though the other party is not. The strength of this doctrine is demonstrated in the recent decision of S.S. v S.H., No. 2008-CA-02051-COA (Decided September 28, 2010). In that case, a father was accused of sexual abuse. The charges became questionable and he was never indicted. However, in exchange for no prosecution, the father agreed to an order prohibiting him from any contact with the daughter until she was 21. Years later, the daughter was granted a change of her last name from that of her father’s, testifying that she wanted no contact with him, had no desire to see him and did not love him. The father countered that under such circumstances, his support obligation should be terminated. The Chancellor agreed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that since the father was in arrears on his child support in excess of $50,000, he did not have the right to ask for relief under the "clean hands doctrine." I’m sure the father thought it was logical that he should not have to pay support for a child he could not see, but he should have consulted a lawyer before he decided not to pay support. Had he paid support, there is a possibility his request to terminate support would have been granted, given the daughter’s attitude toward him.