March 01, 2014
Just Another Day in Family Court
I exclusively practice mediation and Collaborative Practice and so I am rarely in court. Never being in court makes it easy for me to recollect the conclusion I made years ago in law school when I worked full time for a judge in Family Court: an adversarial environment is not a good place for family matters. But I recently stood in line at a local court’s Family Law Clerk’s Office to file some clients’ pleadings. As I waited I was viscerally reminded of how I arrived at that conclusion over a decade ago.
As I stood there, everyone in the filing line started shifting uncomfortably as two parties and one attorney standing nearby started to yell at each other. The clerks looked around the people they were helping to see if they needed to call a court police officer. My chest started to contract and my adrenaline started to pump with the automatic human response to the sounds of strife. It took me a minute to remember that this was not my fight and all I could do is relax and hope they find a way to work things out.
As a mediator, I couldn’t help but listen to their conversation from a professional perspective. My mind automatically starting generating what I would say to all three of them if they invited me into their conversation. I winced at Wife’s attorney’s response to Husband when he pled for her to consider the information he had provided and consider the larger picture of his inability to pay the amount of support Wife’s attorney was asking for; Wife’s attorney interrupted him, shut him down by loudly saying the law was on her client’s side and she would exploit that to the full extent the law allows. Instantly Husband started to yell at Wife standing there, who after being a mute listener started yelling back, and of course, everyone in the lobby of the Family Court was a witness to Wife and Husband’s martial fighting dynamic. This cycle went around and around until a bailiff popped his head out of the nearest courtroom and asked them to quiet down and enter the courtroom.
I was surprised at how sad I felt for a long time after the parties and the attorney left the lobby in silence. The thought of the Wife trapped between her attorney and spouse; of the attorney going to work each day making divorce a fight, rather than a conversation; of the Husband, and his aggressive response, and obvious fear, having to plead with an attorney showing no propensity to listen, much less listen with compassion. My mind kept coming back to the root of what seems so sad: Is this really our society’s best response to how to transition our family relationships?