When my son’s dad and I transitioned from one house to two, we received accolades from our communities for the graceful way we navigated our separation and co-parenting relationship. Truthfully, I didn’t know any other way that would serve the best interest of our child. When I realized how irregular people found that we had a civil relationship, I became passionate about shifting the paradigm that divorce and co-parenting had to be acrimonious. Who would want to spend years of their life fighting? The more I investigated the family law system, the more I became aghast at the patent injustices, the gender biases, the utter unpredictability, the victimization of all involved – the spouses, and so tragically, the children. My gut propensity to fight injustice led me to my first career as a public defender in Manhattan and Seattle, working with the most disenfranchised and often reviled people in the world. I have a deep antipathy toward unfairness, and as a lawyer, an extreme antipathy toward injustice meted out in courtrooms. The more I experienced this broken family law system, the unreliability of the integrity and wisdom and training of the judges and commissioners who make life altering decisions for the families that come before them, the more I became committed to making powerful alternatives available.
I wondered why on earth would a judicial system used for people charged with crimes, be the forum for the most intimate of intimates – lovers, parents, children. How could it be possible that someone sitting on high, after reading a few pages submitted to them, be in a better position than the couple, to know what’s right for them, for their children, for setting the stage for the rest of their lives? Through my research, I came to understand that because marriage was originally a religious institution, in 1629 when the first divorces took place in what was to become the United States, there was no mechanism for civil divorce so it went to the legislature. After 1776, it was felt that divorce matters were taking up too much of the legislative bodies’ time, and was thus sent to the judiciary, where it remains. If you have ever walked into a courtroom, you will know, that no matter how calm you are, how positive you might feel, the moment you take your place at your designated table, your spouse at the other, with the judge sitting above you, you have entered into a triangulation vortex that will cause your limbic system to go into high alert. Danger. Conflict. You viscerally understand that all that is vital to you – your home, your children, your safety, security, finances are all under threat. And that that person sitting on high, the one that doesn’t know you, the one that is different from the one that you saw last court date, the one who has never met your kids, who doesn’t know that Jane has separation anxiety, or that Johnny is bullied at school, has the absolute power to tell you what to do – under threat of contempt if you don’t do whatever they say. They can have you thrown in jail. They can take your children away from you. And all of a sudden, even if you hadn’t thought this way before, that person over there, that person you shared your bed with, who you had dreams with, who knew your beloved grandma who recently passed – THAT person, is now your enemy. And this is why you HAVE to stay out of court. You HAVE to try. You need to make your own decisions. You need to make decisions together. You may not like each other right now, and maybe you will never like each other again, but for your own sanity, your own well being, and that of your kids, you need to pull your big girl or boy panties up and come to the table and make some agreements that you may not like – but that you can live with. And move on with your soul and your life intact.
This doesn’t even address the lawyers in the room. And the parenting evaluators. And the substance use evaluators. And the guardian ad litems. And the psychological experts. Each of these professionals – and more – stand everything to gain from your misery and from fomenting and extending your conflict. Thankfully, there is a strong community of professionals outside of this paradigm that are committed to doing divorce differently. The great news is that there is a better way available to you.