I’ve given this a lot of thought. And I truly believe that two battlegrounds exist between right and wrong in our modern world. The first is physical: it’s carried out on an international level by our military and on a domestic level by our law enforcement organizations (I hope).
The second is less easily recognized but, I think, equally important. It’s the battleground of ideas and principles: and one extremely dynamic front of this war is fought by civilians in our judiciary, working at every level of our judicial system.
I was once told that family law – the family courts – were “not important.” That I’d never see “a million dollar payday” (and I haven’t, and don’t expect to), that I’d be “wasting my talent” not to argue “the greater issues” of our time. I truly believe that particular self-appointed authority never spent time laboring in the fields of real law; his ivory tower pleased him well, and he could make such pronouncements from his position of unskilled and unpracticed ignorance.
Yes, I worry about the Bill of Rights. I’m not one of those attorneys in that trench, trying to protect our rights to free speech, to freedom of association, to freedom to live in faith, to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure – but make no mistake, the attorneys in that particular trench are warriors, bending their minds and wits and fortunes and sacred honor to the defense of those ideas.
But it’s also true that those rights are important when played out in the lives of every family who is caught in the jaws of our family law system. This month I protected a good dad’s right to raise his kids and defended him, successfully, against vile, false claims of abuse designed to render those girls fatherless. This year I fought a successful battle to keep a child from being returned to a parent who is lost to drugs but needed the child for the support check. Over the course of the last three years I was engaged in a protracted war to keep a wife of many years from being kicked to the curb with nothing, when her husband decided to hide all the assets before filing for divorce. Will those little girls think of me years from now, when their beloved dad walks them down the aisle? Probably not. Will that child think of me when he grows up healthy and clean and safe and goes on to higher ed, in the care of his adoptive parents? Probably not. Will my more mature client think of me when she’s quite warm and secure in her home, comfortably eating real food, and not dog food to make ends meet, twenty years from now? Probably not.
But… If we hadn’t been there… If the judiciary wasn’t there, if my team hadn’t done the work and presented the evidence and arguments effectively… If the mediators hadn’t taken the time to bend their hearts and minds to finding the answers that made sense… If the judges hadn’t followed the rules, read the pleadings and the law, received the evidence, agonized over their ruling and then MADE THE CALL…
If we all hadn’t been there, and done our jobs, three little girls would have no daddy as 2019 rolls around; another child would be on a mattress at a flop house as I write; and a wife of many years would be wondering where she’ll get the money to keep a roof over her head and buy decent food to feed herself. And many, many more people – men women, and children – will be all right as 2019 begins because we did our jobs, and did our jobs well. Every day we manned up, took our posts and fought the small evils that destroy lives and which become large evils, if unchecked.
This New Year’s Eve, I ask that you give thanks for the mediators in our family court system, who see so much harm and do what they can to ameliorate it. Give thanks for the judges in our family court system, who I KNOW lose sleep over the decisions they have made, and have yet to make. And… give thanks for the family law attorneys and their staff who are in the trenches every day of their lives, doing their best to protect the people who have trusted us.
The practice of Family Law doesn’t come with recognition, or a ginormous paycheck, or a leisurely lifestyle.
But, by God, it is rewarding.