An interesting discussion was had, via email, with one of our colleagues who happens to be fairly well-connected, through her work, to major players in one small corner of the family court world. Below is an interesting, single insight into the thoughts of judges and lawyers who work within the system. Very little, if any, of what is contained is surprising to anyone who has had to take their lives into the black hole of family court. The following was edited to eliminate some unnecessary detail. As we often like to say – “to protect the innocent and the guilty”:
I attended informal dinner party with several members of the Family Law Cartel last night.
Good ladies, all. Interesting to hear different perspectives. Our hostess — whether inadvertently or by design, I don’t know — brought together a mix of child custody evaluator, a pro bono attorney who represents domestic violence victims (yes! including men! I was so surprised!), litigation attorneys, an associate judge (who used to be a collaborative divorce attorney), and several other collaborative attorneys.
This event was not held the county where I currently practice.
In this particular county, there are some really fabulous changes happening. The newly-appointed judge is just one example. She said she is equally inclined to give custody to fathers as mothers. I asked her about the built-in biases favoring “The Golden Uterus,” and her response was…
When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, and have seen some of the dreck of the earth calling themselves ‘mothers’, you get really cynical about that whole Madonna image.”
Really? Can you share some of that with some of your colleagues? Many of them still seem to be quite enamored of “Madonna”. In any event, that was hopeful.
I asked specifically about the child support scam and federal matching funds. She said…
“Honestly, yes, of course we are aware of how all the dirty politics works. But when I issue a CS order, the only thing on my mind is whether or not those kids are going to end up being taken care of.”
…whereupon one of the other attorneys jumped in with…
“… or if the State is going to have to pick up the tab.”
None of them see federal matching funds as a money-maker for the State. They see it as reimbursing the state tax payers who had to foot the bill for children who are on TANF, WIC, AFDC, and CHIPs. An interesting alternative point of view.
I asked the pro bono attorney about her views regarding domestic violence. What she said was extremely enlightening. She acknowledged that a woman is just as likely to physically assault a man, as vice versa. She said they consider domestic violence in terms of where the balance of power is in the relationship. They consider who controls the finances, who controls the kids, who controls the other person’s activities, etc. I asked her if she was familiar with the term “maternal gatekeeping” and she said they are just now learning more about that, and understanding how that can shift the balance of power toward the woman. I asked, “Do you assume that the wage earner is also the person in control of the finances?” She said, “We used to, 15 years ago, but not any more.”
Another positive step in the right direction, I think.
So I inquired, “But what about kick-out orders? Do the judges still issue ex parte kick-out orders?”
Well, yes, they do. Because usually that’s the first thing that comes into the courtroom. They don’t have any way of knowing if it’s phony or not, so they want to “err on the side of caution.”
I said, okay, that’s reasonable. Do you “err on the side of caution” if it’s a man making the allegation? “We’ve never actually had that happen.” Hmmmm… wonder why?
So… do they sanction a woman who makes a phony allegation, if they discover she did it just to gain the upper hand?
Sort of. It’s certainly going to sway the way they view the rest of her case. But mostly — what this new judge told me — is that she will sanction any attorney who coaches their client to play those kinds of games. What does attorney sanction look like? Well, it’s pretty invisible to the layperson, but it looks like a judge who won’t allow that attorney’s evidence or overrules their objections or isn’t available when that attorney wants a conference in chambers or cannot seem to find docket space for the motions that attorney files.
In other words, they basically render the attorney ineffective.
Note that what they do not do is call the attorney out, remove their license, or bring the case to a swift conclusion. It seems that there is still this code to protect their income stream (duh).
Anyway, fun times, fun times. It’s not this way everywhere, but it is this way in one semi-metro area of Texas. I love that the awareness is getting better. I also love that the Divorce Cartel is no longer blowing off men’s family law issues as merely, “Oh, he’s just angry because he has to pay child support.” More and more of them are considering that there is another side to the coin. The pendulum may not have actually reversed direction, but I wonder if it is slowing down.
I think that these observations which were shared at this dinner party are actually wide spread across the country. I have personally visited with professionals in my own city which say similar things in private but they don’t speak out. I do not understand the reason WHY these very people are so afraid to speak out on these issues to get the laws and practices changed to make things better. Yes, I am one of thousands of divorced fathers who have taken it in the shorts in the courts. My ex was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, is a master at manipulation and I had a custody evaluation which said I should have custody and yet the court gave custody to her. I have been pulling my hair out for years wondering what the hell is wrong? What the hell is wrong with these people who call themselves judges? I think most judges are cowards who are are afraid to go against the status quo out of fear of losing their job. Our children deserve and need something better than this.
thanks for the good article.
– Steven Burda