Scalia's New Police Professionals
Justice Stevens Wants Confusion in the Law?

Family Court? God Save Me

I have a proposal to make. It will cost some lawyers a lot of money. And it raises grave constitutional issues. But I rely for persuasive authority on none other than Plato. As you will recall, he thought the state should raise children. It was too big a job for parents acting alone.

I say, once a couple becomes involved in divorce proceedings, remove the children from the custody of both parents. Create a rebuttable presumption that both parents are unfit to raise healthy children given the travail that is divorce. This might actually reduce needless litigation, force parents to behave well, and put the divorce bar out of work.

I am prompted to propose this after being lured into the family courts once again. I represent a father. He believes his ex-wife wants him out of her children's lives, the better to live with her new and oh-so-perfect husband.

Efforts to negotiate the father's resumed visitation fail. I ask the lawyer for the mother whether there is any conceivable situation under which the mother would agree to resumed visitation. No, is the response. So I file a motion for contempt.

The court appoints a new lawyer for the children. Suddenly, the mother's lawyer is sweet reason. Is there anything we can do, she implores, in an email sent courtesy copy to the new lawyer for the kids. There are minor children at stake, she begs.

This is a start, I reason. After a couple months in the case, she is finally willing to talk. We arrange a call. My client is sick, disturbed and the mother just wants what is best for her children, I am told. What about resumed visits with the kids? I ask. He needs to sign the release, opposing counsel responds. Huh?

My client has supervised visitation. About the time I got in the case, the supervisor got wind that trouble was in the air. He wanted my client to sign a release promising not to sue or he'd quit. Without the supervisor, apparently, there can be no visits.

I am now beyond incredulity. What has a release to do with the best interests of the children? What sort of clinician insists on a release from liability as a constructive condition of a father's seeing his child?

My adversary isn't so nice anymore. "I was hoping what everyone said about you wasn't true. I thought you'd be reasonable," she says. I just want to know what a release from suit has to do with visitation.Gibberish is the response. I try to back off. Educate me, I say. I am not a family court lawyer. What principle animates this?

If he wants to see his children all he has to do is sign the release, I am told. Just who is this lawyer representing? When I demur, she tries a new tactic. Your contempt motion is ridiculous, I am told.

I agree, it may be.Maybe I really should sue the supervisor.

You know we are all laughing at you, she tells me. Now that's a rhetorical move new in my experience. Oh, I am stung to the quick. By all means, take my client's children.

Is this what passes for lawyering in the family court? Feigned sincerity for half-an-hour or so? Then insults and ridicule?

Go ahead and laugh, I say. I sort of feel as though I just walked into a leper colony and all the residents are giggling. He looks funny, they say. I am glad I do.•

Reprinted courtesy of The Connecticut Law Tribune.