“Every Human Being Going Through a Divorce is Legally Insane”
Even though it was well over twenty years ago, I vividly recall my first day of “Domestic Relations” class in law school. My professor, twice divorced himself, stood at the podium and stated loudly: “Every human being going through a divorce is legally insane. Remember that. Write that down.” Of course this got some chuckles from the class and then we dove into the material. I wrote it down as instructed. And I might have forgotten it had I not written it down. It wasn’t on the exam for the course, and it wasn’t on the Bar exam. It was lost for a few years in the minutia of legal study and early practice as an Assistant Solicitor. However, as a young lawyer striking out on her own in 1994, after three years in criminal court, I dug out those notebooks and saw that first line of notes. I was opening a Family Law practice. I already had a few clients. It finally hit home as to what my professor had meant.
I remember well my first domestic client. He was going through a divorce. There was one child of the marriage, a daughter, who was 11 years old. His wife was attempting to severely restrict his access to the child for no sound reason. And this was slowly driving him insane. So my role as his divorce attorney was to get him through the divorce equitably and preserve his relationship with his child, a relationship that his wife was fighting so hard to destroy. We ultimately were able to do just that. He actually ended up with joint custody after a hard fought battle. But the battles take their toll, financially and emotionally.
My first Guardian ad Litem cases were equally enlightening. One involved a child of a couple who ended their marriage in a murder-suicide, whose grandparents fought a long battle for her future. That child suffered a lot. Both sets of grandparents suffered a lot. Another involved a man who had fathered two children and who blew in and out of their lives like the wind, touting his “parental rights” to them. Again, a lot of suffering to go around.
My point is that Family Court is a place that is about much more than law. It is about families. Ideally, our families are our source of joy. They can also be our source of “crazy.” When lawyers and the Family Court become involved, my professor’s words ring true. I would re-word it a little. I would venture to say that every litigant in Family Court is undergoing some level of extreme psychological and emotional stress. These clients are best suited by an attorney who understands that and who serves not only the client’s legal interests, but recognizes the emotional and psychological issues and points them out to the client. Certainly a lawyer cannot serve as a mental health counselor. But a good lawyer will be familiar with local programs, support groups and counselors to help their clients get through the Family Court process.
M. J. Goodwin is the founding attorney of Goodwin Attorney at Law, LLC. She has practiced in South Carolina’s Family Courts since 1991.