His divorce was going really badly: aggressive lawyers on both sides, court battles and blame-ridden affidavits!
About a month ago, he was supposed to call me to see if there was another way to deal with this “mess”. The call never came. He had taken his own life; leaving behind a young child and a ghastly reminder of the ineffectiveness of our family justice system.
I cannot begin to imagine the utter bleakness this man must have experienced. I do, however, know that anyone entering the court system doesn’t come out better! Almost every parent faces a similar agonizing pattern: countless sleepless nights; mountains of lawyer letters and affidavits aimed at discrediting the other’s parental capacity; shame; loneliness; loss of hope; and loss of dignity.
No one wins in court!
Compelling research has long-established the irreparable damage of going to court. No one ever wins! And, no amount of court “wins” will ever compensate for the damage to the families’ relationships, emotional, financial and mental health. And, yet, many lawyers push clients into the direction of court without regard for their vulnerability or the increased risk of mental illness of divorcing parties. It is not because lawyers don’t care, but because they are not trained to recognize and control for these risk factors; nor do they conduct any prior screening. The obvious danger here is that a client’s vulnerability will be misconstrued and used in an inappropriate way. And, in many cases, that’s precisely what happens.
We didn’t have to call a lawyer when we got married. So, why do we do it when we are divorcing??
So, why are we conditioned to first “call a lawyer” when divorcing? We don’t call a lawyer when we decide to get married or have a child; we most certainly don’t call a lawyer for a bris or baptism; and, I can’t imagine anyone calling a lawyer when deciding about bedtime routine! Yet, divorce gets a different treatment; even though it is a life event just like any other, only more intense, more emotionally charged and, definitely, more painful. Thus the logic follows that there are more reasons to manage it in a way that will not intensify nor escalate / create conflict: keep it out of an adversarial system (aka court system). Then, there must be something fundamentally flawed if, as a society, we are being convinced that the right way to manage divorce is by inviting strangers to make decisions for our families; placing more trust in a debilitating system than the other parent; and, mistakenly, converting a highly emotional process into a legal one.
His only way out was suicide…
But neither logic nor research seem to be weighing enough. Instead of creating adequate supports, our tax dollars are consistently funding the machinery that pulls families apart and contributes at systemically attacking and destroying an individuals’ sense of control, ownership and ultimately, their sense of dignity under the guise of “justice”. This system has been tactically designed to pressure parents into submission and satisfy the needs of its own operational structure; it is a gross misconception of “fairness”. Ironically, society continues to glorify legal battles, and zealous advocacy is seen as the ultimate act of defending a parties’ rights and entitlements. You would think that that includes defending their lives, too!
Unless there is evidence that court is a better and safer alternative, which, in most cases it is not, then, I suggest that it is careless to push families into a system that has been shown to escalate conflict, to trigger mental illness and, in tragic cases, claim the lives of parents. It is not the divorce that kills, it’s the system and the “games” that come with it. Another man has lost faith in the judiciary and his life…
Our thanks to the American Bar Association Section for Dispute Resolution for permission to post these videos.Parties and advocates can flounder in the intersection of logic and emotion. What if...By SAMUEL J IMPERATI