Kindness in the Court?


We may have gotten one step closer thanks to Fetzer Institute.

They chose to feature an excerpt of an article I wrote called, “Five Ways to Put a Heart into The Body of Family Law” on their internationally acclaimed blog last month. Even more: one of their kind and creative blog editors, Amy Ferguson,  invited my teen-aged son Tom who starts art school this fall, to draw an image she had in mind for the blog heading. Working in this kind of community collaboration is my greatest joy, next to spreading the message of bringing kindness to the family courts. This was an unexpected and precious culmination of my life’s work, seeing it move outward, toward kindred spirits who may be able to continue this challenging work. It also is an unforgettable memory for my son to have worked with his mom to make this art. Here is a bit more of the story.

In a traditional family court you must divorce your emotions and leave them at the door. Judges are expected to do the same.Your life becomes a file.

Now imagine family courts that not only acknowledge but embrace this truth: families in conflict are whole people with the same emotions we all have: pain, anger, grief and love.

As lawyers and mediators began creating programs outside the court to avoid this de-humanizing process, I moved right in. I wanted to change the system from the inside out. Thousands of people every year would continue to show up there. Many could not afford anything else. The rest did not know a better way.

I wasn’t naïve—I knew institutions resist change—but I am an optimist, and being a public servant meant something to me. I focused on public service and no other agenda. What services did this public need? The answers were obvious. People came to family court with their pain and their stories. Two things I personally knew well. I wanted to help, not harm.

It turned out not to be that difficult. I invited parents who just filed for divorce into my chambers. No black robe. No elevated bench. No armed deputies looming over us. They saw I was a fellow human being, with my children’s photographs on my desk and their scribbled drawings on the wall. I told them what I would tell a loved one: you are the experts on your family, not a judge, a complete stranger. I offered choices to empower them to solve the conflict themselves, peacefully. Ninety-eight percent chose an alternative to court.

I knew the entire family court model had to change from de-humanizing the people that needed them to a place of welcoming everyone with kindness.

It was not so easy moving this model outside my courtroom to the front door of the courthouse. In fact, it never happened. Now there is a chance, because the Fetzer Institute chose to feature “Five Ways to Put a Heart into the Body of Family Law.”

Fetzer Institute’s one and only mission is: To foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the emerging global community.

Maybe some Family Courts will start opening their hearings with “Kindness in the Court!” instead of “Order in the Court!”

Thank you, Fetzer Institute.

The Complete article was published in the Winter 2014 edition of the Collaborative Review, a publication of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP.)

(Permission of IACP and the author is required to re-publish.)

This entry was posted in Love. Bookmark the permalink.