The court room is packed. Lawyers are milling around the front of the room, waiting for the judge. Some ooze confidence. Most are stressed. A few look bored. Outside the low wooden gate that separates the lawyers and the judge from the rest of the world, nervous litigants pack the wooden benches – the “hard seats.” No one is happy. But then again, this is divorce court. No one is ever happy.
In spite of their pain, or maybe because of it, thousands of couples fill divorce court rooms all across the country every single day. They are all there for one reason: to get divorced.
Or, at least that’s what you might think.
As always, the truth is more complicated.
Why People Go to Divorce Court
If the only reason that people went to divorce court was to get divorced, you would be able to shoot a cannon down the hallway of most court houses and not hit anyone. They would be that empty.
he actual hearing required to get divorced – is not long. Even in the most complicated cases, it rarely takes more than an hour. (Usually, it takes much less.) That is assuming, of course, that everything is agreed.
The problem is that, even though upwards of 90+% of all divorce cases ultimately settle, few cases are uncontested right from the start.
That’s far from surprising. After all, if people could get along well enough to amicably divide up all of their possessions, split their livelihoods, and decide how they will co-parent their children, they probably wouldn’t be getting a divorce in the first place.
The truth is that people go to divorce court for a variety of reasons – most of which have nothing to do with actually ending their marriage.
Some people go to divorce court because they want to fight. They are angry and upset. Fighting in court will make their spouse angry and upset. Score!
Other people go to court because they think that’s just what you do when you get divorced.
Still other people go to court because they want the chance to tell the judge their story. They don’t realize that, even if they do go to court, they will never be able to tell the judge their story. That's not how the court system works.
But, no matter what anyone's reason is for going to court, everyone expects the same thing when they get there:
Yet, expecting to find something called “justice” in divorce court is the biggest divorce myth you will ever find.
Why Looking for “Justice” in Divorce Court is a Losing Game
“Justice” is complicated.
It’s not that justice doesn’t exist. It’s just that defining justice is often like trying to define water. You could say that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, but that doesn’t even begin to tell you what water is, what it means for life, or how it feels.
A lot of cynics – or people who have gotten the short end of the stick in an ugly divorce -- would say that there is no justice in divorce court. They will tell you that the court system is broken and that the judges are corrupt. I disagree.
Our court system is definitely over-crowded and under-funded. But, the reason that the divorce court system doesn’t hum along as perfectly as a jet engine on a 747 is not because the system is broken. Its because we are expecting a legal institution to solve family problems like a social welfare agency. That's unrealistic.
It’s also unrealistic to expect judges to sit like Solomon and provide “justice” to an endless parade of warring spouses. While most judges do their best, at least one angry spouse is always going to feel like the judge’s decision was unfair.
“Justice,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
What a husband who is looking at paying spousal support for the rest of his life thinks is “justice” is completely different from what his wife, who gave up her career 20 years ago to raise the kids and now doesn’t even have the skills to be a barrista at Starbucks, thinks is justice. Add to that the fact that the judge has his or her own ideas about “justice”, and you can see that doing “justice” in the court system is not so easy.
The Truth About Justice
Most people go to court because they want to tell the judge their story. They think that when the judge hears their story s/he will do what is fair. Loosely translated, that means that they believe that the judge will side with them.
As shocking as it may sound, it’s not necessarily the judge’s job to be fair. It's the judge's job to make a decision. It’s a judge’s job to follow the law. It’s a judge’s job not to enter arbitrary court orders just because the judge doesn’t like the shape of your head.
It is not, however, the judge’s job to do what you think is fair.
"But, what about the LAW?" you may ask. That's an interesting question.
Contrary to what most people think "the law" is not written in stone. The law changes all the time. The law, especially divorce law, was actually designed to be flexible. It was designed to give divorce judges a lot of discretion so that they can make decisions based upon the facts in each different case.
What that means is that, if you ask a judge to decide your case, the judge is going to make a decision based upon the facts, the law, and the judge’s own judgment. Whether you think the judge’s decision is “just” or “fair” or “right” will ultimately be your opinion.
How to Get Justice in Your Divorce
So, if going to divorce court isn't about getting justice, and it doesn’t matter whether you think your judge's decision was fair, then why go to divorce court at all?
The answer is this. You only go to court for one of two reasons: 1) to finalize your divorce; or 2) to get a divorced when your spouse won't agree to do it any other way.
If you resolve your issues through divorce mediation, negotiation, or by using collaborative divorce, you will only go to court to finalize your divorce. In that case, you will be the master of your own fate.
If your spouse is digging in his or her heels, or didn’t read this article and actually thinks that going to court is a good idea, then you will to end up letting some judge decide what will happen with the rest of your life. While that may not get you justice, it will get you divorced.
So, how do you get “justice” in your divorce? You start by understanding that “Justice” is subjective. Then you forget about getting "justice" and you focus on achieving the best possible result you can, under the circumstances that exist is your case.
Doing that might not make you feel like you got “justice.” But it just may eliminate the bitterness that comes when you expect something from the divorce court system that you are not likely to ever get.
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