Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Family Law a Masterful Scam? A Criminal Enterprise?

I thought I would reprint my response to a comment on my last post, which was on the issue of alimony reform, as I believe it deserves its own post here. Over the years, I have found some people to be so angry and bitter, after going through difficult experiences in the family law system, that they lose all sense of reality and become paranoid. I have thought about this again recently after reading my colleague, family law blogger Sam Hasler's post Paranoia and Divorce, which links to yet another very thoughtful post by British blogger Marilyn Stowe, Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster – but are you paranoid?

I have heard, read, and otherwise witnessed a surprising number of comments from prospective clients, litigants, and others, who seem truly to believe that the family law system is a corrupt, criminal enterprise. The comment below is a representative sample of that misguided belief. Following that is my response to the anonymous comment.

Anonymous said...
Reprint of blog on Boston Business Journal website in response to Lisa Van der Pool's article 9/18/09
"BBA BACKS BILL TO CAP ALIMONY" Take note. Senate bill 1616 seeks to do one thing and one thing only. That is, to keep the power to control your life, determine your future, and keep you under the jurisdiction of the courts until they feel they are done with you. Family law is a masterful scam not unlike TV wrestling. The lawyers and judges put on a great act in their pretend roles. But, the truth is they all belong to the same organization and they will never act on their own to stifle their own power to run the scam. Any legislator who doesn't act to stop it is an accessory to organized judicial crime. The Bar by seeking to give judges the power to determine alimony duration, knows that 1616 will rely on the honor of "his honor" who in the past has proven that he has no honor in the family court ring. They are all winking at each other because they know how easy it has been to pull the wool over the public's eye in the past. But when it comes to family law, "the emperor has no clothes".
Steven Ballard said...
Anonymous- most posts like yours I do not allow here. Since you make an ad hominem attack on all lawyers and judges in the family law system, rather than upon any single individual, I have allowed it to be published here, but only because it is representative of the response of so many who - though justified in being outraged - go over the top in their paranoia.

While there are very real biases and vested interests, family law is not a masterful scam or a criminal enterprise. People who are divorcing and fighting each other need to take responsibility for their own mistakes rather than simply blaming their lawyers and the system, and subscribing to inane, ridiculous conspiracy theories about lawyers and judges who are supposedly getting rich at their clients' expense.

Those who are in the legal system -especially including those within the most profitable, big law firms, firms which in fact do not even have family law sections, even as loss leaders, because they would be insufficiently lucrative -find comments such as yours to be laughable.

It's sad many people are so bitter that they actually believe this kind of conspiratorial crap. Many hate lawyers and judges so much that they can't even think straight, or examine basic facts.

One of those facts is that there are many very good people who work as divorce and family law practitioners and judges. Most of them in fact work very hard in a very difficult profession, dealing with very difficult people in contentious cases, and many of them also perform important pro bono work and public service in their communities, while generally earning modest incomes relative to others in the legal profession.

Change the law, improve the system, yes. But in your own individual cases, you should always take a good hard look in the mirror before assessing blame for problems in your own home.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.


Sam Hasler said...

Great comments, and I am going to post them to my blog. I have had the same thoughts but have not expressed them. Warning, I am going to post them over at my place.

Steven Ballard said...

Thanks, brother. No need to "warn" me! Post away. Of course, I am always borrowing from your excellent blog. It's kind of comforting, in an odd sort of way, although also troubling, to know that the problem of family law client paranoia is universal. Or if not universal, then at very least - judging by the blogs mentioned above - it's alive and kicking in Indiana, Massachusetts, and somewhere in the United Kingdom. :)

Jane said...

You claim that there is no conspiracy, and I'm not sure there is one myself, BUT the level of anti-male feeling and behavior in the massachusetts family court system is off the charts. I'm sorry, that is not paranoia. The Commission on Judicial Conduct receives complaints about judges and most are about gender bias in the courts and about 80%+ are about gender bias against males. This is year after year after year. If you go to www.courtforum.com and read comments about probate judges in MA and then compare them to probate judges in NYC and every other state, you will see NOTHING that resembles the virulent anti-male attitudes of a many, many MA probate judges. This is not paranoia. ANd I don't mean one or two judges, I mean half a dozen or more. This degree of slamming men does not show up in comments in other states. It just doesn't. This state has a very serious problem, and it shows up in how judges rule on all family court matters. That is why new alimony laws, not wimpy "recommended guidelines" from the bar association, are essential. Thanks!!

Steven Ballard said...

Jane, I agree there remains a problem with prevailing anti-male attitudes among far too many in the family law establishment in Massachusetts, and that includes, unfortunately, a number of our judges. I have said as much here on my blog in the past. I have also said, and continue to believe, that there has been a big improvement in the attitudes, and rulings, of judges on the bench and in the greater family law community over the last ten years - that is, I have seen increasingly less discrimination against men. Judges are human beings, and are not perfect. I do believe we will continue to see progress but it will take time. True equality is difficult to achieve.

John Bolch said...

Excellent post. I had been thinking of writing something along the same lines on my blog, but you beat me to it! Instead, I shall refer to this post.

Steven Ballard said...

What, John, you mean you have 'em over there in the UK too? :)

John Bolch said...

I'm afraid we do! :-)

Steve McDonough said...

This does seem to be an issue that most, if not all, family aw practitioners have to contend with. I wonder if some of these cases were approached differently from the beginning if it would make a significant difference how some people feel by the end of the process.

That being said, I think your comment about looking in the mirror is also spot-on.

Anon Midwest said...

Well since this debate has gone cross-state lines, I will pitch in.

Family Law gets a bad rap in the public imagination, because it's the only kind of law where a person who is minding his/her own business, and has done nothing wrong, can still get dragged into court, and end up getting ordered things by a judge.

Innocent spouses who haven't violated their marital vows, who are being divorced by a restless other spouse, being ordered to pay alimony, sometimes for life, is one such example. And that in "pure no fault" states this happens even in the face of proven adultery by the filing spouse, is even more scandalous.

In what other kind of law is the person breaking a contract rewarded? This kind of justice just doesn't sit right with many people.

Lastly, I know that you lawyer guys and gals in the trenches don't make the laws. Same with the judges whose hands are tied by statute. So I agree with Steven's point that the "big bad lawyers" polemic is very unfounded. It's shooting the messenger pure and simple. It's good to see that at least in Massachusetts, there is an open debate going on how to improve the laws, and that there are lawyers on both sides of the debate.

Sam Hasler said...


My cross-post will be up shortly.

Any idea of why this general bias against men? I know of judges here who have seem to have a bias against women but not of men and nothing general - more like personal wounds showing in public.

Also, am I correct that your trial judges are not elected?