I received an email from a recent client this weekend which concluded:
On a better note I just took [my son] to disney world and the florida keys. ten days camping out of a pickup with a cap living the good life all for $1500 and half of that was gas. thank you so much for all of your help. worth every dime.
Such expressions of gratitude are not uncommon for family law attorneys, especially those who handle custody cases. The father above retained me in early 2013 to seek custody of his son after receiving reports that the mother was living a rather unstable and dangerous life. We quickly removed son from mother’s care but the court was initially reluctant to give him custody and instead awarded custody to his mother–who lived near him in upstate New York. For the next year he and his mother raised his son together while he got his son into a charter school and stabilized his son’s dental and educational problems. An early 2014 trial resulted in a final order giving him sole custody and the right to have his son permanently remain in upstate New York. Now he is finally able to engage in the normal pleasures of parenting–such as taking his son camping and to Disney–as well as the responsibilities.
Helping parents gain the right to these pleasures and responsibilities is one of the chief satisfactions of practicing family law. Folks often ask family law attorneys why they entered a field in which the litigants are typically unhappy, even miserable. The family law attorneys I most respect generally give similar answers: to help parents be parents and to help spouses free themselves from marriages that drain them of happiness. Most civil litigation involves mere issues of money. For a family court litigant obtaining a successful outcome results in daily satisfactions. The reason this blog title uses the first person plural (“we”) is because this experience of client gratitude and this reason for entering this field is common for almost every family law attorney I respect.
That moving from family court judge to circuit court judge is considered a promotion is one of the sadder commentaries on our culture–yet another indication that we value money more than family. Those who practice family law with passion realize that this is inverted values. Enabling a biological parent to become or remain a hands-on parent is why we do what we do.