This article, Do Divorce Lawyers Serve Children?, is the third in a four-part series of guest posts by Molly K Olson. A version of this article was originally published in The Mankato Times on January 23, 2019. Be sure to read her other articles on this site, Journey To Equal Shared Parenting and Benefits Of Equal Shared Parenting Far Outweighs The Status Quo.
EQUAL SHARED PARENTING: DO DIVORCE LAWYERS SERVE CHILDREN?
By Molly K Olson
In my home state of Minnesota, and across the country, there is a common thread: lobbyists representing a small group of entrenched divorce lawyer groups vehemently oppose equal shared parenting.
The divorce industry uses lobbyists to pressure and mislead legislators to make and maintain laws that benefit them. The problem is custody and parenting time laws that benefit lawyers doesn’t help the rest of us, especially children. Inequitable and vague laws cause people to fight, and that benefits lawyers.
Laws that benefit lawyers are laws that fan the flames of conflict. The more conflict, the more money for lawyers. The more equal the law, the more people reach agreements on their own and spend less money on lawyers. The divorce industry thrives on laws that encourage fighting over who is the better or worse parent, even when both are adequate.
It is a sad state of affairs that some policymakers rely on lobbyists for the divorce industry as their most credible source regarding what is best for children when their parents separate. The divorce industry consists of a large group of professions that profit off the demise and conflict of families.
The practitioners include judges, lawyers, custody evaluators, parenting time consultants, parenting time expediters, early neutral evaluators, and a host of other titles they create for themselves. They have even hijacked and impaired mediation.
Legislators who block progress until lobbyists for the divorce industry end their opposition and jump on the equal shared parenting bandwagon will be waiting forever.
This delay is a disservice to the public and harms children.
The divorce industry has too much money to lose to ever support equal shared parenting. This won’t change unless policymakers force their hand.
Divorce lawyer lobby groups who fight against equal shared parenting include but are not limited to: State Bar Association, State Bar – Family Law Section, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Legal Aid, Trial Lawyers, Association for Family Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and others.
The general public wonders why the lobbyists for the divorce lawyer groups even have a say in the matter because they shouldn’t.
It is well known that lobbyists for the $50 billion anti-equal shared parenting divorce industry they serve:
Do not represent children. Their stated goal is to represent the (self) interest of their profession.
According to the Minnesota Bar Association website, “The Family Law Section’s purpose is to promote the practice of family law as a profession …” Promoting the legal profession has nothing to do with supporting the best interests of children. In family court, each lawyer represents one of the parents.
Both are fighting for the children because the laws don’t assume both fit and loving, involved parents can or should be equally involved. How can these lawyers and their lobbyists fool the legislators into thinking they are doing anything for the children?
It would be malpractice for a lawyer to put the child first because they are ethically bound to fight for their client, who is one of the parents.
Are not a trusted resource regarding children. Lawyers don’t go to law school to learn what social science says is best for children. A local chief judge said, “it’s not our job to know the social science, that’s up to the legislature.” Lawyers often blame the legislature for anything that the public thinks is wrong in the law, even when they wrote it.
Judges, who have unbridled discretion in family court, and do have the power to support equal parenting (but too often don’t), also have put the blame at the feet of the legislators, saying “if you don’t like the law, take it up with your legislator.”
Do not represent all attorneys. The family law section of the Bar Association in Minnesota has 945 members. On average, only 46 lawyers attend the monthly meetings. Minnesota has the 8th largest number of lawyers per capita, with 25,483 lawyers. Minnesota has a voluntary bar, which allows them to lobby for and against the legislation.
There are states where the bar association is prohibited from lobbying. States that have a mandatory bar, like Kentucky, do not allow lawyers to lobby. When divorce lawyers stand down, legislators see the light and are able to focus on what’s best for children.
More and more enlightened lawyers are unafraid of the small minority at the bar and are willing to speak out contrary to the bar, and for equal shared parenting.
Has controlled family law statutes for far too long. There is widespread agreement that “family law is broken.” Yet, it is the divorce lawyers who for decades have controlled how family law is written. So, why are the very lawyers who made the mess, given any say on how to fix it?
When in reality the divorce lawyer groups are not experts in families. Nearly all task force’s established in our state and across the country to figure this out have consistently been dominated by divorce lawyers and divorce practitioners who make money off the billable hours created by the conflict created without equality. They stack the deck to win the battle against shared parenting and then call it a “collaborative” effort.
Need the laws to be so convoluted that people are forced to hire a lawyer. Divorce lawyers have become unaffordable at rates of $250-$500/hour. The average parent earns $18-$35/hour.
Then on top of the lawyers, fit parents are often forced to pay a long list of other practitioners to evaluate their value as a parent. And when they have no more money, they have to give up and/or take a bad deal. No fit parent wants to give up their kids, but they are forced to when the money runs out.
Hide behind the claim “every case is different” or “it’s complicated,” to preserve their profession. This is the attorney code phrase for “we lawyers want to nit-pick ever possible little thing the parents can fight over, and we want the door wide open to battle anything and everything for the sake of winning.” The lawyers want to keep the process as “complicated” as they can to prevent people from going it alone. Job security.
Believe parents are too incompetent to resolve issues on their own. Left to their own devices, most healthy people are capable of self-determination and will deal in good faith when there is a level playing field.
Most people can and will figure out a way to work things out. When you have two average normal fit parents (which the vast majority are), they shouldn’t even be in court or have divorce lawyers involved.
Are part of the judiciary who implement the laws not make the laws. In our form of government, the three branches of government were designed with intent and purpose that allow “we the people” to have our wishes represented by legislators. The legislator is supposed to protect the individual rights and wishes of the people not the “special [self] interest” of divorce lawyers.
Let this be the year – finally, after 20 years of public outcry — which legislatures across the United States pay attention to the credible peer-reviewed social science research and truly protect children with a rebuttable presumption of joint physical custody and equal shared parenting.
It is anticipated that at least 25-30 states will consider this solution for children. Fix the outdated laws for the sake of children. Children thrive with both parents in their lives.
Molly K Olson is the Founder of the Center for Parental Responsibility (JPCeffort@corgpr-mn.) and Co-Founder Leading Women for Shared Parenting (www.lw4sp.org)