Christmas in Delaware Family Court

For the first time in my 20 years as a lawyer, I spent this Christmas Eve in Family Court. I am a trial lawyer, so I am used to having my personal schedule determined by an unsympathetic Court that needs to process an incredible number of cases in a short period of time. Since I practice both family law and criminal defense, I am also used to the spike that occurs in Court activity around the Christmas holiday. This however, was a first. It seems that with each passing year the number of holiday filings increase and the accusations get more plentiful but with less merit. More Petitions for Emergency Custody and Petitions for Protection from Abuse mean more and more children and families are awaiting a ruling from a Family Court Judge or Commissioner to find out how they will spend their Christmas break.

This year as I entered the Court on the day before Christmas, in addition to seeing Christmas sweaters on the family Court staff, I also saw a waiting room full of mothers, fathers, young children and interested family members, all looking very apprehensive and serious. I wondered what each of them would be doing the next morning. I was curious as to whether their Christmas day would be better or would be a bitter disappointment depending on how their trip to family Court went. I also began to think about the impact this day would have on the futures of the children involved. What would it be like down the road when the children of these proceedings graduate or get married? Will the children have to play mediator between a mom and dad who still don’t get along? Will the joy of those special occasions instead be a time of anxiety and fear, wondering how two acrimonious families will interact at a gathering that mixes the two? Will the children simply avoid any event that promises potential conflict? How will this event shape their own future relationships?

As a family law attorney, I believe our job is more than just to win the battle in front of us. It is also more than getting our client what they want at that moment. Our job is to help our clients and their children through these life altering events with care, concern and sensitivity. This means helping our client remember that there is a long term goal that needs to be considered. As we lay out and argue the implications of the law of 13 Del.C Section 722 and 728 and how the facts of the case should be viewed, we also need to remember that what happens today in Court could last a lifetime for a child. We will not always be successful in helping our clients achieve a harmonious resolution. Nevertheless, that should wherever possible, be our goal. We need to remember that every “Win” comes with a consequence and every conflict comes at the cost of relationship, time and energy. This is true not only for the parents who are our clients, but also for the children who spend their formative years awaiting a decision from a judge while lawyers argue which parent’s position serves the best interest of the child, how much contact the children should have with each parent and where the children should spend their Christmas holiday.

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