Although I truly believe people going through divorce should avoid the courtroom if it all possible, going to court is the favorite part of my job.
With Christmas quickly approaching and divorced parents discussing holiday visitation, I wanted to share with you an experience I had a few years ago. The story I am sharing has been edited to protect the parties but I believe it still makes an important point.
On this day I observed an exchange between a judge and father that if on YouTube would easily receive a million hits. The exchange had a huge impact on me, my clients and everyone in the courtroom. My name is John Alberts and I am an attorney and founder of Bedlam Law in Yukon, OK, where we create resolution out of dissolution so people can live life.
When I walked into the courtroom it seemed like a typical hearing about some type of modification motion after the decree of divorce had been granted a few years earlier. Both the father and the mother were standing at the front of the courtroom facing the judge with their lawyers all dressed and ready for court.
When I noticed the situation, they were arguing about why the change should and should not take place. The father was speaking loudly and directly to the judge. He seemed particularly frustrated with his ex-wife. He was holding nothing back and was berating her to the judge. As the mother stood there with her lawyer silently, father described her inadequacies and talked openly about her faults.
Father told the judge about how he had shared his thoughts about his ex-wife with their children who were 12 and 14 years old. Trust me, he was detailed and deliberate in his words to the judge about his ex-wife. The father made sure the judge had a clear understanding of his opinion about his ex-wife. He also made it crystal clear he had shared the same opinion with the children about their mother.
After a few minutes of testimony which, by the way, was uncomfortable for the entire courtroom room, the judge interrupted the father. The judge looked at him and asked, do you have a mother? He looked at the judge with a puzzled look on his face and said yes. What is her name? Again clearly frustrated the father replied by giving the judge his mother’s name and then asked the judge what does this have to do with my case?
The judge disregarded father’s question and started speaking directly to him about his mother. The judge made similar comments about his mother, like the comments he had made about his ex-wife. The courtroom was totally quiet and all eyes focused on the judge and the very rude comments the judge was making about this man’s mother. I was feeling uncomfortable for this father.
After what seemed like an eternity, probably 30 seconds, of the judge berating the father’s mother the judge stopped. The judge just sat there looking at this angry man. The man’s face was red and his breathing rapid. He was clearly irritated at the judge and the words the judge used about his mother.
After a pregnant pause the judge asked the father, how do my words about your mother make you feel? Clearly upset, the father replied, it makes me angry and upset. The squeak from the chair filled the courtroom as the judge leaned back. Then how do you think your children feel when you use those words to talk to them about their mother?
Holidays can be hard for blended families, people who are divorced or going through divorce. This holiday season give your children the perfect gift, respect their parents. Do not use words to describe your ex-spouse that you would not want to be used to describe your parents. Follow your mother’s advice. If you do not have anything nice to say do not say anything at all. Merry Christmas.
John Alberts is a Yukon attorney and former Yukon city councilman.