As the Judge strode back into the courtroom, Suzanne began fidgeting relentlessly. She was ready for this, but at the same time, she was afraid. Calm down and think about a happy moment in your life, Suzanne told herself repeatedly. As the Judge was getting ready to sit down, Suzanne glanced at the round clock on the wall in front of her. It was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. She knew she only had a split second to reminisce about the happiest moment in her life, but it was more than sufficient.
Crying, lots of joyful crying, Suzanne thought as she recalled the perfect harmony of crying and laughter that ensued the first introduction of Liz into this world. It was 5 o’clock on February 3, 2004. The infant was tiny, but had brought about the greatest amount of joy. What a wonderful time of the day that was. I’ve raised her for 14 years, and I’m going to continue being an important part of her life, no matter what happens today.
As the Judge began to announce her ruling, Suzanne’s heart sank. No, this can’t be happening! Her eyes began to fill with profuse tears. She felt as if the world had come to an end. At 5 o’clock that day, Suzanne legally lost custody of Liz. The custody litigation that had begun about 2 years ago had come to an end. Liz’s father, who had been a stranger to Liz and rarely supported Liz financially during the past 14 years, was going to be the new custodial parent.
Unfortunately, tragedy similar to that of Suzanne’s occur in family law. Unfair and harsh custody orders are issued sometimes. Human factors, including the judge, attorneys for both parents, and the Guardian ad Litem are integral to the complicated custody calculus. And because these are human factors we are talking about, there will be mistakes and bias. For example, if a parent in a custody litigation makes a terrible impression on the judge by being blatantly rude in the judge’s courtroom, then this may affect some aspects of the outcome of the trial. Discord between an attorney and the judge may have an adverse effect. So may a biased Guardian ad Litem. And the list goes on.
Human factors in the complex custody calculus-or any other litigation for that matter-are necessary evils because only human beings can fathom and balance all the relevant circumstances in a particular case. But this comes at a price. Human beings are susceptible to bias and errors.
Despite our shortcomings as human beings, we need to do our best to prevent unjust or unfair outcome that is contrary to the applicable laws and public policy. This is especially true in family law matters where the welfare and happiness of minor children are at issue. We need to prevent another Suzanne facing similar tragedies at 5 o’clock in the courtroom. Time is of the essence.