It was assumed from the time I was in the womb that I would be a lawyer some day. But I never gave it a serious thought, primarily because I find the law, with its rigid language and redundancies, to be stultifying. It still amazes me that some of the most entertaining movies, novels and TV shows are about lawyers!
Clearly, the law can be made accessible by someone who lives with a foot solidly in this world and the other in the realm of jurisprudence. Gregory Forman came to my attention recently, not just because he is on the side of the angels, doing pro bono work for the ACLU, but because he has the smartest legal blog I have ever seen.
Forman practices family court law and is a certified family court mediator. More importantly, he blogs on matters of law and makes them amazingly clear and comprehensible. Here is an example:
Court of Appeals clarifies what is proof of physical cruelty and what isn’t proof of adultery
I have had a number of cases in which a spouse (in my experience, always the husband) has destroyed the home phone in the midst of a domestic altercation. Whether my client was the perpetrator or the victim of the phone destruction I have always taken this action to be of great significance: seeing it not as some random act of property destruction in the midst of a heated argument but rather as a measured attempt to prevent the other spouse from obtaining help. In my mind it is akin to kidnaping and I consider such phone destruction to be more dangerous than the pushing and slapping that goes on in some domestic disputes. Any spouse who would prevent the other spouse from seeking help is, in my mind, truly dangerous.
South Carolina case law finally supports this view. The April 5, 2010 Court of Appeals opinion in Gorecki v. Gorecki affirmed the trial court’s grant of a divorce to Wife on physical cruelty grounds. The incident that precipitated the separation was one in which the Husband:
… shoved her into a wall, verbally abused her and their grandchild, and then broke her phone when she tried to call for help. Wife testified she was in serious fear of bodily harm as a result of this incident, and even when he was not abusing her, she felt constantly threatened and under his control.
…In Gorecki Husband’s only physical violence in the incident leading to the separation was shoving Wife into a wall. That combined with Husband’s past abuse and his breaking Wife’s phone would reasonably put most women in serious fear of bodily harm. It is not surprising that this was sufficient abuse to give rise to a physical cruelty divorce.
What we got here is a failure to communicate
A few months ago I tried an initial custody case involving an eight-year old child on behalf of the father against a pro se mother. Patel v. Patel, 359 S.C. 515, 533, 599 S.E.2d 114 (2004), stands for the proposition that “there is an assumption that custody will be awarded to the primary caretaker.” Aware of this, I attempted to create substantial evidence in support of father’s claim for custody by showing that he was the primary, and only stable, caretaker for the child.
During the child’s life there were three periods, each lasting approximately one year, that mother was largely absent: once due to medical incapacitation; once due to incarceration; and once due to a move to Louisiana. At trial my cross examination of her attempted to elicit testimony that she was unable to “care” for the child during these periods. She vehemently denied what, to me, appeared seemingly obvious, claiming that even while incarcerated or hospitalized or a thousand miles away, she had “cared” for her child. Each time she would explain her “care” in what I perceived of as largely irrelevant details: she had sent the child a doll or a few articles of clothing. In the heat of trial these answers seemed slightly loopy. Meanwhile, she seemed to take great offense at my questions. The whole experience was slight surreal but in family court one gets used to this feeling, even if the feeling never become wholly comfortable.
Long after the trial, I had an “a ha” moment: Mother and I had differing definitions of “care.” Using the definition from Patel, I understood “care” as the actual work of handling the child’s day-to-day physical and emotional needs. Mother saw “care” as being concerned about the child’s well being and wishing the child’s happiness. From mother’s perspective, asking her if she “cared” about her child was offensive: how dare some attorney imply that didn’t wish her child well…?
I have no spouse or children, so I will probably not be calling on Mr. Forman for assistance, but I will be looking at his blog from time to time to gain insight into how this mystifying system of law applies to real people and situations. Check him out at www.gregoryforman.com/blog/