Frequently when talking to a client, I feel that I am practicing more psychology than law. In fact, in some cases, it’s a true pleasure when we get to the legal issues involved, as opposed to the emotional ones.
More importantly, when serving as a guardian ad litem, my recommendation typically involves child development and behavior, — areas not taught in law school. Still, the court relies heavily on my recommendation. In fact, I’ve never had a court deviate from my recommendation.
Recently, a mother asked me, “If you have no training in child development, why are you making decisions regarding my children?” My answer (beside that I only make recommendations, not decisions) that this is the system in Wisconsin did little to satisfy her.
Similarly, when divorcing parties seek therapy with a mental-health professional, frequently their concerns are as much legal as psychological. They may be intimidated by the legal process and scared of their future economic prospects. Their therapists usually do not have legal training to sufficiently address these concerns.
Judges and family court commissioners sit at the junction of psychology and the law. While they want to mollify anxious parties in order to encourage settlement and, most importantly, to make the best decisions for children, they are lawyers by training. Similar to the practicing bar, their psychological knowledge largely comes from on-the-job training.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an organization in which professionals from the family-law bar, mental-health providers and the courts come together in an effort to share information?
Actually, not only does such an organization exist, but it is based in Madison. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ mission is: “An interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict.”
I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at several of their conferences and have been highly impressed with the high degree of professionalism and scholarship.
Now, a group of professionals are working to establish a specific Wisconsin chapter of AFCC. The initial president is Milwaukee County Judge Michael Dwyer and president-elect will be Washington County Family Court Commissioner Dolores Bomrad, both of whom have devoted a substantial amount of time to getting the chapter started.
But do we really need another family-law organization? We already have some local family-law bars, after all, as well as a state bar family-law section and an American Bar Association family-law section. There are Inns of Courts, collaborative groups and lord knows what else.
I would argue, yes, because AFCC offers two features not available elsewhere.
First, members receive “Family Court Review: An Interdisciplinary Journal.” This journal is not “Divorce 101.” Rather, it is graduate-level. In fact, some articles are Ph.D-level and over my head. A recent issue concentrated on immigration issues in family court. Another is a symposium on Attachment Theory and how it affects custody and placement decisions. Other recent articles include “A Family Law Perspective on Parental Incarceration,” “Sexuality in Child Custody Decisions,” “Mental Health Consultants and Child Custody Evaluations,” and “A Review of Online Divorce Education Programs.”
If you ever serve as a GAL in Wisconsin, you need this information to properly perform your role. If you only represent parties who have minor children, you will be a better lawyer with this information. You can only get it by joining AFCC.
Second, the Wisconsin chapter will present local programs and the national organization presents conferences and training throughout the country and sometimes overseas. These conferences combine the best mental health, judicial and legal talent in this field and include cutting-edge research.