Is There Justice In Divorce?

A judge once said to me, “One of the challenges for anyone in the court system to appreciate is that there is a difference between what might seem like justice in the broadest sense and the narrow set of issues that a court gets to decide in any particular case. I’ve got an obligation under our system of law to focus on the narrow set of issues and, within that, try to do justice. It doesn’t mean I always get to look at the big picture in the way parties want me to.”

That was a profound statement to me. My belief has always been that if you got your day in front of a judge, justice would prevail.

In my post-divorce case, the judge awarded in my favor, but I did not prevail with the divorce justice I felt I deserved.

How does a judge decide who gets what in a divorce?  I really don’t know. What I can tell you is that while the charges against me were denied, yet it cost me over 15k to defend my innocence. My attorney never fought for my attorney fees or punitive damages because he said the judge, in the chamber, told him he would not award it. Although it was made it clear that I was not asking for a guarantee of being awarded anything, it was made clear that I wanted my request and reasoning on record. Do I have a right to hear the judge’s response directly and not what my attorney said he said behind closed doors? On top of that, not being able to voice my thoughts left me feeling unsettled. I started to think that there really was no such thing as divorce justice.

The judge ruling on a divorce has to make so many decisions with limited time and information. They do their best.

Yet, I have heard from hundreds of lawyers who agree that the divorce justice system is broken. If this is common knowledge, shouldn’t lawyers band together to change this broken system instead of using a system as an excuse to settle cases that provide no chance of justice for their clients? If judges get frustrated by the attorneys who come unprepared shouldn’t judges band together to make change by holding attorneys accountable. Is it that attorneys, judges, and legislatures just get themselves caught up in procedure rather than looking to achieve divorce justice?

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What is Justice in Most Divorce Cases?

The profound statement made to me by that judge shed light on the fact that the judge’s role is to apply the law, a body of regulations and standards which we presume are based on the idea of justice. Having an attorney who will be your strongest advocate is your one big hope that your voice will be heard. The problem with that is most attorneys will force you to settle because the system is set up to settle. I learned through many objections from the other side, that you cannot just speak directly to the judge or your spouse in the courtroom. You must speak through the attorney or through answering only the questions asked. I do not know about you, but I like to speak for myself. The court system does not allow for that in family court, and it does not seem like it will change anytime soon.

Getting Divorce Justice Through Mediation

Your best bet is mediation. Mediation is a place where your voice will be heard. You will hear your spouse tell their version of what justice they are seeking. You can speak directly to the mediator and your spouse and convey the facts because you believe you know the facts. Whether accepted or not, you get the opportunity to propose a resolution.

It is true that litigating attorneys may have negative feelings about the mediation process because typically one party is usually not knowledgeable about the financial structure of the marital estate. I happen to agree with that theory, but I would further state that this remains true even if a couple goes through litigation. I have seen countless cases where individuals sign off on agreements without understanding the financial consequence. What if this could be resolved?

At My Divorce Solution we have a solution.

By obtaining your MDS Financial Portrait first, you will go into mediation will a rock-solid foundation to your marital estate and will be empowered with the financial knowledge needed to make clear and informed financial decisions that will impact the rest of your life. As a CDFA, I want to challenge all of you who want to change a broken system by demanding that every mediator, every divorce professional and every person going through divorce is awarded the luxury of having a financial blueprint so that the differences between what is fair and what is equitable is easily decided when dividing the marital assets and debts.

Finding Your Own Justice in Divorce

Justice can boil down to fairness and moral rightness. Moral rightness is something that each of us have to come to ourselves. I believe that fairness can be found in Mediation. Equipped with financial knowledge, a couple can navigate the emotional and financial impact of divorce through mediation instead of a broken system. Looking at the big picture is necessary to moving forward in a positive way. Focusing on the immediate desire to get divorced quickly could be your most costly mistake. Putting your head in the sand and allowing your attorney to fight for you or promise you outcomes out of their control is your worst chance of finding the justice you may be looking for. We can only let go of negative feelings about our marriage and divorce if we come to terms with the eventual outcome. Invest in getting the financial clarity you need; it is the best way to invest in yourself. And it may turn out that justice does prevail.

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Getting Personal with Catherine Shanahan

At age 18, she was the first one in her family to leave home to attend college. By age 23, she was the top producing female financial advisor in the Philadelphia area. And at age 27, she walked away from it all to become a full-time mom to three step-children and eventually two of her own while her husband rose to the top of his career. The next 23 years brought much joy watching her children flourish into young adults, but the verbal abuse she received from her partner during that time restrained her from reaching the true happiness she deserved. At 44, she decided it was time for her to reclaim her future and filed for divorce.

With hopes of a fresh start and a desire to help others through the divorce process, Catherine co-founded My Divorce Solution, a company whose mission is to transform an experience she knew far too well from a difficult one into an empowering one. As a trained certified divorce financial analyst, a mediator, and daily money manager, Catherine stands strong by her commitment to ensure no women allows divorce to define who they are. She is excited her share her own experience with divorce, the lessons she’s learned from the brave women she’s surrounded by, and why she’s more inspired than ever for women single, married, and everything in-between.

Catherine Shanahan is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at My Divorce Solution who partners with Karen Chellew, LL. My Divorce Solution is committed to helping divorcing couples develop a transparent plan via the MDS Financial Portrait.

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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. 

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