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Divorced Observations

This one’s a little different today. It’s a reflection on life at my current job in the New York State Court System. There’s nothing specifically Christian about it, except maybe to say that kindness, mercy, and grace can be a great comfort and help in some of the worst situations of life, whether we care to have God be involved in it, or not. I hope it’s encouraging, or at least gives you pause to consider how to seek the best way forward in any situation. 

I’ve worked in one courthouse or another for the past 27 years. In that time, I’ve processed juror summonses, helped people file for everything from restraining orders, to custody and visitation orders, and child support orders. I have, at different times, maintained various courtrooms as a clerk for a variety of judicial servants. I currently serve as a clerk for a divorce judge. That’s 27 years of being around law of one kind or another. As I write on, I thought it was important that you know that these thoughts don’t come lightly, or with inexperience. These are the imperfect thoughts of an imperfect man, that sits at an old desk, worn down with the daily observations of broken lives that walk through my ancient courtroom doors.

Day after day for the past 6 and more years, I have raised my right hand to swear in one couple after another so that a judge may eventually declare them divorced. Living where I do in New York City’s forgotten little borough, sometimes that means seeing familiar faces step up to the table for a judge to make that ruling. These are people I know. Some that I know very well. It’s certainly easier to dismiss the faceless masses that pass through these old wooden doors. It’s a bit harder when you know a couple, and you’ve spent time with them, and even considered over the years how good those two worked together as a couple. I can say I’ve had to experience that at least twice in my time here. It’s disheartening, but, you find a way to move on. I mean, I’m just watching it happen. They’re living it.

Through my time here, I have come to the personal conclusion that I believe there are valid reasons to divorce outside of unfaithfulness. Self-preservation, and safety of children being the two biggest of those reasons for me. It’s harder for me to fathom any other reason, but I won’t sit here on a pedestal judging anyone. I know a lot of it has to do with not feeling loved or cared for, and as a result, people drift apart. I suppose, it’s a kind of unfaithfulness, though I wouldn’t place it into the biblical category. Something has replaced your partner. Something else has your affection over everything else. It can be money, career, or any number of things. Like the chicken and the egg, we can ask which came first, and people will surely claim they took up this “distraction”, whatever it is, because they got no love or affection at home. Like I said, chicken or the egg.

It might even be the children that have replaced your life partner. Please don’t hit me. These are just my observations while I sit behind an old desk at work. But, from this old desk, I see that sometimes when kids enter the relationship dynamic, they become the center of the universe. I know this is a “duh” statement. Of course they do, but I’m not talking about time and effort. I’m taking about some level of self-worth. Many parents see their own ultimate success as found in how well they raise their children. Even us Christians, laud over our parental accomplishments as some marker for God to be pleased with us, and in turn worthy of some shower of blessing from Him. But with a child’s budding adulthood, comes the revelation that we still have a spouse. Some manage this transition well, while others have a court date.

Whatever the reasons for divorce, I take some solace in the fact that most are uncontested. This means that in some way, whatever differences are now causing them to separate, there is enough compromise for the sake of children, and a host of other matters, to settle the details of the divorce without severe animosity, or the need to go before a judge to get a ruling. In other words, they’re acting like adults. In some cases, people on both sides, are happily divorced. I’ve seen hugs and kisses as they walk out the door. It boggles my mind, but again, if people are going to get divorced, this has got to be better for someone’s peace of mind. I know another couple from years ago that divorced, but worked at making their divorce a success so it would have the least possible impact on their child. Knowing that adult child, I would have to say it worked out pretty good.

If there is the worst possible scenario in an impending divorce, I think It’s when it devolves into the need to determine custody by trial. If there were a perfect example of an open and festering wound, this would be it. In a custody trial, the broken marriage is split open, and the rottenness of everything it previously contained is poured out. Every hurt enacted upon the other is laid out for the ears of way too many people. The longer the trial, the deeper the cut. It pains me to say this, but it seems that the deeper the cut, the more likely possibility of facts being embellished to inflict even more damage. At some point, it feels less like a trial to determine what’s best for the children, and more like a pissing match to see who can one up the other with sordid details of this broken relationship.

It’s not that children can’t come out of a divorce and eventually thrive, but as hard as it is to deal with the divorce itself, a bitter and ugly battle adds another layer of difficulty. Certainly, age is a factor, but children are smart, and at any age can pick-up signs. With so many things out there vying for the attention of your children, a frayed relationship between parents will do much to drive them elsewhere, and maybe even amplify the possibility of making similar life mistakes. If I could, by sheer will, force a mindset upon any couple with children, who are past the point of marital restoration, it’s that they would have a mindset of consent and compromise to work out issues of custody and child support as amicably and as quickly as possible for the sake of the children involved. The peace of mind you may find in this for your children’s sake, can very well be what encourages you to finish this as quickly as possible for your own peace of mind.

So these are my thoughts, simply based on my daily observations. These thoughts are not based on any one case, but a totality of thousands, over the course of years. These are the observations of countless similar themes and struggles that I see across the entire sea of index numbers that come across the worn wooden desk. I hope it’s useful to you.

My last thoughts are wise words I once heard in the course of my time behind this old desk, “You’re getting divorced, you’re not going to get everything you want.”

If a divorce is the only option left, those words are probably the most honest place to start from.

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