Robbins: Family and domestic law is where the emotion lies |

Robbins: Family and domestic law is where the emotion lies

When I was a young lawyer, about 100 years ago, I began my law practice in Southern California. Our offices were close enough to the Pacific that lunch breaks generally included a run along the beach and a couple of quick waves.

Not to spoil the idyll, but when I was a young associate with what then was a 25-man firm (and yes, in those days law firms were almost entirely male; we had two very competent female attorneys among the 25), I remember reading in the California Lawyer, the monthly mouthpiece of the Bar, that an “associate” could be defined as “a low-cost, replaceable, receptacle of abuse.” Ah, those were the days.

The 25-man firm has merged and morphed into a 150-person juggernaut. Some of my old peeps are still there. Gender equality has reigned and among the 150, the gender balance is approaching equal. And due to greater awareness/sensitivity, while associates are still worked hard, they are no longer put to the whip. The waves still thunder with their uninterrupted rhythm on the shores of Mission Beach.

What has also changed since those halcyon days are the courthouses.  When I started out in practice, when you came into courthouse you just… um… just came in. Sure, there were always bailiffs in the courthouse, but metal detectors — à la TSA indignities — were unthought of.

A quick quiz for you. Choose one: The first courtrooms, in Southern California anyway, to get metal detectors, were: A, bankruptcy court; B, criminal court; C, family law court; or D, none of the above.

If you picked C, congratulations. The correct order is C, then A, then B, then all the other courtrooms. Now metal detectors and penitentiary-faced armed guards are all the rage. I would presume, in most every courthouse from San Diego to Ottumwa to Poughkeepsie, they are more ubiquitous than judges’ gavels. 

If you look closely, there is — besides the main point I wish to make — a sort of twisted irony here; in the gentler, more sensitive times, there is also greater anger and more fear. I’ll leave precisely why for the sociologists and political scientists to parse out. 

My point is, however, that family law is where emotion lies. In the C, A, B order of our quiz, above, the emotion rank, reflected by courthouse security measures, is home and hearth, followed by financial matters, followed by potential loss of freedom. I, for one, have found this, at the least, to be a fascinating insight.

When I pose this little quiz to folks, most presume that one faced with criminal prosecution is more likely to pop his or her cork than a person dealing with divorce, custody and parenting matters. Although I have admittedly not researched the statistics, this appears not to be the case.  Anecdotally, at least, most times when you hear of violence in a courtroom it arises from a family law dispute.

Bring the Kleenex

If you ponder on this though, it all makes sense.

Divorce can be devastating, especially when there are kids involved. When one is staring down divorce, it shakes his or her world from head to tippy-toe. Hopes and dreams are suddenly cast upon the shores of disappointment, imagined futures have been blurred and may be unrecognizable, one’s financial stability is rocked, and your kids will almost certainly be torn from beneath your loving roof at least some of the time.   Eventually, you may have to accept that instead of mom and dad raising your kids, it may be mom and new dad and dad and new mom — and you get no say in who at least one of these new influences will be.

It can be truly wrenching.

I have been at his law stuff full time for 35 years. For most of that time, a substantial part of my practice has been family law. For all of that time, I have kept a well-stocked box of Kleenex close at hand.

When people ask what kind of law I practice and I proudly include domestic law among the mix, the usual reaction I get is either, “Oh, that must be hard” or “Ewww, why would you ever do that?!”

A true counselor

Well, here’s why.

First, you’ll note that many lawyer’s letterheads declaim that they are “Attorneys and Counselors at Law.” The third word is the key to “why.” One of the things I most enjoy about the practice — particularly in this close community of ours — is the counseling part of it, helping someone through a difficult time and having them emerge on the other side of it both hopeful and intact. Second, is perhaps a more selfish reason; domestic law is both interesting and often complex. Issues to be dealt with, besides the obvious, frequently include real property law, securities law, tax law, estate law, mental health law, criminal law, and more. In short, a good domestic lawyer has to be constantly on his or her toes.

By the way, not all domestic matters deal directly with divorce. For example, there are at times prenuptial and postnuptial agreements that must be prepared. And contrary to the cultural meme, at times divorcing couples can be downright nice to one another. This, of course, is always the hope and the ideal.

Most times, though, even where a couple can maintain civility towards one another, divorce is chockfull of emotion. This is normal. When one is delivered a blow to the emotional solar plexus, a gasp is an appropriate response. If, however, one can keep one’s reason about him and keep sight of the preeminence of the children’s’ welfare, most times, folks come out the other side as better people.

When I run into or follow up with a client, three, six or 12 months after a divorce and ask, “How are you doing?” the most common response I get is, “Better than ever!”

It is good to keep sight of that. Things will get better. You will move on. You will be whole again.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address,

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