Robbins: The role of the family court facilitator
As Pat Benatar sings, “Love Is a Battlefield.”
The late, great comedian, George Carlin, used to have a schtick comparing football to the national pastime of baseball. “Baseball is pastoral,” he would start. “Football is technological. Baseball is played on a diamond in a park. Football is played on a gridiron in a stadium, War Memorial Stadium … Baseball has a seventh-inning stretch; football has a two-minute warning … In football you get a penalty; in baseball, you make an error … oops” and on and on it would go.
To my twisted way of thinking, the family court facilitator, compared to the cold and sterile fields of general civil or criminal litigation, is sorta like that. The FCF is a buffer and an ombudsman of sorts, whose goal — besides keeping things moving along — is to keep things clement.
Back to Ms. Benatar …
“We are young
Heartache to heartache
Love is a battlefield”
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While not all divorces are like that, like football, too many are fought in their own War Memorial Stadiums.
Before we go on, though, to exactly what a family court facilitator is and what one does, an apocryphal tale from my early days of practice in San Diego.
Most big cities have separate “divisions” and separate courtrooms for the different areas of law. In San Diego, when I left in 1993, if memory serves me well, there were 67 courtrooms. By comparison, the Eagle County Combined Courts in Eagle has 4.
In the bigger metros, the divisions include civil court, criminal court, juvenile court, traffic court, domestic court, and so on. When I first started practicing, in a less confrontational age — an age when you could meet your arriving friends or family members at the airline gate — neither the entry to the courthouse itself, nor any of the courtrooms — made you empty your pockets, strip down to your tighty whities before entering, and pass through a metal detector. In fact, who ever heard of such a thing? I need not tell you that times, now, are different. Want to go to a ballgame, catch a flight, or see a concert, prepare to drop trou (at least metaphorically), and be prepared for an electronic inquisition.
Back in the day, though, not such much.
But then things began to change. And in the legal world — my legal world at least — the first division to install metal detectors was the family law courts. That, my friends, is where emotions run the highest. It is telling that bankruptcy court was second and criminal courts were third. Ruminate on that for just a moment: What sets blood pressures soaring to their highest were, in this order, messing with one’s family, then messing with one’s money, and, last, messing with one’s freedom.
In any event…
Since emotions in family law cases run so high, creative minds came up with the concept of the family court facilitator, or FCF, whose unenviable job is to tamp down the flames and passions of divorce and other family legal matters. Who, then, are they, and what, precisely do they do?
Besides taking flack and wearing halos, and being buffers between the lawyers and the parties on the one hand and the judges on the other, FCFs help guide the case onto the right path for the judge so that it doesn’t get bogged down in the court and, also, when children are involved, to keep the focus on the kids. They generally will raise various options that may help resolve your case, for example reaching a settlement instead of duking out your conflicts in the open warfare of trial. They will discuss, encourage, and goad the parties toward resolution, steer the case toward mediation, and (as the title implies) referee disputes and help to facilitate their resolution. Unlike a judge, however, (to borrow from former President George W. Bush), they are not “the deciders.” While they can and do cajole, finesse, push, shove and encourage, if the parties are intractable, the judge will ultimately sort things out.
FCFs keep the boat of potential conflict on a steady and mostly predictable course and do their utmost to spare it from an unfortunate and non-productive harbor. Their role is one part peacemaker, one part case administrator, one part psychologist, and one part legal magician. Without them, the wheels of family law disputes would soon come off.
Instead of the unfiltered conflict of civil and/or criminal disputes, with its emotions running high, family law is qualitatively different; it is deeply and woundingly personal. And the role of the FCF is intended to be a salve, a guide, and an intermediary in order to spare the children and keep conflict from a destructive boil.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices Of Counsel in the Vail Valley with the Law Firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions; real estate and development; family law, custody, and divorce; and civil litigation. He may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at Rrobbins@CELaw.com. His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale),” “The Stone Minder’s Daughter,” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available at Barnes and Noble & Amazon.com.