Family Courts: the Healer or Disabler

By Carlisa Bydume, CFCC Student Fellow 2019-2020

In Maryland, 46% of the cases filed in Maryland’s Circuit Courts are family law cases. Many families depend on the judicial system to resolve their family issues. Family courts are necessary because sometimes children need someone to put their interests first. Although many people have been scarred by their experiences in the judicial system, family courts should create public trust and instill confidence. Families who depend on the judicial system should be able to trust that their issues will be resolved effectively. Those who come before family courts are dealing with sensitive matters. That is why Therapeutic Jurisprudence is a necessary practice in the judicial system, but more importantly, in family courts. 

Therapeutic Jurisprudence when applied can build connections with families while caring for them. Family courts and their personnel must be all inclusive; everything a family needs should be available through the family court system. As someone who been in court for family matters, I understand the importance of making families feel at ease. As a ten-year old child, I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that my parents could not get along long enough to make sure my needs were addressed. However, after my parents and I were ordered to go to a counselling session with other families going through the same problems, I felt better. I no longer felt alone, and I was also given the opportunity to express to my parents how their actions made me feel. None of this would have been possible without family courts. 

Family court healed my family dynamic; fourteen years later, my parents still utilize the tools and skills they learned during that rough time. This should be the experience every family receives when going to court for family matters. Family courts are supposed to heal–not further dismantle what is sacred to many people, namely the family itself. 

8 thoughts on “Family Courts: the Healer or Disabler

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Carlisa. I think it is very important for people to hear that children can come out on the other side of difficult cases and have a positive feeling about the courts. If a family is treated with dignity and the needs of the children put first, I do think courts can be agents of healing. All too often I think we take for granted that family court is just going to cause a certain amount of damage, and that the people who come to court just have to accept that. Perhaps we should be insisting on better for families in transition so that the court itself does no harm.

  2. Carlisa, thank you so much for illuminating this topic with your personal experience. The fact that family law cases make up almost 50% of total cases in the legal system , makes it all the more important to have a unified family system. In the law we speak on the issue of what is the standard, in criminal we hear the words beyond a reasonable doubt and in civil cases a preponderance of the evidence. In family courts, the standard becomes the best interest of the child, a completely different standard which arguably requires more emotion, and even more care. As we have seen now firsthand, the holistic approach is paramount to the success of family law. it takes time, resources, and many staff and administrators to make the system work. I am very glad the court system help facilitate that in your family and can only hope more children have this result.

  3. Thank you for sharing your personal experience Carlissa. I found your post particularly powerful when you talked about how it was because of the counseling session, you were able to express to your parents about how you felt. I am so glad that family court experience you underwent was a positive one and the resources provided by the court helped you and your family in the healing process. I think your experience is a confirmation that the holistic approach works and when a conscious effort is made by the legal system to focus on what will be in the best interest of the child, the law really can be used in a therapeutic way. Like Oliva mentions in her comment, it will take time, resources, and many people to make the system work efficiently but if the court system can be used as a healing agent for families, it needs to be done.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am also a child of divorced parents and I remember how painful that process was. I, too, often felt like my family was the only one going through this problem, especially when all my friends’ families seemed to be so happy. I was vey lucky to have an amazing therapist who worked me through the process from a child’s perspective and put it into words that my mind could handle at that time. You’re very correct that sometimes, the child needs to be put first. Too often in divorce cases is the focus put solely on the parents because the child is not an active participant in splitting up marital assets, debating the tax implications of divorce, etc. However, the child is arguably the party most affected by the divorce as they may be too young to understand the reason behind divorce. Without the maturity and education necessary to understand divorce, and if someone doesn’t step in to act in the child’s best interest, the child can often feel left out of the process and alienated from the situation.

  5. Hi Carlissa, great job on your post. Based on the Unified Family Court we visited as a class, do you think there are ways to make those courts more therapeutic for families?

  6. I believe if the courts adopted a more proactive approach to helping families then the experience will be therapeutic. Often fixing an issue after the damage is already done does not remove the trauma that is experienced by the families.

  7. Carlissa, thank you very much for sharing your personal experience with the family court system. I can only imagine how personal this experience was for you and your parents, and I truly applaud your courage in sharing this in such a public manner on this forum. It is definitely encouraging to hear your story and see the positive impact the family court system had within your life and your parents’ lives. I am also a child of divorced parents, however I was not a minor child when my parents went through their divorce. I can definitely reflect back and remember many times where I felt very much so alone and hurt with what was happening around me. In your blog post, you refer to a counseling session you and your parents were ordered to go to and how this experience assisted with the various emotions you were feeling at the time – I wonder if the courts would ever implement similar procedures/resources for parents and children who are no longer minor children.

  8. Caylee,

    I believe those emotions we both felt are felt by children and adults. I believe the court should suggest outside counselors for families who no longer have minor children. This would ensure they are given an open forum/support group to help sort out the emotions being felt.

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