When the law gets hopelessly bogged down, as is true of our present divorce law, reform is best accomplished by a fresh start from a new premise. That has been the history of the evolution and growth of our legal system.
—Reginald Heber Smith, “Dishonest Divorce,” Atlantic Monthly, 1947
Every Monday evening in the community room of the Grass Valley library, Emily Gallup, the former court mediator, hosts a gathering for family court litigants. Their mission: changing how their court operates. The group is called “The Nevada County Family Court Reformers,” but the atmosphere in the meeting feels more like it is a support group for people whose lives are now dominated by being dragged back into court by ex-husbands/wives and judges. The gathering forms a large circle, everybody seated in plastic chairs. The collection of long faces, scared and angry expressions in equal measure, evokes Bob Simms’ parade of broken dreams.
For example, there is a pretty young woman, a single mother, trying to hold down a job while responding to motion after motion filed by her ex-husband. The other day he verbally assaulted her in full view of the bailiffs, who did nothing, on the courthouse steps. Fighting back tears, she says it’s even worse inside the courtroom. The judge publicly ridicules her pleadings, which she is forced to write herself because she cannot afford a lawyer, and refuses to listen to evidence of the horrifying abuse her daughter is suffering during visitation with her ex.
Sitting next to her is an older woman whose husband filed for full custody of their teenage son after she refused to keep taking care of his dog. She had agreed to appear at a hearing without her lawyer because the clerk had promised that nothing would be decided; then she listened in horror as the judge stripped her of her parental rights, ostensibly because she thought her son was not yet responsible enough for a driver’s license. “It wasn’t even a custody hearing!” she says, her voice shaking.
Across from this woman is a middle-aged lawyer enmeshed in a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife. He says he has been alienated from his daughters. He’s also bankrupt, thanks in large part to a series of court-ordered psychological tests that have become progressively more expensive. Then there is the husband and wife fighting for an explanation for their huge minor’s counsel bills . . . Buy the book to read more…