This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man’s acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give—who does not often give—the warning, “Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!”
—Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Emily Gallup’s eyes light up when she talks about her former life. A small-town girl from a devoutly Christian family in Northern California, Gallup’s red curls, freckles, and deep dimples still cause her to get carded when she orders a glass of wine at a restaurant. But the veneer of cuteness belies both a determination and intellect that earned her a scholarship to Stanford, where she first studied psychology and fell in love with the idea of making a living by helping people conquer their most personal problems. After Stanford, it was Chico State, two hours’ drive from her hometown of Grass Valley, for her master’s degree, then back home to Nevada County, a bucolic patch of Northern California dotted with old silver mining towns. That’s where she settled into the practice of psychology in an office nestled among tall pine trees. Like most psychologists, Gallup ended up doing some work for the local family court in Nevada City, the town next door and the county seat. It didn’t take long for the court’s director of mediation to realize Gallup’s passion and talent. An older man looking for someone to carry the torch, he soon hired her full-time at the court as one of a handful of child custody mediators.
Gallup was thrilled. Her energy and idealism, once channeled into evangelical purposes, could now be used in a distinctly practical and non-ideological way. Her work would be inherently meaningful—what could be more important than fostering a healthy environment for children in the midst of crisis? And if she could persuade parents to reach a child sharing agreement without litigating, a positive outcome could be achieved in hours.
Nevada County is one of a handful of “recommending” counties in California, meaning that the custody mediator not only tries to bring the parents to agree on a custody schedule for sharing time with the children, but if the mediation fails, makes a recommendation to the judge, who then makes the final decision as to custody. The “recommending” part of mediation has raised eyebrows in the legal community because mediation is supposed to be confidential. In exchange for leaving their attorneys at the door, the parties can trust that whatever they say in the session cannot be used against them later on. Otherwise, they might use mediation to jockey for position in court or to convince the mediator to make a favorable recommendation to the judge, rather than as a means to compromise. Buy the book to read more…