Part of my passion (some say illness) for what I do is to read almost every new case that is decided – whether it is precedent setting (reported) or not (unreported). I am always looking for an interesting take on an issue, or to be reminded about some nuance of the law, and otherwise, sometimes just for wonderment about how people act toward each other. Today was no different. I was reading a new reported decision, P.M. v. N.P. that was decided today. The case is about the potential recusal of a trial judge when their law clerk gets hired by the attorney for a litigant in a contested case before them. This post is not about that case, which while interesting, you can read for yourself.
Rather, tucked away at the end of the opinion was a quote and a paragraph reminding judges, and perhaps us all, why these cases are so emotionally charged and more importantly, why family court judges must be particularly sensitive to the litigants whose lives are in their hands.
Judge Fuentes gently reminded us all of the following:
Matrimonial cases present particular and unique challenges to the judiciary. These cases are often contentious because the nature of the controversy strikes at the very core of one of the most intimate of all human relationships. As our colleague Judge Donald Collester, Jr. eloquently noted:
“[S]omething . . . goes to the essence of marriage and is probably best left to poets rather than judges. It is the reason that people do get married. For marriage changes who you are. It gives stability, legal protection and recognition by fellow citizens. It provides a unique meaning to everyday life, for legally, personally and spiritually a married person is never really alone. Few would choose life differently.” [Lewis v. Harris, 378 N.J. Super. 168, 220 (App. Div. 2005) (Collester, J., dissenting), aff’d in part, modified in part, 188 N.J. 415 (2006).]
Given this exalted place marriage as an institution occupies in our society, litigants embroiled in the legal dissolution of their union are often emotionally traumatized. They bring to these legal proceedings a deep sense of disappointment and an element of distrust that is rooted in the nature of the dissolution itself. Our Supreme Court has consistently recognized that judges who sit in the Family Part have a great sensitivity to these concerns and bring a high level of expertise to these emotionally fragile matters. (citations omitted) We thus expect our colleagues who sit in this legally difficult and emotionally demanding Part of the Chancery Division to be especially mindful of the challenges associated with this assignment. (Emphasis added).
We have all heard of the phrase, “there’s a fine line between love and hate.” Many times, judges get angry and frustrated with parties to a divorce or any family court proceeding, because of the level of hostility and the intensity of the conflict. Believe it or not, sometimes the lawyers do too. The next time we feel that way, we should remember Judge Fuentes’ reminder and take it to heart.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland and Morristown, New Jersey offices though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Eric:
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