• Freedom, Democracy, and the Rule of (Family) Law
  • August 5, 2016 | Author: Hadrian N. Hatfield
  • Law Firm: Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A. - Washington Office
  • It seems appropriate in this month of July, when both the United States and France celebrate national holidays, to reflect on how we, as participants in separation and divorce cases, can support the high ideals of Freedom, Democracy, and the Rule of Law. These two countries, respectively, were the birthplaces of the Declaration of Independence and of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which remain today among the most cogent statements for these ideals. And these ideals form the bedrock of the societies that together make up Western Civilization. Having embarked on this reflection, one may wonder, then, what Freedom and Democracy have to do with our comparatively mundane and everyday work helping separating and divorcing couples? Or what has the Rule of Law to do with advising and counseling families going through crisis? “Everything!” would be a good answer.

    Our civilization is based on the fundamental ideals listed above. Freedom and Democracy cannot exist without the true Rule of Law, and vice versa. The continuity of any civilization depends on the quality of its citizens. It depends on the ability of its citizens to come together, to endure, and to protect their fundamental ideals without fracturing when threatened by outside forces, and perhaps even more, when attacked from within. And certainly the strongest modeling of good character traits such as respect, tolerance, civic responsibility, and empathy occurs within the family unit. These traits, molded family by family, are what give citizens the ability to stand by, and with, one another in the face of adversity. Societies withstand the test of time based on the presence of these traits in the citizenry. More and more families in our societies, in number if no longer in percentage, go through separation and divorce. This experience is among the most traumatic of any in life. It is logical, therefore, to assume that how a society handles its divorces, and thus how it models itself to children during the divorce process, helps determine the quality of these traits in its future citizens. This is equally true for the modeling done by the parents as it is for the modeling done by the professionals involved in the process. It all is part of the societal response and of the modeled experience.

    It follows that the modeling of good practices in the divorce process contributes to the formation of a strong citizenry capable of preserving working societies over enough time to become a lasting civilization. These good practices include treating each participant with respect and tolerance in recognition of the inherent equality we all share, striving for fairness after every voice is heard instead of chasing selfish advantage, and adhering to an objective set of norms instead of prioritizing abject emotional satisfaction. These practices may seem like lofty ideals instead of attainable reality. And yet, when they were written, the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen expressed more ideals than reality. If the pursuit of making such ideals reality through our efforts within family law seems futile or impossible, it may help to consider the alternative. History reflects that at various times it took only a few generations for entire civilizations to fall.

    That is how important our work is. So let’s go celebrate, and spread, Freedom, Democracy, and the Rule of Law each and every day as part of our work with divorcing families.