The bailiff approached us and asked, "Why are you here?" It was a fair question. As the proceedings in the 302nd Family District Court in Dallas wrapped up on this Thursday morning, none of us had participated in any of the matters brought before the judge. When we explained we were with a church and here to observe the process, the confused look remained: His face said it all.
"You chose to be here? Nobody willingly comes to divorce court."
But there we were, eleven members of the Watermark church staff spread out through different family court rooms. As staff members who often get involved in the lives of couples contemplating divorce, it was decided that we would take a field trip to better understand the process, with the hopes that we could better care for such couples. We had a Christian family attorney brief us about the process ahead of time, then off to court we headed.
While word limits (and your attention span!) do not allow for a complete debrief in this post, here are some of the key take-aways from our time in divorce court:
1. Family court is not a nurturing environment. It feels more like an assembly line, or should I say dis-assembly line. People enter, lawyers engage, cases stated, procedures followed, judgments issued. Next. It feels cold and impersonal, hardly the place you want the future of your family decided.
2. Kids get caught in the middle. Adults fight over them, spouses weaponize their words, and lawyers and judges, whom the kids have never met, determine their future. We sat heartbroken knowing that every child affected by this process was more likely to become a "statistic." We prayed for each kid asking God to protect them in the years ahead.
3. We were struck by the contrast between couples, who on their wedding day stood face to face, deeply committed and madly in love, to now when they cannot even look each other in the eye. Instead they look for ways to harm each other. When the one becomes two, it must break God's heart.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. - Proverbs 5:18
4. Many of the cases had been before the judge multiple times, some spanning years. When couples divorce there is often an expectation that the pain will quickly dissipate, and things will be easier once the divorce is final. But in reality, issues like visitation, custody, and financial support can linger for years.
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. - Proverbs 14:15
5. If you serve in some capacity helping marriages, a visit to divorce court will remind you why your work is so important. Whether pre-married work to help couples assess their compatibility for marriage, or post-wedding work where you’re trying to help couples through struggles, it is worth it.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. - Galatians 6:9
6. It is hard to walk out of any courtroom without being reminded that we are all sinners, and our judge is God himself who came down from the bench and paid our penalty himself. We are no different than anyone else in that courtroom, save for accepting the free gift that God has provided.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. - Isaiah 53:5
7. Divorce seemed to be no respecter of persons. We saw young and old (younger than we expected), rich and poor, black and white. As at the foot of the cross, the ground appears level in divorce court.
8. We were struck by the difficulty of the task for judges, court officials, and attorneys. They are trying to do the right thing for everyone involved, especially the kids. We were convicted that we must pray for them more, and pray that God would raise up godly men and women to serve in these roles.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. - Romans 13:1
While the family courts feel like a dark place, we know God is at work. On this day we were his ambassadors, praying in the back of the courtroom, engaging despondent dads in the hallway, and approaching judges to encourage and thank them for their service.
If your profession intersects with the family courts, what you do MATTERS. Thank you for your service. Represent our Savior well!
If you’re involved in leading other couples to better their marriage, what you do MATTERS. Your Savior smiles each and every time you remind his children of truth.
If you’re married, how you love your spouse MATTERS. Don't neglect your marriage and allow it to slip onto a path towards family court. And if the idea ever pops into your mind that you'd be better off without your spouse, take a field trip to your local family court. See what you think. It's free and open to the public and could be the best time and relational investment you ever made.
Normally in this space we challenge you to do something as a couple that contributes to your marriage. Today we want to simply ask you to pray for these items: