Thomas Jefferson opined in his “Retirement Papers” that, “[G]overnment governs best that governs least”. It was a wise observation in the time of the patriots that established this great nation and has significant import today. We have just experienced our democracy in action as mid-term elections across this country registered a historically significant vote of no confidence in the direction of our country. Although this blog is dedicated to informing people on the status of Family Law in New Jersey, a momentary departure from that goal seems warranted to examine what lesson can be learned from the recent mid-term election results that can be applied to a litigation strategy. After all, family law is the product of governmental action, and changes in government attitude and the public’s expectation of their government has a profound influence on the law.
All the radio and television talking heads have registered their interpretation of the meaning of the election results, the import varying with the political leanings of the commentator. I do not want to put a political spin on the mid-terms or on Obama’s Presidency, but would rather look at it from the perspective of the people resolving conflict. We as a people are fed up with government that is more interested in the petty personal gains of our elected representatives. We are tired of politicians that say the other side is evil and their agenda “anti-American”. We want our elected officials to get along enough to solve the problems facing the Nation and not wallow in “pork-belly” politics. Simply stated, we want government to work and our nation to flourish. We want this from an ideological perspective but also from a selfish one. We and our families flourish when an effective government makes good laws that help us to live better. We know what we need, we think, and often government seems out of sync with our wants and aspirations. At one time or another we have all concluded that we could govern more effectively than that “fool” in the White House or Capital.
Litigation is, of course, governed by state laws which are administered by judges who are appointed by politicians. They are all too human, as recent events in the press seem to underline. When divorce becomes the solution to family upheaval, there are several choices as to how that dispute will be resolved. Many vehicles for resolution involve personal choice, informed by advice about the law as applicable to the matter and the probable outcome of litigation. One can avoid having the government, though a judge, determine the outcome of the dissolution of one’s marriage by making informed decisions in conjunction with one’s lawyer, and aided where necessary by the various means of dispute resolution available in the State. Letting the “fool in the robe” decide your fate is a admission that you could not control the outcome or resolve by yourself the needs of your family in crisis. Sometimes we need a Judge to decide matters were the hostility or expectations of the parties do not lead to compromise. In doing this we succumb to being observers in the resolution of our own disputes. There is an emotional cost and greater financial cost in choosing the litigation option. Most significantly, you lose control over the outcome of your matter. Government steps in and enters a judgment binding you to the solution penned by a stranger. The judge does not usually get an in depth view into you and your family. The judge’s involvement is relatively fleeting and, though diligent, judges make mistakes which is why the judiciary has two levels of appeals from trial court decisions.
The point of this cautionary tale is simple. In an age where there is a predilection to distrust government and the action of government through its various agents, why leave the outcome of your divorce to a stranger, however well-intentioned? We are here to point you in the right direction, and hopefully to help find a solution to your problem that fits you better then the solution of a stranger. Government will step in to order your life when you can not resolve the dispute. Private ordering occurs when you take charge of your situation and find a solution addressing the needs of your family. Everyone should strive to resolve their matter before the judge’s gavel drops. In fact, in most cases people do find solutions without the need for a trial. They are finding the path identified by Jefferson in choosing not to allow government to govern their family .