A Sample Letter from a Family-court Judge
to Litigating Co-parents and Attorneys *

Dear ____________

        This letter offers perspective and recommendations on the legal case we're all involved in, and the rulings I will eventually make on your dispute.

        Asking the legal system to resolve disputes like yours demonstrate your current inability to problem-solve effectively together. It also suggests that one or more people involved in your dispute bear significant psychological wounds, and don't know what that means that or how to reduce their wounds. If this is true, your attorneys, the law, and my rulings cannot help you reduce these basic problems. There are practical steps you can take to reduce them, once you understand and accept these problems.

        As you know, litigation between family members adds new personal and family stressors to those that cause the litigation. Long term, your asking the court to impose a solution to your family impasse is a lose-lose decision. Attorneys are paid and motivated to win - which guarantees (a) an (expensive) antagonistic combative process, and (b) someone will lose. The hurt, resentment, anger, frustration, and expense you both will incur from the legal process and what comes of it will probably take years to heal, and significantly stress you and your children (if any) long after I make a ruling on your case.

        I propose that there is an effective non-legal way to resolve major disputes among your family members:

        1) agree to take a long-term view together (e.g. the next 25 years), rather than focusing narrowly on your current dispute. The real target here is to discover what blocks you from effective problem-solving together, and cooperatively removing the blocks to benefit all your family members.

        2) acknowledge that each of you adults is equally responsible for causing and resolving your current dispute. As long as either of you chooses an attitude of superiority and blame ("YOU are causing this problem, not ME!") all your family members will suffer, and outsiders cannot help you. The way you have been trying to resolve your dispute is probably your real problem.

        3) commit to (a) learning about psychological wounds, and (b) honestly assess yourselves for them. You can find information on this on the Web, at http://sfhelp.org/gwcguide1.htm (a non-profit educational site). That resource offers practical options for reducing your wounds and protecting your descendents from them.

        4) learn about the common [wounds + ignorance] cycle that has probably promoted the past and current stressors in your family. See the non-profit slide presentation on this at http://sfhelp.org/fam/cycle_slides.htm

        5) commit to learning and practicing effective-communication basics and skills together. See the perspective on these at http://sfhelp.org/cx/guide2.htm, and the slide presentations and resources at http://sfhelp.org/cx/basics.htm and http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/ps.htm.

        I'm glad to discuss this letter with you and your attorneys within our mutual time constraints. I urge you to take these steps for the long-term welfare of your family and your descendents.


____________________, JD

* By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW. Copy and amend this letter as you wish.