Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stuck in Hate?

My LLM research got a little tangential to the actual topic, but it has led me to read some wonderful articles. While these articles may not be in the LLM, they are definitely worth sharing and discussing here. I hope to continue to feed this blog with articles I encounter along my research. The first one is an article by Clare Huntington, a professor at the University of Colorado law school. The article, entitled “Repairing Family Law” is available at 57 Duke Law Review 1245 (2008).

The article discusses several issues, but I want to focus on its main point. Huntington takes us through a cycle of family emotions made famous by Melanie Klein; it includes four stages: love, hate, guilt, and the drive to repair. In short, the notion is that love often leads to a breakdown called hate (a term of art here referring to both the emotion and the rupture without repair), which leads to a feeling of guilt, and eventually to a drive to repair the relationship, often in a different form. In this sense, guilt is a feeling of remorse for the hate and the destruction of that which used to be loved, which then leads to the drive to repair. In her introduction, Huntington states, “Through its substance, process, and practice, family law reifies hate, in both the symbolic and real sense, freezing relationships at the moment of breakdown.”

This cycle seems a bit simplistic to me, especially coming from a yoga perspective (more on that connection to family law in another post), but it definitely provides a nice setting for Huntington to discuss the inherent problem she sees in family law – that it freezes in time the moment of hate without allowing people to continue through the cycle. Whether you accept Klein’s cycle or believe that it misses the mark, there is little doubt that the current family law system is about that moment of severance more than it is about repairing the future relationships.

Family law, especially custody matters, force people to stay in the zone of hate. If a case goes to trial, parents are “rewarded” for bringing up the worst facts about an ex by having more parenting time with their children. The dredging through old emotions and fault was supposed to go away when we went to a no-fault system, but instead it just moved to a new dimension – the one that most involves the children.

Many family law practitioners and judges talk about the need to create a “clean break” when a relationship breaks down, and we try to get families through the system as quickly as possible believing that spending too much time in limbo is detrimental to families. As I mentioned in the last post, however, family law is about more than divorce – it is about families. And unlike that moment of a clean break in a contract, families simply do not work that way. Instead, these families are going to have to stay connected through children, even as those children grow into adults. Focusing our work on a specific moment in time is one of the first ways we fail families and children as a system.

So what could we do differently?  The first step is to understand this dynamic and discuss it with the parents and families we encounter. We need to give them the space and the time to be open to new ways of thinking. Huntington calls this the Reparative Model, one that focuses on repairing these relationships by ensuring that the professionals in the system fully understand what is at stake and how it affects families. In turn, this will ensure that we are preparing these families to reorganize around a new way of being. While we have moved from divorce to dissolution, we have never picked up the next step – solution.

In the next post, I will look at another model that focuses on and interdisciplinary approach by Barbara Babb at the University of Baltimore.

What do you do to ensure your clients move through their hate, angst, vengeance phase to a place where they can repair and reconstruct a family for the future?

As always, comments and discussion are welcome and encouraged.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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