Jane Murphy, Laurence M. Katz Professor of Law and co-director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Mediation Clinic for Families, took part in a “Maryland Morning” segment — “Rethinking Family Dispute Resolution” — that aired July 15 on WYPR (88.1 FM).
Also speaking with host Sheilah Kast was Jana B. Singer, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Murphy and Singer are the co-authors of Divorced from Reality: Rethinking Family Dispute Resolution, which was recently published by NYU Press.
Murphy emphasized that poor parents must navigate a court system that has not evolved sufficiently to help many of today’s families with child support and custody, among other matters. Meanwhile, she added, more affluent parents are able to bypass the courts by using specialists, such as mental-health experts and mediators.
“There are really two systems now,” Murphy said.
To help families without the resources to hire specialists, Murphy and Singer advocate a move away from traditional litigation – or what Singer called “traditional, zealous, gladiator representation” — toward a more collaborative, interdisciplinary system in which lawyers work with health and financial professionals to sort out a family’s reorganization after divorce or other separation.
Murphy and Singer pointed out that divorce is often not the issue among less well-to-do families, in which parents are frequently not married. Murphy noted that, nationwide, about 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents and that, in Baltimore, 83 percent of couples in Circuit Court in 2014 for custody or visitation matters were unwed.
“While we’ve had significant demographic changes, the court system is still built around the model of a divorcing nuclear family,” Singer said.
Murphy and Singer’s new book urges the development of programs tailored to parents who may never have shared child-rearing duties.
Murphy stressed that reform does not mean lawyers should not have a key role in family dispute resolution.
“In order to negotiate and participate in collaborative conflict resolution, you need to understand what the law says about custody, child support and property, if that’s involved,” she said. “It’s not a process that one should engage in without the assistance of lawyers. We’re concerned about the lack of lawyers for these nonmarital families in court.”