The judge rubbed his temples and looked down at his desk intently, as though the resolution to the problem would somehow appear before him if he fixed his eyes long enough. "I just don't know that there is a solution," he said, finally, "it's obvious that there is no way to make peace between the two of you." M's ex just stared at the yellow legal pad placed before her attorney. I felt my eyes growing colder towards her and forced myself to break my stare. I felt like one of those people in the movies, who jump up in the courtroom and insist on being heard before breaking out into a monologue. It all seemed so stupid. I understood what the judge was feeling.
At the beginning of the hearing, M's ex's attorney claimed that M had brought this action without good faith, insisting that she and her client had done everything possible to avoid refusing his visitation a few weeks ago. She talked such a web of words that I - who knew the truth - almost believed her. It's not so much that lawyers lie, I realized, it's that they know just how to twist the truth to favor their clients. It seemed that she would be successful. And then M - who I've never seen represent himself before, though he's done so throughout this long drawn-out battle over his daughter - opened his mouth to speak. And everything he said, destroyed the web the ex's attorney had crafted. The judge found her guilty.
"Do you want me to put her in jail?" the judge asked M rather seriously. I held my breath. "Is that an option?" M said jokingly, before he said "no." "That's usually what we do in these instances," the judge said again displaying no amusement. I thought of how eager his ex was to have him thrown in jail when he called her to beg to see his child. Thought of what a lesson she would learn having to go through what she'd put him through. Thought of how hypocritical the whole system is that a woman gets to walk free when if M had done what she'd done, the cuffs would have been on him in an instant without so much as a question thrown in his ex's direction.
The counselor rose to speak. "I'd like to be heard," she said before she was. She told the judge that she believed the ex was trying to keep the child from seeing M. Explained that she had let her know that "if she was looking for a counselor to manipulate, it would not be her," which ultimately led to her being fired from the case. The reason told to V was that the counselor "said bad words to her mom." "If any bad words were said," the counselor continued, "those were them." She told the judge that V loved M and was very happy spending time with the two of us and that the concerns the ex presented to her were unfounded. The judge seemed amazed. "A counselor just came in here and told me that one parent is trying her hardest to refuse visitation to the other," he said in the ex's direction, "it's not common for a counselor to come in here and say those things." It was then, I think, that he realized the complexity of the problem.
He reminded both M and his ex that they would have to deal with each other for 13 more years, given V's age. It hurt my head to be reminded. "That's a long time and a lot of money that will be wasted arguing in court," the judge said, "money that would be better off in a savings account for college." M's ex didn't raise her eyes. She just continued staring at the yellow legal pad that she'd been scribbling on so furiously during the arguments made by M and her attorney. Her eyes were glazed over but I saw not a hint of remorse.
How do you make peace with someone you are not permitted to speak to? I wondered, referring to the protective order that is in place until this summer. And then the judge did something unexpected, he decided to give V a voice of her own. He assigned a guardian ad litem to the case - an attorney to represent V and her best interests. "It's sad that it's come down to this," the judge said, "but it's the only thing I can think of unless you two can learn to get along." There was a long pause before he dismissed us. Perhaps he too was waiting for the moment that would have happened in the movies where the ex jumps up and waxes poetic in her apology and swears to be a better mother and stop the fighting. In reality, that moment never happens. It just ends with a small group of people filing out of a small courtroom quietly and passing each other in the halls without a word.
The counselor came over to M and me and gave us a gift for V. She told us that she thought the counselor ad litem would help M greatly and assured us that any other practitioner would be able to see the same things she saw. She wished us luck before she left. I felt sad knowing we'd probably never see her again.
"You realize you could have had her put in jail?" I said to M, half-joking, trying to lift the mood. "I know," he said half-smirking, "but if she denies visitation again in the next year, the judge won't ask me my opinion." I felt myself growing more cynical.
So it all amounted to a year of cooperation (hopefully) and a voice for V. I guess there was some victory in that. Peace would have been a bigger aspiration. The movie ending would have been a better outcome. Perhaps 3 years of law school will cure me of these false hopes. Perhaps, a Juris Doctor will cure me of being so naive.
Until then, there is still hope.