The Maryland legal community was shocked to the core by the horrific death of Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was murdered in his driveway by a man who was litigating his divorce case before the judge. While the killer in this case potentially had mental health issues, divorce litigation can impose an incredible amount of stress and emotion divorce litigation on the spouses going through the process… even those without mental health problems. The stress that’s often involved (and exacerbated if you try to go it alone) is an excellent reason to retain an experienced Maryland family lawyer when litigating your divorce.
Not all divorces are traumatic. An out-of-state lawyer, who began his career clerking for a small-town family court judge, once described an older couple’s appearance in court to finalize their divorce. As the judge inquired whether the couple met the statutory qualifications, one question inadvertently inspired the husband to disclose that the couple had most recently engaged in intimate relations less than one week before the hearing.
The judge explained that she could not grant the divorce because the couple didn’t meet the state’s requirement for being separated, and the couple exited, smiling and joking with one another.
Those cases are, of course, the exception. Many divorces are agonizing for one or both spouses. They may engender feelings of loss, hopelessness, and desperation. The same out-of-state lawyer recounted a different couple who appeared for a mandatory pretrial mediation session. When the husband’s counsel raised the possibility of the husband seeking sole custody of the children, the wife glared and declared, “If you take my babies from me, I will kill you.”
While the stressed-out wife likely just blurted the first thing that came to mind, her attorney still decided (wisely) that a 5-10 minute break for counsel to consult with their clients separately was a good idea.
Sadly, the Washington County case shows that, sometimes, litigants don’t just make idle threats but instead resort to actual violence.
On the first day of the trial, the husband appeared without counsel. On day two, neither the husband nor an attorney appeared. The husband called the courthouse and said he had “a headache.”
On that second day, the man’s adult daughter (from a previous relationship) testified in court that the man confined her to her bedroom for years, installed cameras to watch “her every move” and beat her with a belt and other objects. That testimony came in addition to the wife’s testimony about how the husband isolated her and the children, controlled “every aspect” of their lives, and abused them.
After receiving all of that proof, Judge Wilkinson determined that the man should not have custody of any of the couple’s four children, ages 12, 11, 5, and 3. He also determined that the husband should not have visitation and should not contact the wife or the children. The judge wrote that the manner in which the husband had “isolated these children and mom over the past two years, I think that has gone on throughout the marriage, and it’s shocking. I think he is abusive in multiple ways.”
Later that day, the husband killed the judge.
Divorce Counsel and the Emotionally Fraught Client
It is entirely possible that there was nothing anyone — not even the best divorce lawyer — could have done to alter or mitigate this man’s path of death and destruction. Still, the loss of a marriage (combined with a divorce action) can make even entirely mentally stable people feel overwhelmed and desperate, and sometimes having good legal counsel can help immeasurably.
This is a very important (but less frequently considered) benefit of legal representation in your divorce. People may recognize a lawyer’s keen knowledge of the law and ability to advocate powerfully, but a good divorce lawyer can also act as a buffer and a sounding board for their divorce client. This may include clearly managing client expectations to prevent a spouse from developing unreasonable hopes and managing client emotions, helping to “rein them in” when the stress of the situation might otherwise lead them to do something damaging to their case, to themselves, or to others.
If you find yourself going through a divorce, the thoughtful and diligent Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to schedule your consultation.