Family Law


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The Line Dividing Good and Evil

August 17, 2017 by pgd1

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”                                                                                    - The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer.  He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system.

The Gulag Archipelago was composed from 1958 to 1967.  It was a three-volume, seven part work on the Soviet prison camp system.  The book was based upon Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as well as the testimony of 256 former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn’s own research into the history of the Russian penal system.1

Solzhenitsyn made his observations about the human condition from this unique vantage point.

From the point of view of a family law attorney, I appreciate his insights.  It is not difficult to see that people embroiled in a divorce tend to set up camp against each other. The divorcing spouse becomes the “other”, and as such, a type of adversary.  After all, our legal system is clearly adversarial in nature.

This adversarial context promotes a polarization.  There is a perception that the other party is wrong, and justice is invoked to seek what is right.

However, in the context of a family law dispute, this understanding presents a false dichotomy.  The truth is that a divorce contest often presents good people acting on their worse behavior.  In the throes of such behavior, parties rarely see how they are complicit in their own suffering.   Hence, they fail to recognize that they are tearing out a piece of their own heart.

Collaborative law should be examined.  With this process, dignity and respect accompany a team-based cooperative approach to problem solving. Professionals work with clients to develop options that are considered.  The parties make the choices that will govern their future as opposed to a judge (a stranger) making their decisions for them.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Parts of this blog involving biography were taken from:  Wikipedia:  Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Two Hundred Years of Jane Austen

August 10, 2017 by pgd1

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, one of eight children.  She briefly attended school, but this proved too expensive for her father.  So she educated herself in his library instead.

It is believed that she received a marriage proposal, yet chose the financially precarious option of remaining single.  She completed six novels – two of which were published posthumously—but they brought little income.  Austen died at 41, and was laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral.

But her uniqueness lay in combining realism with a new narrative style, one which moved deftly between the narrator’s voice and the characters’ innermost thoughts.  This “free indirect speech” allowed the reader to see, think and feel exactly as the character did while also maintaining a critical distance and the ability to move between various points of view.  It was radically inventive.

In the early 20th century the suffrage movement claimed her as one of its icons, marching with her name emblazoned upon its banners as proof of women’s intellectual prowess.

Austen’s novels were prescribed reading for shell-shocked soldiers who would not be reminded of their trauma by her gentle, seemingly insular narratives.  In the dark days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill found it comforting to reread “Pride and Prejudice”. Austen’s novels were held up as offering sanctuary, a refuge from reality; in her pages readers could find a portrait of England before the fall.

If Austen’s work is perceived as quintessentially British, it has found resonance across the world.  Bicentenary events are being hosted all over Europe.  The Jane Austen Society of North America boasts more than 5,000 members; reading groups exist across Latin America.

In “The Genius of Jane Austen” (Harper; William Collins), Paula Byrne writes that Austen is seen as having a particular affinity with Chinese culture, where “manners matter” as they did in Georgian England.  There have been more than 50 written versions of “Pride and Prejudice” in China alone.

Western readers may no longer empathize with the urgency that surrounds marriage or the idea that a relationship can be stopped in its tracks by monetary circumstance.  But everyone has encountered a flirty, shallow Isabella Thorpe or a suave but seedy Henry Crawford.  Two hundred years on, Austen’s sniping observations of human vanity and folly still hit the mark.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken from “Jane Austen, 200 years on”.  The Economist, July 17th 2017. Retrieved from:

How Nature Affects Us

August 3, 2017 by pgd1

Fredrick Law Olmstead designed Central Park, one of the most famous parks in the world, and went on to design city parks all over the U.S.  What he did that was different and significant was that he recognized that people needed nature in order to get along with one another, in order to be their best selves, that it was a place where people could let off steam, especially the working classes, who normally didn’t have access to green spaces.

Something researchers in Japan recognized about urban life is that when we are indoors we rely mostly on our eyes and ears, but our other senses are underutilized.  They think this is partly related to why outdoor environments make our stress levels go down.  We can hear the sound of a creek gurgling, feel the wind blowing on our cheeks or smell the aroma of the woods, especially in Japan where there are lots of wondrous cypress trees.

Our sensory system evolved in the natural world and when we’re in those spaces, our brains become relaxed because these are things that we were designed to look at, hear and to smell.  For instance, our immune cells, or “natural killer cells,” which fight cancer, increase in forests.  As a result, Japan now has 48 therapy trails.

In Finland, public health officials now recommend that citizens get 5 hours a month, minimum, in the woods, in order to stave off depression.  This is evidence-based.  They found that people need this time in order to preserve their mental health.

The nature pyramid is the idea that nature is something we have every day.  One of the things we’re recognizing is that, like other medicines, nature follows a dose curve.  A little bit of nature is helpful; a little more nature is even more helpful.

We are fortunate in America.  We have these incredible wilderness spaces and national parks, and science is showing that when we spend time in those spaces, it can be tremendously helpful for our sense of self, for problem solving, social bonding, and rites of passage.1

As a practitioner of family law, I am always looking for reasonable and healthy ways to relieve stress.  As research reveals, a walk in nature is very good medicine for stress relief.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken in part from:, and influenced by “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” by Florence Williams.  W. W. Norton & Company; 1 Edition (February 7, 2017.)

Black Swan Theory

July 6, 2017 by pgd1

The phrase “black swan” was coined when the black swan was presumed not to exist.  The Old World presumption was that all swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers.  In that context, a black swan was impossible or at least nonexistent.

However, in 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans, in Western Australia.  The term subsequently metamorphosed to connote the idea that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.

Black swan events were discussed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2001 book Fooled By Randomness, which concerned financial events.  His 2007 book The Black Swan extended the metaphor to events outside of financial markets. Taleb regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments as “black swans”—undirected and unpredicted.  He gives the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the September 2001 attacks as examples of black swan events.   Taleb asserts:

What we call here a Black Swan … is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

As a family lawyer, I have found that for some persons divorce is particularly difficult, because, for them, it is a black swan.  For these folks, they presumed their life was stable, that divorce wouldn’t happen as there were no facts that would suggest this was possible.

The practical aim of Taleb’s books are not to attempt to predict events which are unpredictable, but to build robustness against negative events while still exploiting positive events.

I process this by contending that we should not take our relationships for granted.  We never know when a black swan will appear to challenge our expectations.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Much of this blog was taken from Wikipedia:  Black Swan Theory.

Humor Combats Grief

June 29, 2017 by pgd1

David Grossman’s novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar is about a standup comic’s rambling and confessional routine in an Israeli comedy club.  The book has won the Man Booker international prize for the year’s best fiction in translation.

Set in small Israeli town, the novel is focused entirely on the act of comedian Dovaleh Greenstein.  Taking to the stage to needle his audience with vulgar and aggressive jokes, Greenstein’s repellent performance begins to crumble as he reveals a fateful and gruesome decision he once made, which has haunted him ever since.  The book is a meditation on the opposite forces shaping our lives:  humor and sorrow, loss and hope, cruelty and compassion, and how even in the darkest hours we find courage to carry on.1

The author, David Grossman, knows something about grief.  Ten years ago in the final hours of what Israelis call the second Lebanon war, Grossman heard that his son, Uri, a staff sergeant serving in a tank unit, had been killed in action.  Uri was 20.  Grossman had this to say:

. . . in order to do almost anything, you have to act against the gravity of grief.  It is heavy, it pulls you down, and you have to make a deliberate effort to overcome it.  You have to decide that you won’t fall.

 He relates that it required a conscious decision on his part not to immerse himself in grief.2

As a family law attorney, grief accompanies my clients in various circumstances.  Coping with losing a loved one is one of life’s great difficulties.  Divorcing couples and non-married partners that break up also experience grief.  It is important to note that not everyone grieves the same way; we have individual patterns and outlets for grief.3

For David Grossman, his art is an outlet for his grief.  As his book portrays, humor can be a way of coping with grief.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Cain, Sian.  “The Guardian”.  June 14, 2017.  Retrieved from:

2 Freedland, Jonathan.  “The Guardian”.  November 26, 2016.  Retrieved from:

3 Grief.  Psychology Today.  Retrieved from:

The Many Sides of Harry Lee Coe

June 23, 2017 by pgd1

Judge Morison Buck wrote the “Chips Off the Old Bench” column in the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s publication, Lawyer.  Judge Buck passed away in 2014; however his biographies of 58 Hillsborough County judges are preserved.  They make fascinating reading.1

Perhaps the most interesting is the biography of Harry Lee Coe.  The local daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, the morning of July 14, 2000 reported:  Hillsborough County State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple.  The life of a well-known, successful, and popular (with most people) figure whose public life spanned three decades was over; but questions remained: Why would a man in seemingly robust health at 68 whose political future appeared secure sacrifice his life?

Judge Coe attended High School in Lakeland, FL.  Recognition beyond Lakeland of his talent as a gifted athlete came when he received a combination baseball/basketball scholarship to the University of Florida.  His pitching record at University of Florida stood for many years, and he was the first pitcher to be inducted into the UF Sports Hall of Fame.  He signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers—the first individual from Lakeland to sign a major league contract; Boog Powell became the second Lakelander to be picked when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched in the Detroit Tigers farm system for three years during the spring and summer seasons during the windup of his schooling at Gainesville.

In the late 1950s, while still attending law school at Stetson University, Harry Coe helped pay his way through that program by pitching baseball for the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.

Judge Coe ran the court over which he presided with firm determination to do what he felt was right and just.  Contrary to the tag “Hanging Harry” seized upon and played up by the press, he was considered to be fair, particularly dealing with young persons having no significant criminal history.  He believed in the familiar doctrine of “a second chance.”

Only Harry knew what prompted him to give up the prestige and security of his judgeship.  But he did that in 1992 when, as a Democrat, he challenged the incumbent, widely respected Republican, Bill James.  Harry Lee Coe was elected State Attorney.

Harry personally tried the case against Christopher Wilson.  After the verdict of guilty in the case, one of the news services released a photo of State Attorney Coe embracing the victim of the crime and his mother.  This was one of the most sensational criminal trials in Tampa’s history.  Harry made a masterful closing argument, and both defendants were convicted of all charges.  Shortly afterward, Judge Coe received a cherished letter from Gregory Peck.   In the letter, Peck compares Harry to the famous lawyer from To Kill A Mockingbird:

When I saw this photo in the N.Y. Times, I could not help identifying with you, and thinking that in this case, you have played the role of Atticus Finch in real life, taken on the challenge, and won an important victory for all of us.

Harry Coe’s obsession with gambling in greyhound racing became such a dominate force in his life that in his waning years it is undisputed that he caged money from his subordinate associates to support his pathological problem.

The National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C., which maintains a 24-hour toll-free helpline for those needing help or information, reports there is a strong link between suicide and pathological gambling.  Las Vegas’ suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.

We will never understand fully why Harry Lee Coe took his life, but we can be grateful that such a fascinating and talented man walked this earth among us.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog, with some editorial changes, was taken from:  Buck, Morrison. “Harry Lee Coe 1932-2000.”  Retrieved from:

Dual Diagnosis

May 25, 2017 by pgd1

Dual diagnosis is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance abuse problem simultaneously.  A person experiencing a mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication to improve the troubling mental health symptoms they experience.  Research shows though that drugs and alcohol only make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse.

About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.  These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness.

The most common method of treatment for dual diagnosis today is integrated intervention, where a person receives care for both a specific mental illness and substance abuse.

A person experiencing a serious mental illness and dangerous or dependent patterns of abuse may benefit most from an inpatient rehabilitation center where he/she can receive concentrated medical and mental health care 24/7. Supportive housing, like group homes or sober houses, is another type of residential treatment center that is most helpful for people who are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. These treatment centers allow for more freedom while still providing round-the-clock care.

Medication is a useful tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses.

Psychotherapy is almost always a large part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Education on a person’s illness and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts has been shown in countless studies to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and to change ineffective patterns of thinking.

In over thirty years of practicing law, I have encountered many individuals who suffer from a dual diagnosis.  It is not unusual to see these people when they are off their medications and not functioning well.  The point I make here is that there is help and hope for them.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog contains excerpts from “Dual Diagnosis”. Retrieved from:

How to Help a Mentally Ill Person Who Stops Taking Medication

May 18, 2017 by pgd1

One recurring problem that I observe in the practice of family law is when a person who suffers from mental illness stops taking medication.  With this problem in mind, I began to search for solutions.  This is what I found:

  1. About one-third of people with schizophrenia say that they stay on medicine primarily because other people think it’s important.  For them, the influence of other people, rather than believing the medication is needed, is the key factor that promotes compliance.
  2. Persuasion is better than coercion.  Forcing someone to take medication by threats is, at best, a temporary solution that is best left for acute (emergency) situations.  It is better to try to find a way to persuade a person to take medication.
  3. Families should be genuinely sympathetic about the side effect problems and the distress they can cause.  Ignoring the side effect complaints won’t make them go away; indifference may make a person feel neglected or misunderstood.
  4. Prescribing clinicians frequently do not often detect or ask about noncompliance and are not always good at recognizing when patients stop their medication.  They may not recognize noncompliance until the person becomes psychotic and starts reacting to hallucinations.  Therefore, you cannot rely solely on a doctor’s assessment of the situation.  Nonetheless, if possible, it is important to maintain routine contact with the doctor to discuss, among other things, compliance issues.
  5. When someone relapses, it may be very hard to tell whether the biggest problem is that the medicine doesn’t work well enough (nonresponse) or the person is not taking the medication (noncompliance). It is very important to clarify the true cause of relapse because nonresponse to medicine would be handled very differently than noncompliance.1

The failure of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to take prescribed medications can often leads to relapse of symptoms, re-hospitalizations, and homelessness.  It is important to have an awareness of the problem of mentally ill people who tend to stop taking medication.  We should apply these strategies to help these valued members of our society.

by Patrick Gafney

by Patrick Gafney

1 Weiden, Dr. Peter. “How to help someone who stops taking their medicines”.  Retrieved from:

Marrying Outside of One’s Religion

March 16, 2017 by pgd1

In the United States, it is not uncommon for people to marry outside of their religion. However, Indonesia is one of about two dozen countries with no provision for civil marriages. Others include Israel and almost all of the Arab states.

In these countries, only unions conducted according to officially recognized religions can be registered.  In Indonesia, for example, children of unregistered unions cannot get birth certificates, without which they struggle to receive health care or schooling.

According to The Economist magazine, some couples of differing faiths, or none, go abroad for a civil ceremony.  Each year about 3,000 couples from the Middle East get married in Cyprus, which brands itself the “island of love”.

It has been suggested that part of the problem is political. Governments often fear angering politically powerful religious groups. In Lebanon, marriages and other matters of family law, such as divorce and inheritance, are left to religious courts of 18 Muslim, Christian and other sects.

Religious leaders fear that an interfaith marriage would end up with one of the partners converting.  In many places, anyone who dares to wed across religious lines faces ostracism, and perhaps violence.1

Such restrictions against the freedom to marry seem unfair to us in the West. I have witnessed many successful marriages that crossed these artificial barriers.  Who knows the ways of the human heart?

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 “Where Rashid and Juliet Can’t Wed”.  The Economist.  February 18, 2017, p. 52.

Character is Important

January 13, 2017 by pgd1

George Washington was not an intellectual giant like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.  Compared with most other founders, he was not well educated (he attended school for only about five years), and, unlike many of them, he disliked abstract philosophical discussions.

His moral character, especially his refusal to yield to temptation, set him apart from most others in the late 18th century.  To many, the crowning achievement of Washington’s character was his simultaneous resignation in 1783 as the commander in chief of the American army and his retirement from the world of politics.  Throughout the Western world, his unprecedented relinquishing of power (which he did a second time when he declined a third term as president) was widely heralded.

Unlike other victorious generals, he did not expect a political or financial reward for his military exploits.  The Virginian had a sterling reputation for integrity and honor, dedication to duty and his country, and remaining above the political fray.

Many admirers considered Washington’s self-control the key facet of his character.  He could master events because he had mastered himself.  Despite being surrounded by fear, despair, indecisiveness, treason, and the threat of mutiny, he remained confident and steadfast.1

As a family law attorney, I recognize that George Washington’s qualities would serve most attorneys and clients well.  His ability to stay calm in a storm is quality to which we can all aspire.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog contains excerpts from:  Smith, Gary S. “The Character of George Washington”.  The Center for Vision and Values, Grove City College.  March 15, 2010.

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