TJ founder Professor David Wexler writes…

Routledge Press has just published a crucially important book that should be of real and immediate interest to the Therapeutic Jurisprudence community.

Authors Barbara Babb and Judith Moran’s Caring for Families in Court : An Essential Approach to Family Justice is a slim and meaty book that charts a course for moving family courts toward becoming care centers for families; for recognizing that, as in some other areas of interest to TJ (such as in many criminal cases), families often find themselves in court as much as patients find themselves in emergency rooms.

Babb and Moran roll out a series of recommendations for the family justice system, and their prescriptions will resonate strongly with the TJ community. For instance, they forcefully advocate for unified family courts, where a “one family-one judge” will be charged with working on the myriad issues of family law: dissolution, custody, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, adoption, juvenile delinquency, guardianship, civil commitment, right to die, living wills, and more.  In TJ terms, creating a structure to bring these matters together ,and to have them handled by particular judges with relevant training and interest, is in essence the Therapeutic Design of the Law (TDL), though that terminology is not itself employed by the authors.

The other prescriptions in the book relate to application and implementation of the law or, again in TJ terminology, to the Therapeutic Application of the Law (TAL). Here, the authors underscore the importance of looking at the child and family in its micro, meso, and macro settings—employing an approach drawn from the ecology of human development.

A therapeutic jurisprudence approach promoting “well-being” is repeatedly endorsed, and judges, lawyers, court and  service professionals are urged to practice with an explicit  “ethic of care.” 

The need for empathy is underscored, and is facilitated by the proposed use of a “narrative” approach urging the participants each to tell, in whatever detail they wish, their personal and family story and for the lawyers and judges to maximize their attentiveness in order to grasp the meaningfulness of those stories. Again, much of this may be a concrete elaboration of the importance to TJ and to procedural justice of giving “voice” to the parties and tothe urgency of careful listening and “validation” by judges and lawyers.

Babb and Moran add context by giving some detailed descriptions of what will help family courts improve their caring function. As elsewhere in the TJ literature, the value of Mission Statements is noted: this is more than mere fluff and can indeed set courts on the right track.

The book even closes with a vivid chapter on international  “portraits of caring,” including meaningful and empathetic judicial opinions,  the relevance of court facilities and aesthetics, a description of an Aboriginal Children’s Court in Australia, and even a floating court on the Amazon in Brazil!

The time is ripe for the many recommendations in this  valuable book to be taken seriously. Courts should lead the way, and the Court Craft series of this Blog could be a good spot for the continued sharing of ideas. Even more, perhaps the authors themselves can interact with the readership in the hope of moving the agenda forward.

David B. Wexler

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