Is the Legal Profession Hurting Marriages? A Lawyer's Perspective
- Sarah Jennings Family Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2009 29 Aug
Your marriage is in trouble. You know God hates divorce, but… should you call a lawyer just in case? Or perhaps you're getting married and blissfully in love, but … should you draft that prenuptial agreement to make sure your bases are covered? Or, your friends' marriage is hurting... should you hand over your lawyer's contact information or suggest another kind of counsel?
As Christians, we often face difficult personal decisions that have legal implications. How can we maintain our fidelity to Christ and his Word while protecting our legal interests? Lawyer Stephen Bloom recognizes this tension between faith and the law. In response to his own struggles to reconcile his faith with his profession, Bloom wrote an easy-to-read guide for fellow Christians called The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues (Living Ink). Stephen sat down with Crosswalk to discuss his book and to answer some specific questions on family law and the culture of divorce.
CW: What inspired you to write about legal issues from a Christian perspective, and what do you hope to offer readers with this book?
SB: Well, I started practicing law before I became a born-again believer in Christ. So, I graduated law school, and I had totally bought into this secular mindset that is taught in law school.
A couple years out of law school, I had an experience where I understood for the first time what grace was. I understood what the Cross was about, and I understood what it meant for me to confess that I was a sinner, repent, believe in Christ, and be born again. When that happened, I found myself in an awkward spot. I was in the middle of a profession that has values that tend to be very contrary to the values that Christ teaches in the Bible. So, I began a personal journey of reconciling. How can I even continue to be a lawyer and still actually claim to be a Christian? I struggled for years.
The book is really the fruit of my struggle, in that I found so much biblical wisdom on the legal issues that people confront everyday. I was amazed, and I came to a conclusion that I could stay in the profession. I could be an attorney and simply bring in the counsel of Christ on these issues.
The world is selling a destructive, hurtful, damaging view of the law. "It's all about ME. It's all about getting what I deserve, and who cares about the other guy?" It's essentially the opposite of what Christ would teach, and I feel like there is a place for the kind of peace that can come from following God's wishes and God's ideals for us.
CW: You cover a lot of topics in this book - bankruptcy, Medicaid, living wills - offering scriptural examples as well as professional insights. I would like to focus on marriage and family law today. A significant chunk of the legal industry is dedicated to helping couples divorce. Can you give your professional perspective on divorce?
SB: Divorce, first of all, is being sold by the legal profession as a quick, easy, simple, life-improving alternative. I have an ad that a client handed to me recently, just in the last couple of weeks. It is a typical attorney's ad for divorce. It says, "Divorce. Simple. No Fault. No Office Visit Necessary." That's the kind of idea that the legal profession is selling people.
There is a billboard that was on all the news channels a couple months back that advertised divorce, and it had a picture of a scantily clad woman, [saying] "Life is short. Get a divorce." It had the law firm telephone number. It's so disrespectful of the holy covenant that God intended marriage to be.
I feel like divorce is being sold as a product. We are forgetting first the damage to the couple, which is huge, long lasting, and everyone is kind of aware of that. There is also damage to the children. I personally grew up in a family where my parents got divorced when I was in elementary school. I experienced some of that pain myself, my brother and I did. We still experience it to this day, the fact that our parents are not together, and there are so many awkward occasions. Everything is complicated because of that divorce, more difficult.
Even more so, [divorce] affects the church family. I have actually seen where one divorce in a church will start almost a chain reaction of other couples. Their marriages crumble. I don't know why it is, but it's the sense of "nothing is permanent." All these marriage relationships [feel] temporary, and there is just a sense of a snowball rolling down a hill effect. The more divorces there are, it seems to promulgate more divorces around that couple.
So, I see the pain being not just in that relationship, but also much, much farther beyond that. It hurts God too because, again, it's a holy covenant that has just been trampled on.
CW: Do you think our laws make it too easy to get married or divorced?
SB: You know, Sarah, I am not really a big proponent of changing the laws. I think the laws are what they are in most cases. They have their flaws and their difficulties. It may be "too easy" to get divorced, but I don't think that is where the problem is. I think the problem is people's adoption of the worldly mindset that says marriage is just a contract. [That] it's just a transaction between two people, and it doesn't really matter. I think it's a spiritual problem, not a legal problem. It's the condition of our hearts that is the problem.
I think the legal profession contributes to the problem. When they… get a call from one spouse saying, "I might need some legal help. My marriage is suffering," too many attorneys are throwing gasoline on that fire instead of trying to help get that couple into solid Christian counseling. The first thing they do is hire a private investigator to find out what other dirt they can dig up and make the situation worse and start a psychological process of getting the couple into an adversarial position with each other.
The bottom line for a lot of attorneys is that they make their living from divorce. So … the simple economic reality is going to be that the more divorces, the better. The uglier and nastier those divorces, the better, because that means more billable hours, more difficulties, more hearings, more appeals, more controversy. They may or may not admit that they want to see marriages being destroyed … but the reality is they are making their living from that.
CW: During his lifetime, Pope John Paul II asked Christian lawyers to turn away the majority of their divorce cases, saying lawyers were contributing to the breakdown of the family. What are your thoughts on that - should lawyers start turning down cases?
SB: Amen! I personally do not do divorce work. I never did, even before I became a believer. I just had an aversion to it… perhaps just because my parents have been divorced when I was a kid. So, I have never had to turn away divorce work; however, I do get phone calls from clients who don't know what type of work I do. They call me up and say, "Steve, can you help me with this divorce."
When I get those situations, my first question is always "Have you been to counseling yet? Have you gotten with a good solid Christian counselor, whether it's through your church or whether it's an independent Christian counseling agency?" So, I am able to [avoid] making the situation worse through whatever my reaction is to that. I have tried to be a peacemaker.
I have to make referrals sometimes. I [try] to connect [couples] with a Christian attorney who is still going to hopefully reflect Christ's values through their family law process. I have also been incredibly blessed to get the phone call sometimes a couple years later where a client says, "You know what, we didn't get divorced. We did go to counseling, and the marriage is great." That is the most awesome news you can ever get.
CW: We have spent a lot of time discussing divorce. What about before the marriage? What are your thoughts on prenuptial agreements?
SB: It's a good question. Prenuptial agreements are simply a legally binding contract entered into by husband and wife before a marriage takes place. In most states [for the prenuptial] to be valid, that prenuptial agreement requires that each spouse have separate legal counsel - their own attorneys.
By nature, it raises this situation where in the weeks and days leading up to the wedding, the couple becomes adversaries. They are negotiating against each other to gain the upper hand, either directly or through their attorneys.
To me, that prenuptial agreement is undermining the foundation of the marriage from the get-go. It's as if you are going to build a nice new house, and you start to put cracks in the foundation intentionally, so the foundation is weak.
Marriage is supposed to be a commitment of 100%. I think that is reflected in the book of Genesis where marriage is described as husband and wife becoming one flesh, which implies the spiritual, physical, and emotional unity - oneness. A prenuptial literally comes between the spouses. It's as if they are saying rather than be 100% committed to each other, they are going to be maybe 95% committed to each. They are going to keep some things separate. They are going to have a plan for when the marriage crumbles later, an easy escape that is already charted, and they will know where they are going to stand in that.
I know this would go against the counsel of most attorneys, but I really honestly feel as a Christian attorney that prenuptial agreements are destructive of marriage, and Christian couples should think twice. If they are not ready to give 100% of everything to the other spouse, then why are they even getting into that marriage relationship?
Amazingly, I felt like I was kind of alone in giving this kind of advice as a Christian attorney. Recently, I found out -- you mentioned Pope John Paul II earlier in this interview -- this has actually been fairly well established in Catholic practice for a long time. A lot of Catholic attorneys are very uncomfortable with prenuptial agreements. I didn't know that, and I was really encouraged to find out that I wasn't alone after all.
CW: What would you say to a reader who has a tough legal question and wants to find a lawyer who will honor their Christian values?
SB: There are some initial questions any Christian client can and should ask a potential attorney. Don't be shy, we're used to blunt questions! Ask the lawyer if he or she can briefly share a personal faith testimony, and if they can articulate how they reconcile that faith with their work in the legal profession. There are many potential right answers to these questions, but I'd be worried if the lawyer can't give a testimony or, even worse, has a testimony but can't explain how they've integrated their Christian faith with their practice. As a client, you want your lawyer to be not only technically competent, but also a spiritually engaged follower of Jesus. If you're having trouble finding a good Christian lawyer, the Christian Legal Society has a referral service through their website, clsnet.org.
CW: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
SB: The only thought I would add... is that The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues is written in plain English for non-attorneys to easily understand. It's written in an engaging way. So it's the kind of book that I have had so many people now tell me [that] they picked it up, they thought it was going to be a dreadful, boring legal book, and instead they couldn't put it down. They were even moved to tears in parts of it. I just want readers to know it's not a boring, dreadful, legal book!
CW: Thank you very much!
SB: Thank you!
If you're interested in learning more about Stephan Bloom and The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues (Living Ink), visit www.IsThereALawyerInTheChurch.com.
August 29, 2009