Vail Law: The Role of the Family Court Facilitator

As Pat Benatar sings, “Love is a battlefield”.

The late and great comedian, George Carlin, used to compare football to the national pastime of baseball. “Baseball is pastoral,” he would begin. “Football is technological. Baseball is played on a field in a park. Football is played on a gridiron in a stadium, War Memorial Stadium… Baseball has a seventh inning; football has a two minute warning… In football you get a penalty; in baseball, you make a mistake…oops” and so on.

In my twisted opinion, the facilitator of family court, compared to the cold and barren fields of general civil or criminal litigation, is something like that. The CWF is a buffer and ombudsman of sorts, whose purpose — besides getting things done — is to keep things lenient.

Back to Ms. Benatar…

“We are young
heartache to heartache
We are
No promises
No request
Love is a battlefield”

While not all divorces are like that, like football, too many divorces take place in their own War Memorial stadiums.

Before moving on, however, to what exactly a family court facilitator is and what they do, an apocryphal account of my early practice in San Diego.

Most major cities have separate “divisions” and courtrooms for different areas of law. In San Diego when I left in 1993, if memory serves, there were 67 courtrooms. By comparison, the Eagle County Combined Courts in Eagle have 4.

In large metros, the divisions include Civil Court, Criminal Court, Juvenile Court, Traffic Court, National Court, etc. When I started practicing, in a less confrontational time – a time when you could meet your friends or family members arriving at the airline gate – or the entrance to the courthouse itself, nor any of the courtrooms – had you empty your pockets, strip down to your tight whites before entering, and pass through a metal detector. In fact, who ever heard of such a thing? I don’t need to tell you that times are different now. You want to go to a baseball game, catch a flight, or see a concert, prepare to drop holes (at least metaphorically), and prepare for an electronic inquisition.

At the time, however, not so much.

But then things started to change. And in the legal world – my legal world at least – the first division to install metal detectors was the family law courts. It is there, my friends, that the emotions are strongest. It is telling that the bankruptcy court was second and the criminal courts were third. Think about it for a moment: what drives blood pressure to its highest level is, in that order, playing with your family, then playing with your money, and finally playing with your freedom.

In any case…

Because emotions in family law cases run so high, creative minds have come up with the concept of the Family Court Facilitator, or FCF, whose unenviable job is to quell the flames and passions of divorce. and other family legal matters. Who are they and what exactly do they do?

In addition to receiving criticism and wearing halos, and acting as a buffer between the lawyers and the parties on the one hand and the judges on the other, the FCF helps to steer the case on the right track for the judge so that he doesn’t get bogged down in court and also, when children are involved, to keep the focus on the children. They will usually raise various options that can help resolve your case, such as reaching a settlement instead of escaping your disputes in the open war of the trial. They will discuss, encourage and nudge the parties towards resolution, direct the matter to mediation and (as the title suggests) arbitrate disputes and help facilitate their resolution. Unlike a judge, however, (to borrow from former President George W. Bush), they are not “the decision-makers.” Although they can cajole, show finesse, push, shove and encourage, if the parties are intractable, the judge will eventually settle things.

FCFs keep the vessel of potential conflict on a stable and generally predictable course and do all they can to save her from an unhappy and unproductive port. Their role is part peacemaker, part case administrator, part psychologist, and part legal magician. Without them, the wheels of family law disputes would soon fall apart.

Instead of the unfiltered conflict of civil and/or criminal litigation, with its heightened emotions, family law is qualitatively different; it is deeply and painfully personal. And the role of the FCF is to be a balm, a guide and an intermediary to spare the children and prevent the conflict from degenerating.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed by the bars of Colorado and California who practices law in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His areas of practice include business and commercial transactions; real estate and development; family law, custody and divorce; and civil litigation. He can be reached at 970-926-4461 or [email protected]. Her novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale)”, “The Stone Minder’s Daughter” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available on Barnes and Noble &