Originally posted on FamilyLawyerMagazine.com
Even though there are plenty of things that need fixing in the family law system – and at family law firms – the fact that we’re now talking about gender-based discrimination, racism, and other biases is a step in the right direction.
By Myra Chack Fleischer, Family Lawyer
I started my career as an attorney 25 years ago. Back then, it was less usual than it is today for women to go through law school. I remember having an emergency ex parte hearing (which were then held in judge’s chambers) and being verbally pushed aside as the male attorneys and judge discussed golf and other activities. I finally had to interrupt their conversation to get my hearing heard. I think some of that attitude still carries over to today, especially with older male judges.
There are other, smaller things that all of us women deal with on a daily basis. I’ve been called “dear” and “honey” and other terms of endearment by men in court and in the workplace, and that continues to this day. I’ve worked just as hard as they have to earn my place, so depending on the circumstances I try to either gently or forcefully correct them.
Gender-Based Discrimination: Personal & Professional
Just recently, while purchasing a vehicle, a salesperson asked my husband what he did for a living and then turned to me and asked if I worked outside the home. I asked him why he assumed my husband worked and not me. It’s easier to call people on their discrimination outside of a professional context, though.
Because I know what it feels like to be at a disadvantage for things about myself I can’t control, I’ve always been careful when reviewing job applications to judge them solely on the merit of their qualifications. My office has always employed a high percentage of women and we have had and continue to have people of various races, religions, and nationalities who work here. I don’t always see that in the legal profession, especially in southern California, but I like to know I’m doing my part to level the playing field of opportunity.
Resolving Racial and Gender Biases in the Family Law System
I think this is especially important in family law, which has certainly changed for the better but still has some biases based on things like gender and race. Women tend to be discriminated against financially in divorce proceedings, something that hasn’t changed much since the ’60s. With the way the custody laws are written it can be easy for a parent to say he spends more time with his children than he actually does to reduce the amount he pays in support. I see it all the time.
Even though there are plenty of things that need fixing, the fact that we’re now talking about gender-based discrimination, racism, and other biases is a step in the right direction. I think sensitivity education of the bench and the bar would go a long way in resolving these divides in our justice systems.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California, with a focus on high asset divorce, complex property issues, child and spousal support, move aways, settlement agreements, mediation, and family law appeals.