Cultural Issues In Family Law: 14 Things Your Attorney Must Keep in Mind

By: Henry Gornbein
: November 14, 2016

I have written in the past about the fact that we are a melting pot with people from all over the world ending up in the United States. Lately, with the presidential race reaching its peak of ugliness, I have seen a lot of hatred and animosity towards people of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

I believe that it is time to step back and try to remember the Golden Rule! Everyone in the United States came from somewhere. Some came over on the Mayflower, some were brought over as slaves, and many have come from war-torn countries where they are seeking a dream, the hope for a new life.

In my area of family law, I represent people from all ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds. Here in the Metropolitan Detroit area where I practice, we have one of the largest Muslim communities outside of the Middle East. We have a large Chaldean population as well as many people who have come from India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, as well as many Eastern European countries and Russia. We have a large Polish community and a large Italian community. We have many migrants from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

We are all different in some respects, but we are all very similar. We all want to be happy, to have a family and a good marriage. Too often divorce hits in areas that were almost unknown in the community or country where people have come from.

I deal with arranged marriages as well as situations involving mail order brides. I have seen situations where a bride or groom becomes enmeshed in an entire family situation through marriage involving in-laws and other extended family. I have seen horrible situations involving abuse as well. 

What is critical is that we must understand and be sensitive to the fact that many immigrants find our language, legal system, and the American way of life to be foreign and confusing to say the least.

As a family lawyer, I have several thoughts on this issue:

  1. An attorney must be sensitive to the fact that people from different cultures or religions may have a different view of marriage and divorce.

  2. An attorney must listen to what you are saying and also try to put things into the context of where you are from.

  3. An attorney must give extra time to try to understand that some divorces are not only about money and children but also about face and honor.

  4. An attorney must explain to clients what to expect based upon the legal system but also understand that the expectations of someone from one religious or cultural background may be different from that of another racial, ethnic, or religious background.

  5. When trying to resolve a case, an attorney must be mindful of these issues.

  6. An attorney must try to be realistic because often the legal system cannot solve one’s family problems.

  7. Holidays should be taken into account, and your attorney should spell out not only the typical holidays but also those of significance to someone who may be Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, or from some other religion with different holidays.

  8. If there are certain holidays celebrated by African Americans, these should be spelled out where appropriate as well.

  9. Settlements should not be one-size-fits-all but should be based upon your particular needs and background.

  10. If you are worried about your child being removed from the United States and taken to another country where it will be impossible for the return of your child, then it is imperative to take protective measures. These issues should be explored carefully.

  11. If there is a religious aspect of a divorce such as an Islamic decree or a Jewish divorce or Get, these issues should be negotiated and put into writing so that there are no problems later on.

  12. Issues such as the religious upbringing of children and their schooling should be dealt with as well. I see so many cases where these issues are never raised, resulting in a war that continues through the courts long after the divorce has become final.

  13. If there is an issue of travel abroad with a child or children where there is family in another country, these issues should be covered.

  14. If there are issues involving a Green Card or citizenship or visas, it is important to find out the implications and deal with them. Sometimes it is important to have an opinion or intervention from an immigration attorney as well.

Divorce is difficult, painful, and confusing, to say the least. If we step back and work together, we can make the experience a little less painful, especially if we keep in mind that we all came from somewhere else. Let’s tone down the rhetoric and not increase it as our politicians too often do!

These are my thoughts.  Please share yours with me as well.