A Surprise for the Clerk


(Fact - Based on Memory)


One of our Assistant Registers, John Jenney, known to all as Biff, had a well-deserved reputation for skillful mediation.  Having been a Family Service Officer then an Assistant Register of Probate, he had years of experience listening to opposing parties and threading his way through their grievances toward acceptable solutions. He had a high success rate and that was good for all involved – good for the parties to have reached a mutual agreement, and good for the courts to have the cases steered toward resolution rather than having them drag on in court.

One case, though, did not quite fit this nice picture.  Biff got involved in mediating between two parties who were so antagonistic toward each other they were unable to resolve anything, even seemingly insignificant issues, between themselves without Biff’s help.  This was especially true concerning their child.  Time after time, they would stomp into the court, hostile, obstinate, unwilling to bend and time after time, Biff would sit with them, listen with patience and carefully guide them towards an acceptable decision.  This went on for quite some time. 

Finally, as is typically done, a pre-trial conference date was set.  This is exactly what it sounds like, a conference prior to the full trial when the judge, the litigants and their attorneys sit down together to go over an outline of the issues, the witnesses they intend to call, the anticipated length of trial and so on.  As luck would have it, Biff happened to be assigned as the clerk for the session where the pre-conference was being held. 

During the course of the hearing, the judge kept hearing Biff’s name brought up.  “Yes, Your Honor, Mr. Jenney was able to get that issue resolved.”  “Yes, Your Honor, Mr. Jenney suggested that compromise.”  “Yes, Your Honor, that was Mr. Jenney’s idea.” and so on.  Meanwhile, the litigants continued their attacks on each other, full of hostility and venom.   It quickly became clear to the judge that this mother and father would not agree on anything and it was up to him to find some way for their son to have a semblance of order while Mom and Dad fought with each other.

The poisonous atmosphere between these two parents must have been outrageous, because the judge did something unheard of before or since.  The parties were astonished but nobody was more astounded than Biff when the judge granted him custody of the child.

To be clear, he gave Biff “legal custody” while giving one of the parents “physical custody.”  Whenever the parties had a disagreement concerning their son, they would call Biff and he, as the person holding legal custody, would make the decision.  The order was a temporary one, although it remained in effect for a long period of time, perhaps a year or more. 

In this case, the unique solution appeared to work to the child’s benefit.  Biff was essentially put in the position of being a parent coordinator, except he had the added power of having the final say on any disputes concerning the child.  Too bad he couldn’t have also had a final say with the parents:  “Sit down.”  “Behave.”  “Apologize.”  



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