Sensitivity to Culture in Divorce
Twenty years ago, the majority of people I represented in family law matters were people who had been born in American. There were extremely few cases involving people who had not lived in the United States for at least one or two generations. Times have changed enormously, however, and so has the cultural population of people experiencing divorce in the Detroit area.
The Detroit Metropolitan area is a cultural melting pot. Think about it. We are a United Nations. We have one of the largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East. We have a huge Hispanic population. We also have thousands of people in our city who were born and raised in India, Pakistan, many parts of Africa, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Korea and many other parts of the Far East. We have a large Chaldean population and the Detroit Metropolitan area has become a major immigration point for thousands who have come here from the former Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe.
In recent years in my divorce practice, I have represented people from many religious, ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds. Lately, I have seen several divorces involving cultures, where divorce, until recently, was extremely rare. I have also been involved in numerous divorces where people come from cultures or societies where arranged marriages are common. Lifestyles and marital relationships that were accepted overseas are frequently unsuccessful here and therefore, a great many arranged marriages break up. As Family Practitioners, it is necessary to address the wide variety of differences in the needs of a diverse religious, ethnic and cultural population.
As an attorney, it is important to examine differences and try to learn from them. When I first meet with a client, I make it a goal to not only discovery the facts about the marriage and it’s problems, but also to familiarize myself with that client’s ethnic and cultural background. For example, how does the Muslim religion impact a divorce? How does the fact that women, in most Muslim countries, are treated differently from American woman impact a divorce? How does the traditional attitude of the Muslim male play a role in the divorce? All of these issues are relevant. Muslim holidays are also critical to the participants in a Muslim Divorce. During these holidays, parenting time matters a great deal and need to be respected and considered in the Judgment of Divorce. Issues with regard to Green Cards frequently arise. It is common for there to be allegations of misrepresentation where one party married another party simply to obtain a Green Card. Each one of these situations has risen in my practice. These are delicate matters which require sensitivity and attention. The matter of custody has unique considerations, too. If a parent were to disappear with a child into certain countries in the Middle East or other parts of the world, there is no reciprocity and it is impossible to have a child returned if the parent elects to keep that child. All these issues are intricate and must be explored on a case-by-case basis.
I have seen several cases of arranged marriages from India. It is likely that if these couples were still in India, they would not be seeking a divorce, but here, with different lifestyles and attitudes, divorce is an option that is frequently considered. Religious and cultural issues play a significant role in these cases. I have seen many complicated and hard-fought custody battles, where both father and mother feels they are capable of and entitled to, at the very least, joint legal and physical custody. Again, a keen awareness must be evident of cultural nuances and a variety of religions. People from India as well as Pakistan are Muslim and Hindu and Sheik and each religion have its own attributes.
The Detroit area auto and computer industries attract a great many citizens from the Far East. Once again, it is necessary to consider the cultural and ethnic differences of this population. For example, female roles in the Far East differ greatly from female roles in the United States. This is just one area where attorneys owe it to their clients to be sensitive and aware.
It is common for clients to come to an attorney with successful businesses that have a lot of cash. Discovery issues are critical and often, in these cases, difficult. Language is also problematic. The American vernacular and the connotations of American words are frequently confusing and frightening to people who have not been raised here. It cannot be assumed that American slang and idioms make sense to foreign-born clients. Therefore, it is important to be tuned in, not only to cultural differences, but also to differences in language and comprehension. For example, a great many people who were born in Poland live in the Detroit area. It is common for Polish to be their primary language and English their second language. I have had Hispanic clients who have had to endure the same problem. It is difficult for them and important for their attorney to be empathic. Frequently in these cases, it is a good idea to have an interpreter present. This allows the experience of a court hearing and a divorce to be less confusing and reduces the stress in an already difficult time.
The role of women in different cultures is hugely significant when a couple is considering divorce. In some cultures, women still are expected to remain in the home and defer to their husbands. It is not implicit that women in all cultures are active members of the community, prospering in important positions. When a marriage is dissolving, it is critical to be aware of the role of the woman for that particular culture.
Religion is another critical issue in many divorces in today’s world. It is more and more common for people of different faiths to marry and if the marriage breaks down, the religion of the children is often a hotly contested battle. I have had cases where one spouse has converted to their spouses’ religion only to revert back to their original religion once the marriage has disintegrated. These situations often turn ugly, and unfortunately, it is often the children who are caught in the middle. Another scenario where religion is a point of contention in a divorce is when the parents, though members of the same faith, cannot agree on which church, synagogue or Temple the children should attend. To say the least, these cases can be extremely complicated.
As an attorney, it is important to listen to a client and try to understand the client’s background. These extremely sensitive issues must be recognized and considered carefully when determining the best strategy for the client. Each case is completely unique and deserves a unique approach. The extra attention I use when a client is foreign born always results in a client who is more satisfied.
It is important for a client from a foreign country to make sure that any attorney they hire is sensitive to the intricacies of a divorce that has cultural considerations. We are all products of our environments and our cultural and ethnic identities mean a great deal to all of use. The exact same set of circumstances can be interpreted in a variety of ways, depending on the heritage of the client. The legal profession needs to not only be knowledgeable but compassionate. Satisfying the specific needs of our clients during the traumatic experience of divorce not only makes us better lawyers but better human beings.Michigan divorce article provided by Detroit family law attorney Henry Gornbein.