A conflict of interest is something that not everyone understands, it is more complicated than simple self motivation. It is more than than someone not being able to represent opposing parties. The basic definition according to Wikipedia is
A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.
In the most innocuous of cases, the parties in a divorce case have multiple COI. The system creates these severely divergent parties. The pain that one or both parties feel as they head down this road is not usually enough to drive someone who is not otherwise so utterly destructive down the roads that divorce drives so many people. Usually both parties have some care for what happens to the other person, especially in long marriages. They care what happens to the things they have acquired that have memories attached to them. Selfishly each wants the things they like, and there is probably some considerable overlap in those things, but again most people can figure out that given a little space. Both parties care for the children. They want the best for their children, and they believe that given a chance they can provide that. Its not that hard of a path without outside influences to understand that taking away the other parent is going to hurt the children. Without a conflict based system, the majority of divorcing couples even in high conflict divorces will find an equilibrium that is functional and fair. Many will argue that the system allows the weaker party a chance to have their say in the process. The reality is that the court system gives more power to an aggressive person over the less aggressive person. I don’t know that there is a way to change the power balance in a relationship to something more equitable in any process. I would chalk up the inequity to the fact these people chose to have children with each other, so they are bound to each other and the balance that they have created until those children are grown. Its not something for anyone else to fix for them, unless there is physical violence involved, and as much as this is the argument for all cases, it is a select few cases that it is actually a factor in.
The lawyers from the beginning have some COI. The largest one is their pocketbook vs helping their client resolve the case in the shortest amount of time possible and with the least conflict. Conflict drives up their rates. They have to spend more time preparing for hearings and trials, and arguing their points. They have to handle discovery issues. In a simple no frills divorce, the parties come together, and the lawyers will have a punch list of things to go over, and they sign off on the division of assets and a plan for continuing to raise the kids. If the lawyers were actually protecting their clients interests, they would do their best to settle conflicts with compromise, and would communicate with each other when the clients are struggling to do so. There would not be posturing and mudslinging. The system clearly demonstrates that it is the lawyers pocketbook that wins in most cases, but because the system is centered on the fact that you might go to court, it is impossible to be prepared for that eventuality without engaging lawyers. They have created a bubble to trap divorcing couples that the lawyers control to their benefit. Its all cloaked in professional ethics to make it all look legit.
The judges have nothing but COI. They don’t want to be overruled, so they engage third parties to make recommendations, and then support those as if they carry the weight of facts. These third parties are often lawyers themselves, or other court hangers on. The family court system is largely funded on having conflict that requires the parties to show up at court and have court costs. The judges are employees of the state, so they benefit from the child support that moves through system with collection fees attached. Family court judges are either on their way up or on their way down. The ones that are on their way up, want rulings that are not overturned, but get the kind of review that shows how clever they are. This allows them to have some basis to seek promotions, especially if they are seeking appointments that involve public elections. They want enough notoriety to have their name known without a cloud of controversy hovering over the decisions. The ones who are on their way down simply want to avoid controversy, so they don’t get dumped to traffic court or some other obligatory system to keep them employed. Avoiding controversy is ruling in ways that uphold the status-quot in the court system. Making ruling that may be constitutionally correct are not to be favored over making rulings that are inline with your peers.
The third-parties that are involved in family court present with the most COI opportunities that I can imagine. Custody managers, mental health professionals, GALs, etc are all people who are given a significant amount of power over people’s personal lives. They quickly become a means for the court to micro-manage how you live. The profit by being involved, so they are never going to go back to the court and state that they are not needed. They are most likely going to make a case for their ongoing involvement in the case. In a family with multiple children there are further COI that can happen. In my case, I have one child who’s circumstances are very different than the others. He is not able to come to my home at this time, because he sexually assaulted my step-son. I have a healthy relationship with the other three kids. The GAL in my case should have almost immediately asked for separate GALs to represent the kids, because they can’t possibly have the same interests in this case. That is a judgement that he chose not to make, and there is very little recourse for me to take. His recommendations came down to what he considered best for the one child and applied to all of the children. The judge appointed this same child’s therapist/social worker to be the custody manager for the kids, and the exact same conflict of interest exists there. Her concern for my oldest child and preventing him from offending again at least while he is a minor overrules the interests of the other children. When looked at as a singular entity rather than individuals, the greater good is served by serving the needs of the only the most needy individual. Since she doesn’t have the legal status of custody manager, just the role, she isn’t held to the standards of custody managers. Those standards state that she couldn’t sit in this role because of a prior significant treatment relationship with one of the parties involved. When the judge is being creative, these types of things don’t really matter.
The children are often left in the worst position with their COI. I don’t usually say that children suffer the most, because there is a lot of suffering to go around in divorce. In this case they are stuck between loyalties to each parent, to the family unit, to their siblings, and their own self interests. The emotionally needy or demanding parent will get the child’s loyalty out of guilt. Meeting this need is quite probably the worst decision the child can make. It enslaves them to that parent and ties their own emotional well being to that parent’s well being. The desire for a whole family unit is a big driver for the kids, and it can often lead to destructive behavior with a parent who is moving beyond the marriage into their own life, perhaps with a new partner. I think these two combined with some emotional manipulation by my ex-wife led to my oldest son doing what he did. The kids don’t want to hurt their siblings, so they try to figure out what each other are thinking and make decisions and opinions in line with what their siblings will approve of. They tie each other together, even when their own self interests would be served with a different or individual decisions. Their own self interests are the thing that so many kids will look past. They will ignore them to the perceived good of others. When one child doesn’t ignore them, it is often in the worst possible ways. They get what they want with bad behavior. The siblings will often try to make it all okay, but over the long term, they learn that bad behavior leads to results. The children in families where one kid has had significant issues in divorce often have all the children develop issues to gain the same advantage. I see some of this with my kids already. In the end they are likely to resent each other over time. This makes me sad.
P.S. I leave you with this, because it showed up when I was looking things up and I liked it.