Judy Parejko will never forget her ninth birthday. She was recovering from the funeral of her mother, who had passed away after a year-and-a-half struggle with cancer.” It was just my dad, my four sisters and me,” Judy tells The Interim. This childhood tragedy became the first step in Judy’s journey as one of North America’s most outspoken opponents of “no-fault” divorce.
She spent her teenaged years trying to run away from family life. “Our family wasn’t very close after my mother died,” she says. “I struggled with questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I doing with my life?’”
As a young lady, she met and married her husband. She then settled into married life and gave birth to the couple’s two sons. The experience of marriage and motherhood would have a strong impact on her. “I didn’t have much of a view of family before marriage,” Judy explains. “I had tried to run away from family after my mother died. Having my own family was like a conversion experience. I suddenly realized family matters.”
She says she “wanted to learn more about what family was” and because she lived near the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin, which offered a master of science in family studies, she enrolled.
While Judy enjoyed the program, she began to recognize certain weaknesses in the curriculum. “They overlooked marriage as the primary context of family,” Judy says. “The word marriage did not come up much. It was always parents or children. Marriage had kind of a negative or oppressive tone in the group I was in. In retrospect, I became aware that marriage was seldom viewed as beneficial to women.”
Upon graduation, she entered family court mediation. “My clients were the anguished parents going through a divorce who were sent by the judge to work out living arrangements for their children. By making such decisions themselves, couples could be spared the intrusion of others into their lives – divorce ‘professionals’ such as the guardian at litem (lawyer to represent their children), psychiatrists to assess their mental health and social workers to evaluate each of their homes. I felt that I’d chosen a good and honourable profession and that I could help families avoid child custody battles.”
Judy began working with court cases in 1995. She opened a non-profit mediation center with local grants and hoped to expand her family mediation practice beyond divorce cases. She had begun to see the effects of divorce on children, even when the divorce was supposedly amicable. She also became concerned with cases where only one spouse wanted the divorce. She hoped that her expanded practice would help couples learn new communication skills and how to work through problems, rather than opt for divorce.
Divorce industry spawned
“I slowly learned that the mediation field avoided discussion about a mediator’s role in facilitating reconciliation,” Judy shares. “In fact, I came to believe that mediation did not really embrace family preservation — that mediators were supposed to be ‘neutral’ which, supposedly, meant non-directive. By taking this stance, mediators were turned into operatives in a sinister system called ‘no-fault divorce,’ where one party had all the say in the outcome and the other was shut out of the process. The system provided no defence against the divorce and no ability to preserve their family intact.” Judy also realized that no-fault divorce was a big industry in the United States (and Canada), with lawyers and various other professionals pocketing billions each year.
Judy worked behind the scenes with couples who had been sent to her by the courts for mediation. She quietly encouraged these couples to reconcile their differences and encouraged them to learn new skills for coping with marriage and family life. “I hoped to restore some semblance of fairness to the process, but I soon saw my caseload drop off,” Judy says. “The judge had dropped me as the court-appointed mediator for the county.” Judy then found herself locked out of her office.
“I had learned, in the words of one constitutional lawyer, that no-fault divorce was ‘the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the American people,’” Judy says. “I continued researching legal history, and got involved with the marriage movement that emanated out of a type of mediation that resulted in unprecedented reconciliations.”
No-fault divorce harms children
Judy eventually compiled her research into a book called Stolen Vows: The Illusion of No-Fault Divorce and the Rise of the American Divorce Industry. The book has helped thousands understand how no-fault divorce came about and how it impoverishes parents and children while enriching the pockets of a handful of divorce professionals.
Concluding her interview with The Interim, Judy notes: “I was in a car accident a few years ago. I was knocked unconscious. I woke up briefly to caring and skilled people driving an ambulance. They looked after me and got me to emergency, where the hospital looked after my injuries.
“No-fault divorce is like a crusher arriving instead of an ambulance, tossing my body into a body bag and crushing my car into a block of steel. The marriage is wounded, but no-fault divorce kills it off instead of nursing it back to life. We need an emergency room for marriages. What no-fault offers us is a morgue. Actually, it’s far worse that a morgue where the dead rest in peace. It’s a slaughterhouse. Like abortion, this is bad for children.”