Here Comes the Judge
About the Guest
Circuit judge Tim Philpot talks about the lessons he's learned in family court and shares how adoptions are his favorite part of the job. He also tells why he believes the Christian community needs to do more.
Tim PhilpotTim Philpot is a lifelong resident of Lexington, Kentucky. In 1971, Tim married Susan Davis, who grew up in Congo, Africa as the daughter of missionaries. Tim and Susan have no children and have been married for over 40 years. Tim is a Judge of the Fayette Circuit Family Court, involved daily with families in crisis since January 2004. Tim graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1974. He attended law school at the University of Kentucky and received a J.D. Degree in 1977. He was a tr...more
Circuit judge Tim Philpot talks about the lessons he’s learned in family court and shares how adoptions are his favorite part of the job.
Here Comes the Judge
Bob: Before a couple in Kentucky can get a divorce, they have to have a judge’s decree. Judge Tim Philpot says, if a couple is coming through his court, seeking a divorce, he wants to make sure they have thought carefully about what it is they are doing.
Tim: Lots of people come into my courtroom and they want their children to talk to me—and they want their children to talk to me about: “I want to live with Daddy,” or “I want to live with Mommy.” They are trying to get me to talk to the kid.
Very often, I will say to them: “I don’t understand why you think it is okay just to be with your little boy every other weekend. Are you satisfied by a situation where you don’t get to tuck your little boy into bed every single night? I’ve got a feeling if I talk to your children, they would be against this divorce—period. So, why don’t you all figure out some way to work on the marriage instead of trying to put the child in the middle of the discussion about what bed he’s going to sleep in?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll get a unique perspective today on the condition of the family in America from a family court judge from Kentucky. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, tell the truth—
Dennis: Nothing but the truth? [Laughter]
Bob: —have you ever—the whole truth—have you ever watched an entire episode of Judge Judy in the afternoon?
Bob: You’ve never seen one?
Dennis: I’ve seen some little snippets of cases, but—
Bob: But not the whole thing?
Dennis: —not to my knowledge can I confess to that sin. [Laughter]
Bob: I wonder about our guest.
Dennis: I wonder. We have a judge with us—Tim Philpot. Tim, have you ever watched an entire episode, start to finish?
Tim: Since I’m under oath, I’m going to say, “Yes; I have”; and I am ashamed of that. I’ve actually watched Jerry Springer too.
Bob: Oh my goodness! [Laughter] Order in the court!
Dennis: Well, if you have missed the earlier broadcasts with Tim, all I’ve got to encourage you to do is—after you’ve listened to this one, go listen to them as well, online, and make sure you hear his wisdom.
He has written a book called Irretrievably Broken. It’s all about Judge Z. It’s really Tim’s name, as judge in a family court, and the lessons he’s seen people demonstrate, and the ones he’s learned, and the many he’s taught others. He said he’s a teacher—he likes to be pedagogical [of or relating to teachers or education].
Bob: Yes; we should describe the book. It is almost fiction.
Tim: It is fiction completely; but I can’t get away from the fact that, you know, this has been my life for the last 13 years.
It is imagination, but it’s an informed imagination.
Bob: There are a lot of stories that show up in the book, where the names have been changed to protect the innocent; right?
Tim: It’s more fiction than that; but yes, it’s more than just changing names. They are composite characters—is probably the accurate way to say it.
Dennis: Okay; I want to talk about some of that in just a minute; but I want to go to you, as a young man, as a trial lawyer for 26 years. You did a lot of civil rights work. I want to ask you a very relevant question for us today: “As a follower of Christ, where are we, in the white community, missing our role and the importance that we are in the culture in addressing how this country is divided?”
Tim: Wow. Okay; you’ve opened up a can of worms, but I will jump in there; because I’ve developed a recent passion about this that started when the guy went into the church in South Carolina, about a year ago—
—the white kid who killed all of the African Americans in the church.
Dennis: You’re talking about Charleston.
Tim: Charleston—and then, all of the stuff that’s happened, here, more recently, this year.
I got back on my horse again, but I became completely convinced that the main problem is that we don’t go to church together. Now, that sounds kind of blunt and simple; but we don’t know each other. There is some kind of disconnect in the worlds that we live in. I’m actually pretty well convinced that churches that are just all white or just all black are a great offense to God. I don’t know what to do about it except start living life together.
Dennis: You know, as I’ve been thinking about it, too—it’s interesting—I wouldn’t have put it exactly like you did; but I’ve been quoting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident. He made a statement—he said: “There are two kinds of problems—those that are far away, and those that are near.
“We need to go near—
Tim: Amen; yes.
Dennis: —“the problems/—
Dennis: —“the challenges.” I’ve used that statement by Solzhenitsyn to talk about the orphan—
Dennis: —and around the subject of foster care and adoption and going near the needs of orphans. I think we must have a relationship—we need to go near people who are feeling marginalized—
Dennis: —and we need to strike up a friendship, which I have many—and which I’ve learned a ton—but I’m still not there. I’m still learning, but I’m not quitting.
Tim: I’m just barely on the path, actually; but I’m further down than most of my friends are. So, these kinds of difficult issues—of adopting children / living life with orphans, and under-served, and the poor—and just getting near them—is exactly what you said. Most of us are good talkers about all that kind of stuff; but that’s about all we are, instead of kind of getting our hands dirty, down in the wrong side of town, sometimes.
Dennis: You don’t know this; but our daughter and her husband have seven sons.
Dennis: Okay? Two of them are adopted—two of them came as a result of going near orphans. They were in courts like yours.
I’ve been to courtrooms, where we’ve all marched in—and I get emotional about this—but it was fascinating to see the look on the judge’s face when 30 people walk into his courtroom to celebrate the adoption of a little boy—who was destined for some really tough, tough, tough stuff, as a young lad, growing up; but who is going to have a family—still going to have a hard time. But the judge was beaming—he loved it.
You say in your book—it’s one of the favorite things, if not the favorite thing, that you’ve done on the bench.
Tim: It’s the only happy moment. In fact, I’ve, lately, been saying in every adoption—
—and I’m really serious—I’ll say: “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So,”—whoever is adopting the child—“I want to thank you for adopting this child, not only for the child’s sake, because you’ve changed this child’s life; but I’m thanking you personally because my life is horrible.” [Laughter] “I hear nothing but bad news, here in family court—divorces, domestic violence, neglect and abuse of children—nothing but disputes all day long. Drug court—I’m doing that too. But you have given me the only happy moment of my week. I want to thank you for giving me a happy moment.” [Laughter]
Bob: I want to ask you about that, because we’ve talked about just how you are daily barraged with bad news and the tragedies of culture. If you look back on more than a dozen years of service, as a family court judge, what have been the two or three moments that you look back on and you go, “These were the highlights of my tenure”?
And what would be the two or three moments you look back on, that you’d say, “You know, I almost threw in the towel because of that.”
Tim: I can usually only remember what happened yesterday, because whatever happened yesterday comes in and just kind of overwhelms and causes you to virtually forget everything else. I always say, “It’s hard for me to learn something new / some new story in family court”; but it does seem to happen once a month.
I mean, it was not that long ago that I discovered that twins can have two different fathers, for instance. And you go, “Well, hmm, somebody is pausing on that one.” So, if you have had a relationship with men at a party or within 48 hours of each other—and there are twins in there—sometimes, they can have two different dads.
Tim: So, those are the kinds of things that you get; but that’s on the negative side.
On the positive side, you ask about a specific case. I’m thinking about one case from, really, ten years ago, where the mom in this case—a single mom, four kids, drugs, prostitution, everything you can think of—hopeless case. The state workers were against her. All the experts said that she would never get better; but somehow, I decided that I thought she was probably going to be okay. I mean, she had done in her case plan what she was supposed to do.
I gave her those four kids back, hoping that nothing bad happened—because I have gotten the phone call—one time, especially, where I had given children back to a mom. I got the phone call that the mom had gone on a drug run to Florida, and the child was dead. So, you get—as I say, this is not just about being good or bad / this is about life and death sometimes.
And so, when I gave those four kids back to mom, I did it with my fingers crossed.
The only reason I’m thinking of her right now is that I saw her last week. [Laughter] She’s doing fantastic, and she showed me pictures of her four kids; and she’s a counselor now herself.
Tim: So, sometimes, you get these happy moments too. But it’s—but those are rare. The reason I’m remembering that case is that it’s rare. I mean, most of the time, it does not work out. Most of the time, too, it has something to do with drugs and alcohol. About 90 percent of the serious abuse cases have to do with drugs or alcohol.
Dennis: You said you see somewhere between one and two cocaine babies each week?
Tim: Every week. There are four judges that do my job in Lexington, Kentucky; but yes, it’s very common—children born with cocaine in their systems.
Dennis: What’s a cocaine baby? Give us an idea of what the impact is.
Tim: Hopefully—and I would say, normally, there is no permanent effect of that / sometimes, there is—but the children are going through withdrawal just like the parents are.
Usually, it sort of turns out okay / usually, they end up being adopted by some family that really loves them and takes care of them. Those people that adopt are the heroes of the system, really.
Dennis: I want to go back to what you were saying about the number of babies that are not being adopted by Christian families. In my opinion, there are some opportunities in this culture where the church needs to show up. This is one of them.
Dennis: We need to be standing in line to take these foster care babies and, ultimately, adopt them into our families—
Dennis: —if need be. The church is the only organization on the planet that has the size / the magnitude and the ability to address the size of this problem. There are 400,000 churches in America. There are 400,000 kids in the foster care system—100,000 of which could be adopted right now. Why would we abandon them to be adopted by somebody else?
Tim: Yes; yes. My ultimate dream—and I’ve become cynical and skeptical—so, I don’t think it’s going to happen—but my ultimate dream is that the church could eliminate the social services / the church could eliminate the foster children—the church would become the system. That’s a big dream. But I’ve got to believe it can, at least, happen in some places with some people; and that’s part of my life.
Bob: So, if I could turn you from the branch of government you are in—you’re in the judicial branch—it’s not your job to make the law / it’s not your job to enforce the law—it’s your job to interpret the law; right?
Bob: But let’s say I could to turn to you and say, “Now, it is your job to make the law and to enforce the law.” What are you running on and what policy decisions are you going to make?
Tim: So, my agenda would be, in terms of the—
—for instance, one of the things I’m trying to accomplish, actually, in Kentucky, right now, is just to slow down divorce. We have—many states have zero waiting period, even with children. In Kentucky, you can wake up mad at your wife and be divorced, even with children, in 60 days—boom! I would take those 60 days and make it a year—I would. You made me king—am I right?
Bob: That’s right.
Tim: You made me the king. If you’re going to make me the king, it would be, at least, a year waiting period to make people think about it. I would probably settle for six months.
Bob: So, the person, who says, “Why are you just prolonging the misery, Judge?”
Tim: That’s what they will say. I know this—lots of people come into my courtroom, and they want their children to talk to me—they want their children to talk to me about: “I want to live with Daddy,” or “I want to live with Mommy.” They are trying to get me to talk to the kid.
Very often, I will say to them: “I may ask the child what he or she thinks about this divorce.
“I don’t understand why you think it is okay just to be with your little boy every other weekend. Are you satisfied by a situation where you don’t get to tuck your little boy into bed every single night? I’ve got a feeling, if I talk to your children, they would be against this divorce—period. So, why don’t you all figure out some way to work on the marriage instead of trying to put the child in the middle of the discussion about what bed he’s going to sleep in?”
Bob: So, you’re going to slow down the divorce rate—
Bob: —that’s the first thing—make people think about it a little longer / try a little harder. What else are you going to do?
Tim: Probably, something that you’ve done in Arkansas, which is talk about marriage as a covenant more than a contract. Most people have no concept of what marriage really is. In fact, my book started when I began to ask people, “What is marriage?” I’m still waiting on somebody to give me a good answer—nobody knows.
I would like to do something that makes it clear that, when you get married—you know, we probably need to take more time / people need to take more time before they get married—
Bob: —trying to answer that question.
Tim: —trying to answer that question instead of waiting until it’s too late. As I say, oftentimes, “The best time to get a divorce is before you get married,”—for many people.
Dennis: Okay; hold on one second. Bob, pull up your phone.
Dennis: Click on the Family Manifesto and pull it up to where it talks about marriage.
Bob: About marriage; okay.
Dennis: And I want to read to you, Tim, a statement we crafted and made almost 25 years ago now; because I felt like there were some things that needed to be nailed down around marriage and family. It’s not meant to be the all-inclusive, theological statement from the Bible about everything around marriage and family that exists; but it is designed to be a statement, from the Bible, that does clearly define what marriage is.
Bob: So, here is what it says in the Family Manifesto—it says:
We believe God, not man, created marriage. We believe marriage was the first institution designed by God. We believe that the Bible teaches that the covenant of marriage is sacred and lifelong.
The Bible makes it clear that marriage is a legally-binding public declaration of commitment and a private consummation between one man and one woman—never between the same sex. Therefore, we believe God gives a wife to a husband and a husband to a wife. They are to receive one another as God’s unique and personal provision to help meet their mutual needs.
We go on to say:
We believe God created marriage for the purpose of couples glorifying God as one flesh, parenting godly children, and enjoying sexual pleasure. As iron sharpens iron, we believe God uses marriage to sharpen a man and a woman in the image of Jesus Christ.
Just as the Trinity reflects equal worth with differing roles, we believe God created a man and a woman with equal worth but different roles and responsibilities in marriage.
Finally, we declare the marriage commitment must be upheld in our culture as a sacred institution of God, in which men and women can experience the truest sense of spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy so that the two can become one.
Now, that’s a long definition.
Dennis: How’d we do, Judge?
Tim: You did fantastic. Here’s the only problem: Most of the people I deal with—I mean, any definition that includes God and talks about the Bible—nobody cares.
Bob: So, toss that out.
Tim: You guys already know that.
Tim: So, you have this idea that—again, marriage is both a spiritual thing; but it’s also a legal concept. I can’t define words on a piece of paper—I define marriage more in terms of the way I think about my relationship with my wife.
My wife and I—we’re completely different—opposite as can be. I am—she is a little bit of a night owl, and I like to go to be early. One way I define marriage is—I go to bed early. Usually, the lights are out when she comes to bed; and I’m lying in bed. Even in the winter, when she comes into the bed, with socks on her feet and a wooly night gown, knowing she’s there is, perhaps, the happiest moment of my life.
The only thing that gets close to it is the next morning—I get up at 5:30. I usually leave the house at 6:00. She sleeps in a little bit; and as I’m getting ready to leave, I lean over and I kiss her on the cheek and I say, “Baby, I love you.” She says, “Baby, I love you.” She knows that I’m leaving the house to do what I’m supposed to do, and I know that she’s going to be doing what she’s supposed to do.
We have this kind of this holy partnership. Just that “I love you,” early in the morning—
—I hope I can say this and you don’t have to bleep it—but it’s better than sex. It’s an intimacy of love that defines marriage, for me, better than any words on a piece of paper.
Dennis: Marriage is forged with a promise.
Tim: Amen; yes.
Dennis: It is forged with a covenant between three—a man, a woman, and their God for a lifetime. You said you heard a quote. Was it by Chesterton about fences and about moving fences?
Tim: Yes; it is the paradox of the fence that Chesterton talked about. You’re travelling down the road, and there is a fence. Well, reformers want to move the fence quickly; but Chesterton says, “You should never move a fence until you’ve taken the time to discover why the fence was put there.” As long as you’ve taken the time and done the research to discover why the fence is there in the first place—if you then know that—then, you’re free to choose to remove the fence if you wish to.
Tim: But he uses that with regard to marriage—and this was written in the 1920s, by the way. He was concerned that people were trying to remove marriage and family, even in that day. He was saying: “This is crazy! Why are we trying to do away with marriage and the familial stuff? You shouldn’t do it quickly.” Of course, that’s one of the great shockers in the last three or four years—things are moving very fast, here in the United States.
Dennis: You wouldn’t know it; but I have used a quote by him, where he says, “Marriage is like a glorious mansion—
Dennis: —“filled with all kinds of pleasant rooms and discoveries.” I have added to that: “The fence of the covenant is what surrounds that mansion, and what keeps bad things out and good people in, and helps that mansion survive for a lifetime.”
Dennis: The problem is—today, we’re dismantling the promise. We’re also dismantling the very definition of what a marriage is in the first place.
Bob: We’re moving the fences, and we didn’t stop to investigate why they are there in the first place. Some fences need to come down—
Bob: —but some fences are pretty good boundaries; aren’t they?
Tim: Right; people don’t see any basic value in marriage. It’s just meaningless—both from a legal standpoint, whether you get married or not makes very little difference to anybody.
Bob: Well, I hope, after people have had a chance to read Irretrievably Broken, they’ll have a little different view of marriage. Irretrievably Broken is the novel that you have written, and we’ve got copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Folks can go online to request a copy—
Tim: Thank you.
Bob: —or they can call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Dennis: And I want to say, “Thanks,” to Legacy Partners—monthly donors / givers to FamilyLife—who make this broadcast possible. I just want you to take a step back and think about how your giving made this broadcast possible—a pro-marriage, pro-family, honoring God’s design for marriage and family as the Scriptures present it. You made this broadcast possible to a ton of people, here in the United States, and to who knows how many millions of people internationally in more than three dozen countries around the world.
Bob: And one of the couples you’re helping us connect with today is Robb and Crystal Bennett, who live in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. Today is the Bennetts’ ten-year anniversary. They are alumni of the Weekend to Remember®. We just want to say, “Happy anniversary!” to Robb and Crystal as they celebrate ten years together today.
Speaking of the Weekend to Remember, that’s where I’m going to be spending the weekend—
—at the getaway in Philadelphia / actually, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. We’ve got another seven or eight getaways happening this weekend. There is one up along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland; Monterey, California; Portland, Oregon; St. Louis, Missouri; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California. We’re in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and Williamsburg, Virginia.
Pray for the couples who will be attending one of these getaways this weekend. Then, ask yourself the question, “Is it time for us to have a getaway?” Maybe, not this weekend; but maybe, you want to plan for the spring—for the two of you to have a fun, romantic getaway, as a couple, and spend some time talking about your marriage / doing some preventative maintenance so that your marriage does, indeed, go the distance. Find out more about the Weekend to Remember online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: Well, I just want to thank the Judge. [Laughter] You’ve been a delight to have in the studio. Our friend, Bill Eyster, put us on to you; and we took a gamble.
Now, Bill’s a good man; but I just wasn’t sure about another Wildcat coming into FamilyLife down here—[Laughter]—Kentucky Wildcat. But you have not disappointed, Tim. I really appreciate you—I’m glad you are on the bench. I think you’ve probably given some boys and girls, who are listening to this broadcast, the vision: “Maybe, someday, I could be a judge. Maybe, I could represent God’s view and love of people on the bench like Judge Philpot.” Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Tim: Thank you, Dennis. This has been wonderful. Thank you all.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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