Tim Philpot, a circuit judge in family court, tells what it's like being a man of the law. Philpot explains how no-fault divorce works and why he encourages couples to seriously consider how their divorce will affect the children in their care.
Tim Philpot, a circuit judge in family court, tells what it's like being a man of the law. Philpot explains how no-fault divorce works and why he encourages couples to seriously consider how their divorce will affect the children in their care.
Bob: Judge Tim Philpot lives and presides over family court in Kentucky. One of the things he does is to grant divorce decrees, somewhat regularly; but before a couple can get divorced in Judge Philpot’s court, they have to testify that their marriage is, in fact, irretrievably broken.
Tim: In that special, irretrievably-broken hearing—I call it an IBH—I have a little form that both parties have filled out: “Would they be open to some kind of process that would open the possibility of reconciliation?” The little speech I give everybody at these hearings, I’ve discovered, is very effective. I tell everybody: “Divorce, the way it is normally done, is like an Autobahn in Germany, which is a high-speed situation with no speed limits and no off ramps. All I’m doing, with your divorce, is taking it through the neighborhood.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today with Judge Tim Philpot about how, as a follower of Christ, he tries to bring hope and healing to a family court. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dennis—
Dennis: “Here comes the Judge.”
Bob: Oh, I knew—you were just waiting. [Laughter] You were waiting for the opportunity—
Dennis: I beat you to it!
Bob: —to deliver an old Flip Wilson line. [Laughter] Most of our listeners don’t even know who Flip Wilson is.
Dennis: No; they don’t.
Bob: Back in the ‘60s, “Here comes the Judge,” was a big deal; wasn’t it?
Dennis: It was a big deal. We have Tim Philpot with us, who is a judge in Lexington, Kentucky. Tim—welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Tim: Thank you, Dennis.
Bob: Judge, you have served in circuit court in Lexington, Kentucky—in the family court—for 12 years.
You’ve, undoubtedly, had days, feeling like you’ve been in a war zone and, probably, have some stories that stand out as remarkable stories over the last dozen years.
Dennis: Well, he tells some of those stories, Bob, in his book, Judge Z: Irretrievably Broken. It’s a story about, really, what’s happened to marriage in America.
Bob: It’s a work of fiction based on a lot of truth; right?
Tim: Yes, it’s all fiction; but I have been there for—this is my 13th year. The social sciences say that the family court judges are only supposed to last seven years, and I can feel that. I mean, actually, for the last several years—
Dennis: Why is that?
Tim: Well, it is—there is a high burnout rate. Every day is stressful. Family court is just—it’s just full of stress.
Bob: I would think there would come a point, where you’d just kind of have to put up a shell in front of you, given the amount of human trauma and tragedy you face on a daily basis.
Tim: Totally true. Everybody asks me if the stories in my book true. I say, “No, they are not; because I’ve watered them all down.” It’s much softer than reality. I’m even finding myself with tears many days. I didn’t think that would happen, but it’s happening more often this year than it did the first year.
Tim: I think I’m more sensitive to the children, frankly. I dedicated my book to the children of irretrievably-broken marriages. I wasn’t even thinking about the little kids that are still going through it right now. I actually was thinking about some 40-year-olds, who I know, who are the children of irretrievably-broken marriages—moms and dads that gave up too quickly / moms and dads who had a consumer mentality about marriage—the kids would just need to get along and figure out how to survive the divorce.
I don’t know—when I was first a judge, I did all of this, and I just didn’t think about it very much.
I think, for some reason, I’ve begun to think about it more. Part of that is because I have had this sort of a new, spiritual experience for myself in the last five years. I’ve become more attuned, I think, to the heart of God for all of this.
Bob: Talk about the title of the book and where that came from and—
Bob: —and why that’s so significant.
Tim: Well, the word, “lawyer,” is only mentioned one time in most versions of the Bible. It’s in Titus 3:13: “Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer…” A few years ago, I started a little project called the Zenas Project. It was a group of about 12 lawyers that got together—we got together once a month for half a day. Our group was discovering whether it was possible to be a Christian lawyer. It was life transforming for all 12 of us that did it. It was just fantastic.
A lot of what I’m trying to do in my book is to be pedagogical—that’s a big word.
I’m proud that I know the meaning of that word. [Laughter] Pedagogical just means teaching. I’m trying to teach a lot of things in this novel. It’s not just a feel good, read it, and put it on the shelf novel. I’m trying to teach a lot of things.
I wanted to teach people what Zenas—about this word, Zenas. I wanted to teach people the word, “Beulah,” the judge’s mother in the book, who is kind of the hero. Her name is Beulah, which is an old—you’ve got to be pretty old to remember what that means—but generally speaking, people think of Beulah and connect it with Beulah Land and some of the old songs. It has this idea that Beulah Land is heaven—
Tim: —is kind of what we think. Well, Beulah Land is not heaven. It comes from Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan said that Christian, when he’s on his way to the Celestial City—he was almost there—and he got to the river, which is Death, in crossing over into heaven; but the land right before the river is called Beulah Land in Pilgrim’s Progress.
Beulah Land is this wonderful place, where the birds are singing and the sun is shining; and it’s just heavenly. It smells wonderfully / it’s like heaven—you can see heaven from Beulah Land.
Dennis: But you’re not there?
Tim: But you’re not there! But the word, Beulah, found in Isaiah 62—only found one time in the Bible—the word, “Beulah,” means married. It’s the greatest metaphor that I have found for talking about what marriage is supposed to be. Marriage is supposed to be something you go through to get to heaven.
Now, for me, I’ve been married almost 45 years. I think I can truthfully say, “I’m not sure I could have gotten to this point in my life, spiritually—I’m not sure—I don’t think I could know God hardly at all if it was not for the fact that I am married.” I mean, Sue is the one that has kind of kept me on the straight and narrow in many ways—mostly because she’s the only one that will tell me the truth. Everybody else, all day long, is patting me on the back, telling me what a great judge I am or what a great sermon that was.
The only person that will tell me the truth is Sue.
I have to be careful about this; because I don’t want to make people that are single sad, and I don’t want people that are divorced to feel guilty; but there is a truth that marriage is intended to help us to know God.
Dennis: It’s redemptive.
Tim: It is redemptive; yes.
Dennis: And in your story, Beulah is the 80-year-old mother of Judge Z.
Dennis: She’s kind of the Job—
Dennis: —who kind of comes and brings wisdom to the judge / to bring perspective to him.
Tim: Exactly. The book kind of ends with the judge living in Beulah Land, if you want to call it that.
Bob: But let me go back to irretrievably broken—because how does that fit into the story?
Tim: It fits in because the other thing I’ve been hoping to teach people are those two words. In all 50 states in America, we’ve had no-fault divorce for about 40 years now.
The only questions that have to be answered in a divorce case are—there are two questions—one: “Is your marriage irretrievably broken?” “Yes.”
Dennis: You ask that of the husband and of the wife.
Tim: Correct—they both need to say that. Actually, the way it has worked out is—only one of them needs to say that.
Tim: Yes; yes. The way that it works in reality is—that the second party, who may not believe that, really has virtually no standing to even contest that.
Now, I’m changing the way that I do my divorces in this year—
Dennis: Yes; I want you to share a little bit about that, because I thought this was shrewd. I told Bob—I said, “We’re getting ready to interview a fox on FamilyLife Today.” [Laughter]
Tim: I’m slowing down the process. But the second question is: “Is there any reasonable prospect of reconciliation?” “No.” There is a hearing that lasts about five seconds—they say, “Yes,” / they say, “No.” I’ve started slowing the process down; because I, now, at least, say, “Why?”—I say, “Tell me why.”
I have a special hearing in all of my divorce cases involving children—
—only with children. In that special irretrievably-broken hearing—I call it an IBH—I ask those two questions. I then say, “Why?” I have a little form that both parties have filled out that tells me: “Are they sure about this?” and “Would they be open to some kind of a process that would open the possibility of reconciliation?”
The little speech I give everybody at these hearings, I’ve discovered, is very effective. I tell everybody:
Divorce, the way it is normally done, is like an Autobahn in Germany, which is a high-speed situation, with no speed limits and no off ramps. All I’m doing with your divorce is taking it through the neighborhood. In the neighborhood, there are a couple of speed bumps.
One of the speed bumps is this hearing we’re having right here. I know you didn’t expect to have to have this hearing; but we’re having a special little 15-minute hearing, just to make sure that you know what you’re doing. I’m doing this because you have three children. It’s just a speed bump to make sure you know what you’re doing.”
Dennis: And is the second speed bump the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway that FamilyLife has?
Tim: It will be in the future. [Laughter] Why not?
Dennis: The reason it’s not right now is you haven’t been in 20 years.
Tim: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dennis: And you are in trouble, even before we came in the studio!
Tim: If I could get somebody to comp my weekend, we might pull that off.
Dennis: It’s done, Judge.
Tim: Okay; there you go!
Dennis: Bob is going to do that. [Laughter]
Tim: I tell everybody: “I’m taking you through the neighborhood, and there’s a speed bump. There’s also a sign in the neighborhood that says, ‘Beware! Children at Play.’” When I say, “Beware! Children at Play,” almost every time, somebody cries.
I’ve decided that one reason we’ve sped up divorce in America is that we don’t like tears / we don’t like people crying. You remember: “There ain’t no cryin’ in baseball,”—I remember that line from a movie. “Well, there’s no crying in family court,”—judges don’t like it, lawyers don’t like it, moms and dads don’t like it.
Bob: “Keep the blinders on and just keep moving.”
Tim: “Keep the blinders on.” It’s almost like when you’re getting married.
It’s like: “Okay; I’m having some doubts here, but the invitations have been sent out. The dresses have been purchased. We’ve got to just keep moving.” And the divorces turn out to be the same way. I’m trying to slow down the divorce process. I don’t know that I’m going to save any marriages; but it’s the old star fish thing; you know?
Bob: Have you seen anybody in this process pull back, and reconsider, and go—
Tim: Yes; absolutely. People are slowing down, thinking—
Bob: You ask them, “Why?”
Tim: It’s usually the same—it’s what I call all the soft reasons for divorce. You know, in the old days, historically, you had to have some really hard reasons for divorce—
Bob: Evidence of adultery.
Tim: —adultery, abuse, serious issues. I don’t even have these hearings, in fact, if there are allegations of domestic violence—you just can’t do that.
Tim: I’m only doing this in what I call the routine, every day divorce. But the typical answer are things like: “We’ve grown apart.” My favorite one is—these people will say—and it’s funny to me a little bit, because I’ve been doing this for so long—
—but they’ll just say, “We have differences.” [Laughter]
I go: “Well, look,”—I have my 93-year-old mentor / Dr. Dennis Kinlaw is my mentor. He’s written a lot on this whole subject of family. His best definition—he is a theologian that reads his Bible in Hebrew every day—his best definition of marriage is that it’s a union of differences. I love to talk to people that way—I’ll say: “Well, hey, pal, I know you have differences. That’s why you got married in the first place. My friend says that marriage is a union of differences. So, if your only problem is you are different than your wife, you probably need a little better of an answer than that.”
Usually, when I say that, they come up with a better answer; you know? It’s like: “Well, okay; Judge, now, that you mention it…”
Tim: You get into some details, at some point; but there are many people that have just let their marriage fall apart over nothing. Those are the saddest cases. I have often said:
“It’s not the case of abuse and horrible stuff that make me the saddest in divorce court / in family court . The cases that make me personally the saddest are the ones where there’s really, truthfully no reason for it. They’ve just given up for no reason at all.”
Dennis: I want to go back to Bob’s question about what it means to be irretrievably broken. You tell the story of a Chinese couple, who came into your back room—
Dennis: —to have this conversation with you. Unpack that story, because that really explains kind of where this book came from in many regards.
Tim: Yes; I told the story in the book, as a Chinese couple; but it was actually a story that has happened many times with many different kinds of couples. I say to the husband—and I’ll say to the husband in this case: “Is your marriage irretrievably broken?” “Yes.” “Is there any reasonable prospect of reconciliation?” “No.” And you turn to the other side; and you say, “Do you agree?” And this case, I turn to the wife. She was silent—she looked across the table at her husband.
She got a Kleenex® out and dabbed some tears away from her eyes. Then, she literally turned to the judge—and this is a true story—she turned to the judge, which was me / I had been a judge for almost ten years. She says: “Irretrievably broken? What does that mean?” And the judge, who’d been judge for ten years—
Dennis: As in you.
Tim: —the stupid judge had no answer! He goes, “I don’t really have any idea what the means.” So, I finally thought through this a little bit more. I tell everybody at these IBHs—I say, “I have to decide that your marriage is irretrievably broken.” And I say: “Those are three really strong words: Marriage—this is not just a little get together. I agree that it’s probably broken, because you’re sitting here; but the marriage has to be irretrievably broken. That’s a strong word, and it’s a word in the statutes in all 50 states.”
I call the irretrievably word—the example of that is: I play golf.
If I hit my ball in the woods and lose it, it’s probably going to be found by somebody / it’s not irretrievably lost. But if I’m playing at Pebble Beach and I hook it into the ocean—the Pacific Ocean—it’s probably irretrievably lost. I get that. [Laughter]
Or if I have a glass and I drop it, and it smashes into smithereens, it’s irretrievably broken. But if I trip and fall down some steps and break my leg, my orthopedist tells me that, when it grows back, it will be stronger than ever. It’s broken, but it’s not irretrievably broken. A lot of marriages are broken, but they’re not irretrievably broken—they’ve never even tried a counselor. They just don’t know what they don’t know.
I think my job, as a judge, is to take those words seriously. For 12 years, I did not take them seriously. Very few judges in America take those words seriously: “A marriage has to be irretrievably broken.” I think, especially when there are children involved—
—and you know the social science about how much better children do in a married home, with mom and dad, both, being there—it’s our obligation to, at least, slow the process down so that both parties have time to think through what they are doing.
Bob: I’m guessing there are a lot of divorce attorneys in Kentucky, who are saying, “Stay out of Judge Philpot’s court if you can.”
Tim: I think that’s true. Nobody said anything to my face; but, yes, the rumors are that some people are upset about it. But a lot of people are very happy about it too. This book has been a greater joy for me than I ever dreamed, because I get texts and emails every day from somebody saying: “Wow! I learned something here that’s going to save my marriage,” or “It has changed my life.” I’m getting a lot of that, which has been—that helps me overcome the criticism.
Dennis: You know, I just think of what you just illustrated around being irretrievably broken and why that—well, we haven’t bothered to look up the definition of what that means—why you, as a judge, didn’t for ten years.
Dennis: A part of it is we have not visited the head waters of how a marriage starts, which is a covenant. In the Bible, it was a sacred covenant between three, not between two. It was a man, and a woman, and their God making a pledge and a promise to go a lifetime together—
Tim: Yes; exactly.
Dennis: —and not quit. Now, marriage is hard.
Tim: It is.
Dennis: I’ve been married 44 years now, and I’m going to promise you something—there have been moments when it was really, really hard. I would like to have been somewhere else; you know? [Laughter]
Tim: Exactly; yes.
Dennis: But it’s the promise that has kept us together. Somebody may say, “Well, that’s kind of shallow.” And I go, “No; it isn’t.”
Tim: No; not at all.
Dennis: Commitment and covenant-keeping love is not shallow. Comment on that, if you would.
Tim: Yes; I will.
It points up that civil marriage—and what we do here in terms of the legal part of it—it’s a covenant, if you want to call it that, between man and woman or, now, two men and two women. By the way, there is no reason it won’t go to three men and three women. There are already thruples being married—if you’re not aware of that. There is no logical reason for it not to go to that. If you can go to same-sex marriage, you can easily go to three people being in a marriage. But for right now, it’s two people and the government—the third party is the government.
In the marriage that we’re talking about, it’s a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. So, essentially, the government has replaced God in a lot of the marriages. The covenant concept is best understood, by me, in a word that I learned in researching this book. It’s a Hebrew word—it came from my friend, Dr. Kinlaw, and Dr. Oswalt—who are Hebrew professors. It’s the word, hesed—H-E-S-E-D.
It’s really the best word for the love of God that’s found in the Old Testament. It’s such a great word that we can’t even really define it in English. It just means it’s a love that never goes away. It’s a steadfast love—
Bob: A steadfast love that endures forever.
Tim: —that endures forever. It doesn’t matter what he’s done / it doesn’t matter what she’s done: “I’m going to love this person forever and ever and ever,” and it is never going away.
That word has become very precious to me, and it basically means covenant. I know, in Arkansas, you have covenant marriage, I think.
Dennis: We do.
Tim: I remember you and Governor Huckabee did something about that.
Dennis: We travelled around the state, just promoting marriage—but, specifically, “up your game” from just a regular marriage to the high-octane covenant marriage—that means it’s a whole lot more difficult to get out of.
Tim: That’s right; that’s exactly right.
Dennis: And what I’d say to the listeners right now, as you’ve listened to the judge—
—maybe, there are some listeners who need to pull off the freeway / they need to go through a neighborhood, hit a speed bump, and look at the sign that says, “Children at Play”—
Dennis: —who are innocent. They aren’t the cause of the divorce, but they are going to think they are.
Dennis: Just slow down, pull off into a cul-de-sac, and call a time-out.
Dennis: Maybe, get this book and take a look at real life and where it all ends up in family court; but also, pull out the Book—the best-seller of all time—he Bible. Then, find a way to get your marriage to the Weekend to Remember—
Dennis: —or get a friend’s marriage to the Weekend to Remember. I’m telling you—there are too many marriages—and that’s what you’re really illustrating in the book—there are too many of them that are ending too quickly / too impulsively.
They’re not attempting to really find out what’s behind those two words: irretrievably broken.
Bob: Well, if a judge asks you, “Is your marriage irretrievably broken?” you better be able to say, “You know, we’ve done everything we know how to do.” And if you haven’t been to a Weekend to Remember, you haven’t done everything you know how to do.
Dennis: Yes; and if you come, and it doesn’t help, and you want your registration fee back, we’ll give you that registration fee back.
Tim: There you go—I love it.
Dennis: So, there’s no financial risk, in terms of the registration fee, at that point.
Tim: One of the things I say to people is: “You want to be able to say to your children, when they are 25 years old, ‘Honey, we did everything we could to save the marriage.’” Most people have not—it’s just that simple.
Bob: I’m going to be spending this weekend in Philadelphia, speaking at a Weekend to Remember getaway to hundreds of couples. I know we’ve got about a dozen getaways happening this weekend. If listeners would like to join us in Philadelphia or in any of a number of locations around the country this weekend, this is a great weekend to get away and invest in your marriage relationship.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about where the Weekend to Remember is being held this weekend. And if you’re in the Philadelphia area, I hope you’ll come out and join us—love to spend to the weekend with you.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s information about Tim Philpot’s book, Irretrievably Broken, on our website. You can order copies of the book from us online; or you can call if you have any questions about the getaway, or if you want to call to order a copy of Judge Z: Irretrievably Broken by Tim Philpot. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, you can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We have some friends, who have been to a Weekend to Remember getaway, who are celebrating their 32nd anniversary today. Jan and Randy Rock live in Edwardsville, Illinois—just across the river from St. Louis. It was 1984 when they first became husband and wife.
We wanted to say, “Happy anniversary!” to the Rocks as they celebrate today.
Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to help more couples celebrate more anniversaries, year-in and year-out. We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families. Godly marriages and families change the world, one home at a time.
And we appreciate those of you who partner with us so that, together, we can help strengthen marriages and families. Just know that every donation we receive here, at FamilyLife, is being plowed into ministry to marriages and families all around the world. We are grateful for your partnership with us in this endeavor.
If you can make a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a resource that we have put together so that parents and grandparents can help their children—particularly their younger children—understand more about who Jesus is during the Christmas season. It’s called “The Twelve Names of Christmas.” It’s our gift to you when you donate today at FamilyLifeToday.com; or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; or you can mail your donation and request “The Twelve Names of Christmas.”
Our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Tim Philpot as we talk about the real condition of marriages and families in our culture today. Hope you can be back with us for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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