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The Boston Globe

Opinion

opinion | Joan Wickersham

Family court — where lives unbind

Child custody. Alimony. Divorce. No one expects to end up here.

My friend Shirley used to work in a snack stand on the ground floor of the local courthouse. “So many sad stories,” she would say, of her conversations with people who stopped to buy a cup of coffee, or a cookie for a child. Listening to Shirley over the years made me curious about family court, where private lives intersect with public process.

So on a recent morning I went to the courthouse. The lobby was crowded: people in business suits, people in shorts, people of all races and ages, hunched over papers with their lawyers, or standing silently alone, or rocking screaming babies. I took a seat on a bench in one of the courtrooms.

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