If David Kuroda could change anything about the legal system, he would require all couples before they marry to receive some education about children, their needs, and the adverse effects of divorce on children.
“If more parents understood how their conflict and divorce affects their children, a lot of them would act differently,” said Kuroda, a longtime divorce mediator and counselor in private practice.
Kuroda is the first winner of the South Bar Bar Association’s William E. MacFaden Award who is not an attorney or judge. Since 1997, the award has honored those who have made ongoing and distinguished contributions to the legal community.
Kuroda, who has a practice in Torrance and lives with his family in Rancho Palos Verdes, will be honored at the bar association’s annual installation dinner Friday at the Palos Verdes Golf Club.
Remember the children
It’s the attorneys that recommend their own clients to Kuroda for his services.
Erin McGaughey, the incoming president of the SBBA, said she once observed Kuroda in action during an initial session with clients. Kuroda began by placing a photo of the couple’s children on the table.
“The children were right there, and he had them talk about their children and what they really love about their children,” said McGaughey, of McGaughey and Spirito in Redondo Beach. “He is masterful. He really has this way of bringing the parents back to what they love about their children and how they need each other for this child — and getting them to this place where how much love they have for their child is greater than the current disdain they feel for each other.”
Kuroda, the former division chief of the family court services’ mediation program, is part of a collaborative divorce group called “A Better Divorce” with McGaughey and other like-minded professionals. Members believe divorce is best accomplished through a series of meetings that avoid court and preserve relationships within the family.
Bring down tension
A South Bay father of two teenagers who divorced his wife of more than a decade credited Kuroda for being fair and dealing with anger issues surprisingly well.
“David was able to somehow bring that all down,” the father said. “Our biggest issue was once we had the financials, divorce and alimony taken care of, it was a question of who is going to get the children when, and that’s where David is really good.
“He always asks how the kids are. He always wants to hear stories about the kids. It’s common ground, which is nice.”
The father and his ex-wife, who divorced about five years ago, used to meet with Kuroda about five times a year to hammer out a yearly schedule for having the kids. Lately, they’ve been meeting with Kuroda just once a year, which saves considerable money on attorneys’ fees.
“We do the whole yearly schedule and we get it all set — when we get them back, vacation dates and (we) figure out any disagreement on who gets them what weekend,” the father said. “He’ll say if you’re not being realistic, and is it worth $7,000 in legal fees to have the kids dropped off 30 minutes late?”
History of advocacy
In 1981, Kuroda used to be a social worker for families and children with developmental disabilities at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, at about the same time a family member of Kuroda’s was going through a separation.
Kuroda, who became intrigued with how that separation was affecting the children, heard from a friend that the Superior Court was hiring child custody mediators because a new law required divorcing parents to mediate prior to court hearings and trials. Kuroda was one of three hired.
At one of the meetings to discuss the implementation of the new law, Kuroda met with judges as well as his new boss, the family law division chief at the time.
In the meeting, Kuroda offered his opinion that the court mediations and programs should be designed to meet the needs of children and families.
“Afterward, my boss scolded me,” Kuroda said. “She said we are not here to talk about the needs of children and families. We are here to serve the judges. Don’t forget that.”
He did not forget that, and when Kuroda became division chief a few years later, he shared his vision and values for the 18 years he served as the boss.
Private mediation valued
Mediation is still required by the court, but Kuroda said court mediators today are under tremendous pressure to churn through the cases and they don’t have a lot of time to spend talking to parents. In fact, they seldom see the parents more than once and usually don’t talk to the children at all.
That’s why attorneys refer their clients to Kuroda, who has the time and experience to make progress with parents outside the courtroom.
“Not only does it help the families and the children, it’s really better for the attorneys, and I think attorneys have come to realize that,” Kuroda said.
“To be honored by lawyers is a real big honor because historically, mental health professionals and lawyers were often adversaries,” Kuroda said. “The fact that the bar association is going to honor someone who is not a lawyer or judge is very meaningful.”
Also on Friday, Anthony Molino of Rancho Palos Verdes will be honored as the SBBA’s Lawyer of the Year.