by Robert Kimmel
For more than three decades, Monica Getz has campaigned to end a disparity that women can face in divorce court and the related legal entanglements that may harm both parents and children alike. Central to that purpose, she founded the Coalition for Family Justice in 1988, and has served as its President ever since.
Over those years, she has opened the doors of her legendary Irvington home, Shadowbrook, for numerous meetings, monthly gatherings, and educational sessions in pursuit of her causes. What led Monica to challenge the existing divorce procedures and help those caught in its related family disputes, were her experiences and those of numerous others.
Born Monica Silfverskiold in Sweden to an aristocratic and well regarded family, she was excellently schooled and developed an early interest in law. While attending the University of Lund in Sweden, she was offered and accepted a scholarship to the School of International Studies at Georgetown University.
Monica was among a small group of Georgetown students attending a jazz concert by the Birdland All Stars whose members included the popular saxophone player Stan Getz. Getz was drawn to the attractive young Swede, and the romance that followed soon led to marriage. They raised five children, including three of Stan’s from a previous marriage.
While the couple had many good years, and a loving relationship, Getz was battling an addiction problem with drugs and alcohol that began in his teens. A variety of efforts on Monica’s part, even attending a medical school to find an answer to his addictions, were to no avail. There were a “great 25 years” in their marriage, times when Stan was sober, she said.
However, Stan relapsed and the last decade of their marriage became difficult, ultimately leading to a court order against him to protect her and their children against violence. A divorce followed and in 1989, their marriage ended. Stan Getz died of liver cancer in 1991.
Monica had hoped that her case, which went all the way to the US Supreme Court, would change the law “… to better protect parties and their children from financial ruin. NY State law requires costly NYS Supreme Court trial proceedings which especially hurt women and leave many abused children voiceless, and the protective parent powerless to protect because of diminishing funds. The law remains, but Family Court can help with custody, support, visitation etc. and should mandate addiction treatment .”
The Mission of the Coalition for Family Justice, a volunteer staffed non-profit, coincides with Monica’s principles; “…to identify problems and advocate for systemic changes in the divorce and family court systems in order to make them fair, user friendly, accountable, and affordable; and to provide victims and children involved in domestic violence situations with crisis intervention, information, support, legal access, and advocacy.”
While a warm smile, friendly, compassionate demeanor and a certain modesty define Monica, it’s down to business when it comes to curing the societal ills she encounters. “A litigated custody dispute can easily bankrupt both parties,” she states, “and once it starts, it progresses like an avalanche of unpleasantness. Most people do not know that there are other less painful and costly options, such as mediation, or how much divorce can silently and invisibly hurt children. We have actually happily helped restore relationships at times, by referrals to treatment, communication workshops and the like.”
“The Coalition is focused on making the system better for the people who are going through it,” said John Rubin, a Briarcliff attorney who has volunteered with the group for 16 years. Describing Monica, he said, “…she is one of the most amazing and remarkable women I have ever met.”
Rubin related that their first meeting was in court. She was “there as an observer,” he continued, “and what I came to learn is what she had been doing for years, in addition to many other things, is court watching, because judges know who she is, and they will sit up and become more accountable as to what is going on with the people involved. She doesn’t need to be doing this; still she does it because of her love of people and families. She would much rather be keeping families together which she tries to do when reasonable,” Rubin stated.
A woman’s website posting offers more evidence of Getz’s attributes: “Had a court appearance in family court last week, and neither my ‘court advocate’ or my new attorney showed up. But as I stepped into the 3rd floor waiting room, Monica Getz of the National Coalition for Family Justice was already there waving hello. If you have any court issues related to domestic violence as I do, Monica Getz is like a guardian angel. Monica has given me the most sound advice I’ve gotten anywhere.”
In addition to her Coalition work, Monica was instrumental in founding the Swedish Council of Alcoholism and Other Addictions, was on the Board of Directors of the Domestic Violence Hotline, chaired the National Council on Alcoholism, and has led the Rivertowns League of Women Voters and the Earth Society Foundation.
Helping others is what Monica Getz is all about.