When I’m representing clients in family court, I want them to succeed. I’m looking for a “good day in court,” a result that solves the problems arising in a divorcing family, a result that leaves our client feeling that the court heard and considered their side of the issues.
Often our clients don’t realize how much a “good day in court” depends on their own attitude, that is, the client’s willingness to compromise and solve problems. That’s because most people’s perceptions of the legal system come from movies and TV. Whether the issue is child custody, alimony, child support or the division of property, the client’s perceptions, based as they are on the popular culture, tend to be distorted. My goal for this blog is a reality check.
Good Versus Evil:
It is good to recall that TV cases are invented by a team of script writers to be entertaining, not educational. Given the limits of television, a fictitious case will usually have a clear morality play, complete with a villain, a victim and a hero (sometimes even the lawyer gets to be the hero!). The writers invent characters that you either love to love or love to hate.
Family law cases often reinforce this “good versus evil” view, as most family law litigants have a less than charitable view of their soon-to-be-ex. Let’s face it: we all tend to judge others when we feel betrayed (a left spouse) or abused (a leaving spouse) or when we have disagreements about the children (everyone). But I find that those who have the most difficulty in family court are those who consistently see their ex as a villain and themselves as a victim. And, conversely, those who are able to judge their soon-to-be-ex with charity will normally do better in family court, particularly if the issue is how to share parenting responsibilities.
An Important Disclaimer:
There are cases where there are clear villains and victims. I once represented a woman who’s ex-husband was a methamphetamine addict who tried to burn her house down with my client and her children inside. My client’s ex is now cooling his heels in the state pen.
The Moral of the Story:
The vast majority of cases in family court involve basically decent people who disagree. Or, sometimes one basically decent person struggles with alcohol or substance abuse issues or mental illness. In these types of family law cases, having a little charity for your court adversary helps you look more reasonable to the judge, and makes you able to solve even difficult problems calmly and rationally.
I urge my family law clients to be problem solvers. You certainly want to avoid the perception that it’s about getting revenge against your ex (even if it is!). Be willing to reach agreement instead of putting on the dog and pony show (a family law trial). Doing so will save money and what is left of your ability to co-parent with your ex.
When litigating on behalf of clients, I am always prepared to do battle, if necessary. As your lawyer, I owe it to you to present your absolute best case to the court. But usually the best result is a resolution of your case that avoids the damage that my withering cross-examination will do to your ex and your co-parenting relationship.
Hoping you find this wisdom helpful, I remain …
Very truly yours,