Being a divorce lawyer has some unique challenges. One of the most difficult is the emotions involved. I cannot count the number of times that I have heard people ask “why are you urging me to agree with them? Aren’t you fighting for me?” Sometimes people reject every suggestion the other person makes just because it came from them. It does not matter if it is the perfect solution to the problem. If it comes from the other person, it must be bad. I know that all lawyers in family law have come across this problem, and I am sure that everyone who has been through a divorce or custody battle has felt this way.
I can completely understand why someone might refuse to accept their ex’s ideas. It is an excruciatingly difficult time in anyone’s life. For whatever reason, you feel like you can no longer trust the person who you used to love deeply. I can see how that would cause a knee-jerk reaction against their ideas. It is a natural tendency to believe that the other person is scheming against you, that they are out to get you. While that is sometimes the case, I have learned never to believe it until I see some kind of evidence. Often, paranoia and hurt feelings get in the way instead of actual malice.
However, as adults, we must learn how to move past our distrust and inner conflicts to a place that we can at least rationally consider an idea, no matter the source. All attorneys have had to tell opposing counsel that they cannot do their great idea because a client will not be rational. People who are otherwise completely rational and fair will start hoarding and being distrustful and greedy.
If you are going through a divorce or custody battle and are reading this, I want you to think about this predicament through a story. There is a family with two parents and two children. One parent worked part time so that he could care for the children after work and on weekends. The other parent worked over time to make sure that there was enough money for the family. Both parents love their children equally. Both are equally involved in their children’s school and activities. Neither parent has ever been a threat to the children. Please note that while I assigned “mom” and “dad” in this story, the genders are not meant to be a statement, and just as often go the other way.
However, when a divorce comes around, they both think that they should have everything. Imagine your friend, the father, telling you about how the other parent ran off with the children and will not let him see them, and will not help him with the bills that are left. You would surely say “that is ridiculous! That is so unfair, how could she do that to you?!” When she goes out to lunch with her friends, the friends may say “you did the right thing” but are probably thinking “that is just not right to keep them from their dad.” A really good friend would tell the wife to stop being ridiculous. And think of what the children are feeling. Suddenly the other most important person in their lives is ripped away. That must be very traumatic.
In addition to the parenting time issues, the family has some assets and debts. The family debts were mostly in dad’s name, even though he had the lower paying job. Mom thinks that dad should keep all the debts that are in his name, and not get any more help from her substantial pay. Maybe it’s the other way around, and the person with less money thinks the person who makes more should keep more of the debt. Do you think this is fair from your perspective outside of the divorce? Do you think that would be the same if you were one of the parties?
Yet, you may be in this same situation. When you step back and look at what you have done, whose side would you be on? Which is reasonable? Is it reasonable to hoard everything to yourself, when for years you have been sharing it equally? Is it reasonable to completely reject the other person because the two of you have disagreements? And what is really reasonable with your children in mind?
There are some family law attorneys who will look at the situation, see blood, and go into a frenzy like a mindless shark. They will frantically rip things apart with no mind to the morality or what is in the clients’ best interests. In that case, I hope that karma is real, because they will end up as dung beetles in their next life. However, if you find a good family law attorney, they will see the blood and be an ER doctor—try to staunch the bleeding to heal everyone.
I want you to think about the situation further through that family. Maybe they are fighting now. But with some counseling, some good guidance from moral and ethical attorneys, and some deep reflection, they may be brought to see why it is best to come to an agreement to have equal time with the children and equal division of the assets. Because they both agreed to a separation plan, they both feel some ownership of the agreement. They both feel like they had some part in it. A judge, who ends up knowing very little about the parties and the situation, did not decree from on high what the result would be. No one is ever happy with that. And they can now move forward toward being better co-parents so that their children can grow up healthy and happy.
Now let’s think about that family in another situation. Mom will simply not be reasonable. She refuses to consider any offer that the other side makes, even when it gives her more of the parenting time. She hires a slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners attorney, because that is how she is feeling herself. This attorney makes the situation worse. She feels vindicated, sure, but she does not see what all this fighting is doing to her children. Along the way, because the lawyer does not care about professionalism, or the best long-term outcome for the client, only that he wins now, the lawyer has not communicated with the client. The lawyer has not told the client that the judge will not like what she is doing. The lawyer has completely insulted the other attorney to the point that it has made the case worse for both parents. Even though it should have settled long ago, the case goes to a brutal trial.
In the meantime, the children have not seen their dad, and that has caused them to start to have severe attachment and anger problems. But mom is so wrapped up in her own hurt that she cannot see the hurt she is causing the children. The lawyer just fuels her sense of hurt, entitlement, and anger. When they go to trial, the judge gets so mad at mom for being unreasonable that he lectures her, and gives dad more time and maintenance than he would have otherwise. Mom is shocked and stunned, because her cut throat attorney assured her in his arrogant way that she would win everything. Mom then blames everything on Dad, and they can no longer even been in the same room together. Now, they cannot be at activities together, they cannot talk with the teachers or doctors, they cannot coparent.
Where have the children been during this? They have felt abandoned by dad, because he couldn’t come see them. If they are old enough, they realize that it is mom who is keeping dad away, and they start to blame her. They feel abandoned and unloved by both parents. Mom is so wrapped up in herself that she does not give them the love and attention they need. They start to act out in school. An A+ child starts making Cs and Ds. Then, when they do get to see dad again, they are mad because they thought dad abandoned them. Then a whole new bond has to form, and it will never be the same again. Every time that their parents, the people they love most in the world, are in the same room it always leads to screaming. So often, on top of this, the parents do not see the need for counseling. The child then festers in the anger and hurt and pain and does not know why. They then become adults who do not know how to form safe, happy, long term relationships. So then they get divorced and do the same thing to their children.
The child whose parents were reasonable and rational, though, handles the situation much better. This child spent equal time with the parents almost the whole way through. He does not feel unloved or abandoned. He is confused and hurt, yes, that the family is no longer the same. He will also need some counseling to work through the emotions. But when he makes the winning goal at his game, both parents are there to cheer him on and tell him they are so proud. When he struggles in reading, both parents are at the teacher conference and both are involved in making sure he is caught up. And when he grows up, he knows that while his parents’ relationship didn’t work out, he can form a healthy relationship on his own. He also knows how to treat people, even if he is mad, with dignity and respect. He learned that even though you may be mad, you can still make the best of a bad situation.
Which situation do you want? When you think about your life until your child is 18, do you hope that you will be able to have nice, decent birthday parties where everyone who loves the child can attend? Do you want to be able to both attend the child’s graduation? Do you want your child to have the beautiful wedding she deserves, or have the reception ruined by fighting parents?
The healthiest way to go through this hard situation is with rationality, reason, and realism. Yes, you are hurt and confused. But if you fight through this process, you will have a much harder time getting over your hurt. If you calmly realize that there are two sides to the story, and you need to make the best of what you have, you will come to an arrangement that you can live with. You can move on to a better life for yourself and your children.
This is why I am not a slash and burn attorney. This is why I encourage my clients to settle. This is why I spend so much time with my clients explaining the process and what is best for them in the long run. It is because I care about what happens to my clients in a year, five years, and ten years.
I will not let you be run over by your ex. I will ensure that an agreement is fair to you and to your children. But I will not fight for something that is unreasonable or harmful for the children. I seek fairness for both parties, not you winning in the short run only to lose in the long term.
As I explain to my clients, this does not mean that I am a push over. If the other side is being unreasonable, I will encourage you to find what agreements you can, and fight the rest out. This means that I am often more successful in hearing than the average attorney. I know what we can win, and what we shouldn’t fight about. That means that I win in court more often, because we have the strong upper hand at that point. I know what to settle and I know what to fight.
Please note that this does not apply if the children are in danger, or if there is domestic violence. In those situations, it is best to take emergency steps and fight to protect the children and the victim. However, if both parents are safe parents, then it is best in the long run to find a reasonable settlement.
When you are thinking about your divorce or custody case, I want you to remove yourself from the equation. Is what you are asking for fair? Is it reasonable? Is it what is best for the children, or what vindicates your anger? If you want an attorney who will get you the best deal in the long run, visit my website at mrutherfordlaw.com to see how I can help you.
Disclaimer: Nothing on this page is intended as legal advice, and should not be taken as legal advice. If you have a question you should consult with a lawyer. Meggin is certified to practice law only in the state of Colorado. Because of Colorado’s specific and often progressive laws this information will probably not apply to any other state. If you live in another state you should consult with a lawyer near you. This post does not confer any attorney client relationship, and no such relationship is formed until you and I have entered into an express contract. If you have any questions about any information on my blog please contact me through my website at mrutherfordlaw.com .