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Family Law: Domestically Dirty Words, Part I

When family law clients first visit my office, they bring emotions into the room.  These range from anger (because they were served with a complaint) to broken-ness (because of divorce) to terrified (because child custody is at issue).  Despite these varying emotions, clients often draw a line in the sand and, without hesitation, make it quite clear they are "not going to settle," and demanding a (affectionately speaking) "pitbull in a skirt" to fight for them.

While I embrace my inner pitbull, I have realized that more often than not, in family law cases, a knock out-drag out fight is not necessary. What many clients do not realize is that there's a price to be paid for fighting. Not only does it cost financially, but it costs emotionally draining all parties involved and having an adverse effect on children caught in the middle.

This blog post is part one of my "Domestically Dirty Word" series designed to help dispel some of the misconceptions associated with buzz words you hear in family law cases. First up: settlement!

The term "settlement" is defined by Webster as "a formal agreement or decision that ends an argument or dispute." That definition does not mention the words "weak," "incompetent," or "loser." It simply means putting a stop to a fight.

Family law is already an adversarial process that can take an emotional toll on the parties and their children. So what is the harm in resolving any argument or dispute quickly and efficiently?  Remember to ask:  what is the end goal? Establishing your goals from the outset and laying the path to attain them makes the journey a little less challenging in an already emotion-filled process. If settlement helps move the process along, then by all means it should be considered.

Since practicing in the Atlanta area, I have seen various approaches to handling family law issues that are detrimental to families and children, even after litigation is over. Before the case begins, I make sure clients understand the benefit of settling on their own terms rather than a judge's terms. The judge does not know you, your children, or your soon to be ex. Who would you prefer to make decisions that will affect all of you for the rest of your lives?

My advice? Compartmentalize emotions, think rationally, and pick the battles worth fighting wisely.  That is the way to get the job done cleanly.

What's so dirty about that? 

Cherese Clark, Manely Firm Associate Attorney

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