Family law is fraught with emotion and often high drama. For good reason the parties can be extremely upset with each other. What was once romance, intimacy, shared expectations and dreams of “until death do you part,” has become something that, given the best scenario, can often feel like betrayal. So it is easy for attorneys to prey upon those emotions to take advantage of people when they are so vulnerable, like a funeral director using grief to gin up a larger burial bill.
One way of exploiting people’s pain is behaving like a bull in a china shop, madly dashing about, flailing, accusing, casting aspersions and insinuations, basically not only enabling the drama but escalating it.
We recently worked a case in which the parties had been quite unpleasant to each other as they grew more rapidly apart. Eventually, one of them found another significant other for the solace that their spouse had once provided. That is a painful place to be for both parties.
Rather than acknowledge the inherent pain, work through that and help the party remember that though this dishonesty had occurred, the couple were going to be parents together for decades to come, the opposing counsel fanned the flames of hostility, conjuring up every dark image he could muster of the betraying spouse in the arms of another man, of his client cuckholded and shamed, of vengeance being the only right course of action. Vengence swift, painful and very expensive.
Therein lies the tell. What’s in it for the attorney? A fat fee. Be highly suspicious when an attorney is playing to your worst angels. An angry client writes a larger check for a longer time than a cool-headed client.
So as is often the situation I can see a clear way to a solution where both parties have a just result with little cost, maximum expediency and even a little bit of re-building of their presently burned bridge. But the opposing counsel wanted none of that. My client must bear the scarlet letter, he proclaims, as if that were ever going to happen in a court of law. His client gets his temporary jollies and writes a larger check. The opposing counsel gets his new car paid for in full.
If this madness continues, my gloves must come off; bye bye Mr. Nice Guy. Of course, the judge still expects civility and efficiency so my participation in the drama is still muted by the goal. Trial is never a blood sport for blood sport’s sake. But the productivity, the healing available in the process is lost. Rather than the parties moving through their divorce together, they will be farther apart at the end, less able to work together for their children’s sake. Not only will their children suffer, the parties will suffer more as well. It is fruitless. It is a waste. It is sad.
Family law is practicing in a china shop and, generally speaking, a china shop is no place for a rampaging bull.