People are often angry in family law. That’s expected. Trust is crushed. Hearts are broken. Hopes are shattered. It is seldom a good time. How that anger plays out in litigation is critical to success, affordability and survivability through the case and well beyond.
When money was tight, when the economy was really down, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives litigated their cases with cost as a prime concern, a chief motivator. Since the economy has been recovering and it seems there is more money to be had, more angry litigants are spending their dollars to use the process like a battle to the finish, a blood sport, where the last man or woman standing, wins. Divorce to the death. And plenty of attorneys operating in the business of family law, are quite ready, willing and able to pursue, reinforce and exacerbate that anger. An angry client spends more money.
Family law litigation is never for the faint of heart. As you can imagine, we work in a tense, sensitive, secretive, volatile, explosive, high stakes arena unlike any other. Where else can the person you once promised to spend the rest of your life with, the person you shared your most intimate moments with, the person who has romped with you naked, is now claiming and planning to prove that you are Satan reborn and is trying to strip your children from you? In this arena, Brutus looks like he was a considerate soul to Caesar.
To say that many litigants these days are angry is an understatement. People are seething. People are livid. People are ready to kill in the court house. Their attorneys are often merely mirrors, reflecting and acting from that hate-filled place, little interested in preserving any decency left to people passing through this transition, people presently listening to their worst angels. As I said, an angry client spends more money.
For decades, our firm has quite intentionally stood apart from this fray, this battle spray, because it is opportunistic, because our clients’ positions are transitory, because tomorrow always will be another day. Our firm has always operated on the belief that pretty much everyone is worthy of dignity, courtesy and respect and this applies to our clients and our clients’ spouses and ex-spouses, too. Pretty much every one of them.
But these are challenging times. Horrid things are being done in the battles of family law. Vicious, wicked, repugnant claims are being made. Untenable, unsustainable, absolutely unacceptable positions are being taken. Every perceived slight becomes a capital offense, a mandate to go for the jugular, justification for attempted slaughter.
Make no mistake, our firm is up to the task. You can’t conduct hand to hand battle for nearly 30 years without developing excellent fighting skills, but it has been very difficult to be mindful that pretty much everyone is worthy of dignity, courtesy and respect when their behavior is abominable.
So, as a firm, we are trying hard to retain, to keep a strong grasp upon that moral center. We are struggling to be mindful to annihilate the attack, not the attacker, to pummel the position, not the person, to lay to waste the lie, not the litigant. We are trying hard. With the depth of mud being slung these days, we are struggling mightily to be mindful, always.
But with nearly 30 years under our belts, we know that the higher road is the better road. We know that working to preserve dignity, to extend courtesy, to genuinely respect the other side is more productive, more efficient, more economical and more supportive of healing than blanket bombing the landscape, hoping to kill every living thing. Because blanket bombing the landscape, hoping to kill every living thing often leaves every living thing, including both parties and their children, soulfully dead.
And that is not the best way to start the next chapter of their adventure. That is a guaranteed recipe to remain mired in the past. And family law litigants, even the angry ones, don’t begin their divorce intending to remain mired in the past. Rather, they hope to begin their next adventure.