Family Lawyers Need a Warm and Tender Hand
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Most people looking for a lawyer in a divorce or custody case would not list a “warm and tender hand” as a characteristic they are seeking in a lawyer. Family law cases are often the worse possible form of litigation. You are engaged in a law suit with someone who you once loved, someone you once trusted. Now … this.
In addition to the legal problem, you must deal with the pain of personal betrayal, grief and fear. Most people, at least initially, look for a lawyer who will make the other side pay and suffer. Don’t get me wrong, an aggressive strategy is sometimes the right strategy. But, as a general rule, there already is enough grief in one of these cases; more destruction will just make things worse in the end.
Without aggravating factors, I usually give clients a four-prong litigation approach:
- Never do anything that is not in your children’s best interest. This applies even if the other side engages in that type of activity by hiding the children, telling the children disparaging things about their parents, etc. This rule applies no matter how old your children are. A 20-year-old daughter is devastated by her parents’ divorce just about as much as her 12-year-old sister or her 4-year-old brother;
- Treat the other side fairly. Remember this is a FAMILY law case. Often you will have continuing ongoing contact with these folks. If you are fighting over the child, remember one day that child will be grown and getting married. It will be nice if you can waive to each other at the wedding;
- Insist on being treated fairly. No matter how crummy a spouse you may have been you deserve fair treatment. For example, souses who give their ex all the property because they had an affair often become bitter years latter because they were taken advantage of; and
- Never … use “just get this over” as a decision-making basis. During the litigation it seems like the litigation will never end. But it will. Don’t let the pain and grief you are experiencing cause you to end the case in a way that will defeat your long-term interests.
Given this approach, you need a lawyer who takes a long-term view of this family dispute. Instead of responding to your pain with an attack on the other party, good family lawyers will let you vent, listen and care for you. Experienced family lawyers can help you understand what happened and what is likely to happen in the future. These lawyers can make sure that the conflict level is as high as it needs to be, without being higher than it needs to be. Good family lawyers do not throw gasoline on the fire.
A lawyer’s staff and procedures are also important in helping a family law client in this time of crises. You should be treated as a person, not a case number. Your calls should be returned and your questions patiently answered. Some of this service is provided by the lawyer and his staff as a matter of procedure. But the best law offices provide this as a matter of caring for clients. We know about this pain. As anxious as we are to avoid feeling your discomfort, we need to connect with you on this most personal level.
If you become involved in a family law case, you need a lawyer, a lawyer with a “warm and tender hand.”