Family Law

As family law matters are treated uniquely in our legal system, I will discuss these first. Being a good family practice lawyer does not mean being a "bulldog." Hiring "the toughest lawyer in town," whomever that may be, may seem like a good idea, but it rarely achieves appropriate results. It is most often destructive to the client, the opponent, and the children.


Many lawyers believe that family law, particularly divorce law, is among the most difficult type of law practice. Good family lawyers must possess a complex mix of qualities not found in every person or every lawyer. Among those qualities are: the ability to distance oneself from the intense emotions of the conflict; the ability to evaluate a case and give the client realistic advice, credibility with the court, toughness, empathy, scholarship, creativity, diligence, tenacity, patience,  and good communication skills.


Although a book could be written about this (a book you probably won't want to read),  here are the most important things to know about what your lawyer should be doing for you in a divorce case, and what I strive to do:


1. Uncontested divorce. If you have talked civilly with your spouse, that is a very good thing. If one or the other of you is quite sure that a divorce is needed, see if you can agree on the outlines of a settlement.  Determine where you can't agree.  Then give me a call.  I will work with you on the areas of disagreement and try to help you towards an agreement. If you are both reasonable with each other, chances are you can have an uncontested divorce and save yourselves a great deal of time, money, and aggravation. If you don't know where to start, I can help there, too, by providing you with a list of issues. 


2. High conflict divorce.  If you have lots of conflict in your marriage, you are obviously not happy.  You are likely also to be upset and tense much of the time.  You need someone who can listen empathetically to what you are saying, absorb it, and put it into a legal framework.  If you have tried working with a bulldog, then you know that this character trait cannot be turned on and off at will.  So you will get some of that bulldog treatment as well.


Contested divorces are not matters that can be put on the back burner. Things happen fast, and you need to be able to call your lawyer and have a quick response to your concerns over rapidly changing events.  These  events may require a quick legal response, such as a filing or an appearance in court.  I make it a point to keep open lines of communication by phone and email, so that I can be reached quickly when necessary. 


3. Goals and results. Establishing realistic, attainable goals is crucial to success in your case.  In divorce law, the sky is not the limit.  There are laws setting forth factors to be weighed in the division of property, how much alimony one can obtain, and the level of child support available.  Although there is some discretion that a court may exercise in awarding property and alimony (less so child support), that discretion is not unlimited.  Knowing how the court exercises its discretion is a matter of experience gained after much study and many court appearances. 


Inappropriate goals, such as trying to financially injure the other spouse, trying to emotionally injure the other spouse, or trying to paint the other spouse as having bad character to gain advantage, are often not helpful to your case.  The legal process is not a forum for revenge or for causing injury.  In fact, trying these types of tactics often hurts your case, and it becomes very expensive.  The judge in your case will soon catch on that everything out of your lawyer's mouth is skewed in this way. The judge will learn to discount the statements.  By the end of the case, credibility with the judge can be lost, and your opponent may have the ear of the judge much more than your lawyer.  A lawyer who engages in such tactics is likely well known to the judge as someone who is not trustworthy.


It has now been shown overwhelmingly by psychologists that the higher the conflict in a divorce, the worse the effect on a child.  Children naturally understand that they are part of each parent; they have a natural bond to each parent.  A parent who tries to influence a child against another parent, tries to severely limit time between the child and the other parent (unless there is violence, physical or emotional), and a parent who otherwise uses a child to punish the other parent, will usually find that he or she has an emotionally-troubled child.  Brutality towards the other parent constitutes brutality towards the child.  Children are not possessions, like suitcases.  A parent may "win" custody using harsh tactics, only to find out that later, when the child natures grows and has more understanding, there is a rebellion against the custodial parent, and the child has gone to live with the other, substantially decreasing contact with the former custodial parent.  Today, the "I can win custody for you," should be replaced with, "What is a reasonable parenting plan."  Judges are beginning to not even mention the awarding of "physical custody" in their judgments.


4. Knowing what counts in the law.  The most important task (and it can be an immense one) that influences the outcome of contested divorce cases is the marshalling of information and the weaving of that information into a narrative that tracks the legal theory of the case.  The patient collection of information from the client and other sources, the scholarship to know the ins and outs of legal theory, and the practical knowledge of how judges weigh certain factors dictates strategy and is therefore crucial to every case. 


5. Narrowing issues.  The key to successful navigation of a contested divorce is to determine the areas of agreement and disagreement, narrow the areas of disagreement by use of creative proposals for settlement, and then litigating, if necessary, what is left.  Creativity and communication are keys, here.  If you understand the underlying needs motivating a party to a particular position, often a proposal can be crafted which satisfies those needs while also satisfying needs of the client.  This requires a willingness to speak frankly with opposing counsel and to determine what the real motivations are in the case for each client.  Despite your best intentions, the opposing party may see things differently, and in that case, lines must be drawn beyond which you will not compromise.  In that case, trial of those issues may be inevitable.


6. Teamwork.  A divorce case, of all cases, is not one in which you walk into a lawyer's office, have a meeting, and expect him or her to "take care of it."  These cases involve sustained teamwork between lawyer and client.  You know best your spouse and your child, and there is no place the lawyer can read about these people to gain all the necessary information.  It must be primarily supplied by the client, usually over several hours of meetings.  If you don't feel comfortable, both respectful of and respected by your lawyer, there is likely not going to be good teamwork. It does not matter how good your lawyer is -- if you cannot establish good communication with your lawyer; if your lawyer does not understand where you're coming from, and if your lawyer does not give you support, yet frank advice when you are off course on an issue, then your case is not going to end well.  You don't need someone to promise you the world, and you don't need a yes man.   You need someone on your side who is willing to help you navigate difficult waters at a time when you are not at your best. 


Family Law Mediation.
Even if divorcing parties have issues that seem intractable, if they both decide to mediate, often an agreement can be reached, or the issues separating them can be substantially reduced.  This is the most cost effective way to go about divorce and the most satisfying, if that word can be used in the context of a divorce.  Often, the amount of conflict is reduced, and the parties themselves control their destiny, rather than leaving a final decision to a judge.


Real Estate.
Real estate, although it often does not implicate the close teamwork and emotionally charged atmosphere of divorce, presents its own challenges.  The purchase and sale of property often moves very quickly.  I am extremely attentive to the timelines and processes involved.