“Lawyers make things worse!” I sometimes say to my clients. “They can take people who are this far apart,” I say with my hands about 4 inches away from each other, “and make them this far apart by the time they’re through!” continuing with my hands still facing each other but my arms stretched about 3 feet away.
This may seem like blasphemy coming from a lawyer! And I mean no disrespect to my colleagues – but it’s part of our job. We are all taught to be zealous advocates for our clients in law school. We are taught that it is our duty to get the best deal we can for them, to fight for their rights and to be their advocates. This all makes sense when our clients are in an oppressive situation, or when there is a large power imbalance. It may make sense in landlord-tenant disputes, or in employment disputes (particularly with large corporations) or in criminal cases. Think of a David and Goliath kind of situation. David really could have used a good advocate!
The law was designed to solve property and business disputes. But does it make sense for families to treat one spouse as the enemy? Families are so much more complicated. Very rarely – even in a high conflict divorce – is one person only good and one person only bad.
When I represented kids in foster care, it was clear that they loved and missed their parents – even when their parents had harmed them. Divorcing couples with kids are going to have to find a way to co-parent. Wouldn’t it be better to help them find a way to work together?
In her book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trappped and How to Get Out, Amanda Ripley introduces the concept of “Conflict entrepreneurs,” whom she describes as “people who exploit high conflict for their own ends.” Does this sound like your lawyer?
How do you see your life 5 years after the divorce is over? Would you like to have a cooperative relationship with your ex or an estranged one? Is your divorce lawyer someone who will help you get to where you want to go? If not, it may be time to have a serious look at your own goals – and then to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your attorney!