Many of my clients tell me that some family lawyers advise that emotions and feelings have to be set aside, or disregarded, in order to properly handle family law matters. This law firm respectfully disagrees. Family law cases are inherently emotionally charged. Even in cases where the spouses want to reach agreements and make a divorce “uncontested” or “collaborative,” there are still emotional/psychological issues that have to be addressed and resolved. Skillful lawyers can assist parties in accomplishing their goals. In order to successfully navigate a case, a lawyer must understand the environment each side is experiencing and each side’s perceived reality. It requires tact, patience, and careful attention to detail.
Setting these aspects of a case aside does the client and family a disservice, because opportunities to resolve issues amicably with compromise and discussion are lost if the other spouses’s reality, motivations, and goals are ignored. Additionally, acknowledging and accepting a spouse’s feelings and perception gives dignity and respect to that spouse. This fosters an environment of cooperation. Contested issues can then become the subject of productive discussion, instead of subjects for deposition. For example, each spouse has concerns about the division of particular pieces of property, especially the homestead and real estate. Rather than divide spouses and fight for property, acknowledging and understanding each spouse’s reality, motivations, and goals can allow a lawyer to propose solutions so that each party can work toward a liveable resolution.
Where resolution can’t be reached amicably or collaboratively and litigation is necessary, understanding these issues allows a skillful lawyer to hone and refine the discovery process to make effective use of a client’s budget and time. Family law litigation that is not properly evaluated or managed frequently deterioriates into a war of attrition – the spouse that can fund and endure the fight the longest “wins”. However, there are no winners in these situations. This approach has devastating long term consequences, particularly on children and the spouses’ ability to communicate and co-parent.
Acknowledgement that each family law matter has its own psychology is critical for the effective evaluation, handling, and management of the case. No two cases are the same, as each case has its own psychology, facts, and personality. Seeking to set these important aspects aside results in lost opportunities to empower the spouses/parties to communicate and agree. When agreement is simply impossible, understanding these issues allows the lawyer to make effective and judicious use of the litigation process. Psychology is a critical aspect to any family law case.