Whatever the reason, ending a marriage may be a very painful process. The spouse was unfaithful, suffered from addiction, or was abusive to your client or the children. While in California we do not assign “fault” during the dissolution process, the circumstances leading to the end of the marriage often leave the parties angry, hurt, sad, and sometimes with a desire for revenge.
Some family law attorneys adopt their client’s attitude toward the opposing side and add unnecessary gasoline to an already blazing fire. In fact, when seeking representation, your client may think what’s needed is a lawyer who will destroy the ex.
While every client needs a zealous advocate, the "fight" is between the parties. Lawyers are officers of the court and we owe each other a level of professionalism. We are charged with candor to the court and we should carry this out with respect for each other. When met with a constant barrage of insults and accusations, it is tempting to respond in kind - but that is what civility is for.
Unrealistic demands, arbitrary deadlines, flat out lies - these are just a few of the things one sometimes receives from opposing counsel as a family law practitioner. We must resist the impulse to respond angrily when opposing counsel resorts to name calling and casting blame. Instead, focus on a resolution for the parties who are in the middle of ending their marriage. A lawyer who adopts a client's persona will approach a spouse accused of cheating as a "cheater," a husband accused of abuse as a "criminal," a wife accused of addiction as a "low life." This does nothing to resolve the issues at hand.
If the parties share children, the way they (and their lawyers) conduct themselves during the process may be the difference between exclusion from or sharing in important dates in their children's lives moving forward. Will both parents be able to attend graduation, watch their daughter walk down the aisle, or will the animosity be so high that the children will forever have to choose which parent will share their special days? Choose to rise above the emotion and do what is best for your client in the long run.
No one wins in family law litigation. In civil litigation, there is a plaintiff and defendant and at the end of the case, one of the parties prevails. But in a family law case, at the end of the case there are two separate parties who have worked to divide their assets and time with their children. No one “prevails” - there is no crowned victor. Lawyers should educate their clients on the most equitable resolution and advocate for their protection. Encouraging a client to “destroy” their ex-spouse does nothing but increase the legal costs and animosity.
With civility and by focusing on the issues to be resolved - custody, property, and support - we can work to a resolution that allows both parties to move forward with their separate lives.