Thursday, June 18, 2009

Toward a Better Father's Day

Too often, parents get into competitions over the kids, and that's usually not a good thing. If you want to be well-remembered as a parent, maybe you should consider treating the other parent nicer and doing what you can to encourage a close parent-child relationship with both parents.

1. Enable and encourage the kids to have regular contact with the other parent. In addition to personal visits, phone calls, texting or computer contacts, initiated by the kids would really be good.

2. Demonstrate a good relationship (if possible) with the other parent. At least be civil. Keep in mind that the kids understand they are part you and part the other parent. They may see you being mean to the other parent as you being mean to them.

3. Help kids learn to show their feelings for the other parent. Help them find gifts, buy or make cards, etc. Encourage the kids to spend some time with their other parent.

4. Help the kids to remember holidays, birthdays and family occasions with the other parent. Kids may not know what to do when they're young, so they need some guidance. When they are older, they may just not think about these events. You can help everyone by talking with your kids about the events and reminding them so they can participate.

Note: All this works equally well for both parents. Moms and Dads should work together to encourage the kids to look forward to various personal and family occasions. Father's Day is coming up, but helping kids stay in contact with both parents is a year-round job. Do your kids a favor and teach them good ways to stay in touch with their extended family.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do You Really Want a Mean Lawyer?

Over the years, a number of prospective clients have asked about how mean a lawyer I can be. I used to tell them that I could be as mean as I needed to be. Now, I prefer to discuss some other, related issues.

1. What is the client's overall objective in getting (or getting through) the divorce? Is it punishment for perceived wrongs? Is it to end up with adequate resources to be comfortable after divorce? Is it to have primary custody of the kids or to have a way to share time and responsibility for raising the kids? Is it to end up with certain valuable assets? Is it to come out debt free? Or something else? There's no right or wrong answer. It just helps the lawyer to know what the target is.

2. What kind of relationship does the client want to have with his/her ex-spouse? No relationship, a good one, best friends, neutral relationship or a bad relationship? Again, there's no right or wrong approach. The attorney just needs to know in order to work out the appropriate strategy.

3. What "mean" actions would the client want to take? Some actions are not permissible because they are illegal or unethical for a lawyer to do, and the client needs to understand that. Some actions are legal and ethical, but could be considered "mean" in some circumstances. Within that limited category, what would the client want?

4. How does the client think "meanness" will advance his/her cause? Some clients don't realize that being mean to the other side leads to more hostility and less cooperation. Will that help the client meet his/her needs or achieve his/her objectives?

5. Is the client willing to spend the extra money required to be mean? Unfortunately, for the client, "mean" isn't cheap. The attorney's fees increase dramatically when the attorney sends out numerous letters complaining or demanding action, files numerous pleadings complaining or requesting actions, sets hearings, conducts numerous depositions, demands voluminous discovery and so on. Also, the "tit for tat" strategy comes into play, meaning that whatever one side does to the other is returned again to the first party. The result: more letters, pleadings, hearings, depositions, discovery, etc. Being mean keeps the attorney busy, but it also increases the cost of divorce for both parties.

Often, the desire to hire a mean lawyer is just the natural reaction to pain,anger or fear the client is experiencing. There are certainly times when an attorney must act aggressively and firmly, but most clients just don't need or want a really mean lawyer when they learn how that will affect the case and their lives. And many or most clients can't afford or won't want to pay for a mean lawyer. Having the discussion about taking the mean approach can really be surprising to the client, but it can lead to planning for a better divorce.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fuzzy Logic

James Gross has another succinct comment in his Maryland Divorce Legal Crier blog that deals with a common misperception of people going through a divorce or of the "advisers" to people going through a divorce. Many people have trouble with the fact that there usually are no clear, definitive answers to most of the questions they have during a divorce.

"Lots of my clients are computer consultants, engineers, scientists, economists, investment bankers or accountants. They ask me questions about their cases and they want clear answers. Before I became a lawyer, I was a chemical engineer, so I know something about how they think.In math class there was usually one right answer and everything else was wrong. They are looking for the one right answer. I remember staying up all night at college with my study group working through the equations to get to that one right answer.

"After math, chemistry and physics classes, law school was a shock to me. I still recall the first day of Contracts when Professor Joe Covington asked me stand up and explain to the class what 'justice' means. I am afraid I did not do a very noteworthy job of it.

"I excelled in classes where the rules were hard and fast, like Civil Procedure, for example. But I did not fair as well in those classes where the concepts were harder to get a handle on, like Torts. I can empathize with the puzzled look on the faces of my 'math and science' clients when I explain divorce law to them. It is a human system and humans are full of flaws. There are no right answers – only probabilities.

"They are uncomfortable with these fuzzy answers. But I sometimes remind them that, even in their world, they deal with unknowns, such as the
Heisenberg uncertainty principle, dark matter, string theory and Shroedinger’s cat."

Like James Gross, I often remind clients that they cannot use logic to figure things out in divorces or family law matters. Even when there are "rules", there are often exceptions and ultimately, human beings make judgment calls. Emotions can easily overrule logic when a party to a divorce is making decisions. It's best not to rely on someone else being logical in a divorce context. If you need to persuade someone on a point, you will be more effective if you analyze the other person's motivations and try to appeal to them. Forget about logic!