Guarding Against Your Attorney’s Greatest Mistake
By: Tess Worrell
Joe’s life was crashing. Faced with a divorce that impacted his children, his finances, and his lifestyle, Joe wanted someone to navigate the confusion and somehow create a winning solution. He located a well-respected attorney and extended blind faith.
That was a problem.
Attorneys in divorce cases take seriously their duty to advocate zealously for their client’s interests–without thought to the other side. Many attorneys consider it inappropriate to even acknowledge the other side. Sure, this approach works well for cases involving automobile crashes or a contract dispute between businesses. With no future relationship at stake, the clients simply want a decision so they can move on.
It’s different with divorce.
If there are children, divorcing couples have a future relationship–the parenting of their children. To continue that parenting, each person needs to trust, work with, and respect the other’s key place in their children’s lives–no matter how they feel about each other.
That’s where attorneys can make a huge mistake. In their zeal to gain the most for their client, attorneys sometimes encourage and even demand that their client delineate every fault, make public every misstep, and capitalize on every negative event in the other’s parenting. Attorneys seek to gain ground for their client by taking it away from the opposing client. This process destroys trust, respect, and any willingness to work together between the parents. More importantly, it destroys the future—for both parents and children.
Joe saw this dynamic unfolding in his divorce. His attorney focused on winning for Joe at the expense of Mary. While there were moments Joe enjoyed getting in a cutting jab, he began to see the toll on every interaction. Decisions became harder. Cooperation evaporated. Children retreated into silence. Joe came to the conclusion that, while he needed someone to navigate the confusion and protect his interests, he needed something more. He needed to protect his future–and his children’s future.
How can Joe–and others in divorce–find this balance?
- When consulting with your attorney, make clear your desire to protect the best possible future for your children by acknowledging the importance of both parents in the children’s lives.
- Resist any move by the attorney to engage in processes that destroy your former spouse’s ability to trust you or that indicate you refuse to trust them. Insist that your attorney shape the process in a way that protects your ability to work together in parenting.
- Communicate clearly to your former spouse this priority—and invite his/her agreement to this by asking him/ her to instruct their attorney to do the same.
There are those cases where one rogue parent will take advantage of the divorce process to abuse both their former spouse and the children. In those cases, attorneys will rightly alter their process to protect their client.
But, far more often parents instinctively know they need to be careful how they divorce to protect the future for their children. In those cases, the trust is destroyed–not by the manipulative behavior of the former spouse–but by zealous advocacy of the attorneys. When Joe recognized this risk—he talked to his attorney and set some ground rules on how he wanted to proceed. Joe insisted that his attorney engage in the divorce process in a way that protected, rather than sacrificed, his ability to work with his former spouse. In so doing, Joe obtained the protection he needed. Protection for resolving the legal disputes now. Protection that built trust for his family to thrive in the future.
If you are entering the divorce realm, be sure to guard against your attorney’s most likely mistake—sacrificing your future for the sake of “winning” now. Ensure she/he engages in a process that protects your ability to work with your former spouse. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children.