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 Clients and Attorneys Going in Different

Directions: Marital Fault or 

Bad Behavior by the Other Parent

In the Beginning . . . 

By the time someone talks with an attorney about a divorce or a custody case, it is safe to say that it isn’t because something great just happened. Most people are struggling to make sense of what has just happened to them, or what finally became the last straw. Clients are devastated, shocked, angry, traumatized and anxious to vent about how the other person has betrayed and hurt them. Each case is unique but this article is a general response to a common question that clients ask me: Why are we worrying about this [insert something that’s tedious and dull] when I can prove my ex did [insert something that’s awful and life-changing].

What’s Your Attorney Doing?

Meanwhile, after you have bared your soul to the attorney and handed a check or credit card to the receptionist, the attorney and his or her staff members are doing lots of busy-work.  All they appear to be doing is wasting time, filing court paperwork, gathering tons of financial records, drafting financial affidavits (budgets for court), listing details of property and debts, and perhaps doing discovery and then mediation. Clients quickly become disappointed and frustrated once they discover that fault and bad behavior won’t usually be addressed in depth until after all of that is completed, and then a trial. Unfortunately, it can easily take a year after you start the court process for a judge to make the final ruling on your case.  

What Are Your Attorney’s Priorities?

It might seem like your attorney isn’t really listening to what’s important to you, or that his or her goals appear to be at odds with yours. This legal process is backwards in the sense that clients have to deal with serious emotional turmoil and upheaval at the beginning of a case, but your attorney must work with an eye towards the end of a case. This means that the attorney might have to set aside what’s right and wrong at the beginning of a case to start building a foundation for the case before reaching those matters. One of the hardest lessons I learned upon my arrival at law school was that courts don’t dole out justice. In fact, they usually don’t focus on justice. Instead, courts apply the law to the facts of each case. The law must be your attorney’s priority.

Attorneys have a duty and obligation to take a step back and look at the situation objectively, the way a judge would, to tailor your case to what a (neutral) judge expects to hear from us about key issues. Approaching your case based on our feelings would be dangerous for your attorney. Instead, we try to analyze the situation while staying cool, calm and collected. In fact, a good attorney might be saving you time and money by negotiating a settlement on who keeps what property/debts, or what the children’s visitation schedule will be instead of beginning with fault and who is right or wrong.

What Are Your Priorities?

I’ve had clients who want to be vindicated by showing that the other person has been unfaithful, wasted money, was abusive, or done any number of other bad behaviors. Expressing their feelings in a trial can be a cathartic and liberating experience. Or, if justification and retaliation are the goal, fault might be a priority to you. But if so, you should decide how much money, time and energy are you willing to devote to it. Is it worth the emotional toll it can take? Perhaps it is.

Another goal might be making a smooth transition to the next chapter of your life or the value to your children of being through with the case without a trial. Being reasonable and/or taking the high road is difficult, especially when the other person was unfair, mean and hateful to you. Sometimes people assert marital fault or bad behavior of the other parent at the start of the case but after months or a year or two, the healing process begins and they decide it no longer fits their needs. Another goal might be based on the dollars and cents of your case. What would it be worth if you could reach an agreement and wash your hands of the entire mess? Your money might be better spent on counseling, where a trained professional is trained to help you move towards the next phase of your life.      

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. www.AmyEdwardsFamilyLaw.com © 2018.

 

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