What lawyers learn in law school and in their continuing education classes, is that as an advocate they must zealously assert the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system. This practice has and continues to have a deleterious effect on families in domestic court where the real goal should be to help all members of a family reorganize their lives and transition from a single unit to a multiple unit – but still a unit. Families with children cannot simply walk away from one another and pretend they have never met. They are now in a new organization that requires cooperation and continuous communication.
If a lawyer does nothing more than zealously advocate for her hurt and angry client’s position to the detriment of the family as a whole, that lawyer is assisting hostilities to grow instead of helping to heal the family unit. I don’t mean that a lawyer’s job is to keep the family together in a marriage that may no longer be working. What I mean is that the lawyer should be acting as a role model for the family in showing her client how to approach conflict and make it a problem solving process instead of a fight.
The children suffer when the legal system acts as though family reorganization is an adversarial case where strangers battle over damages, or breaches of contract, or the finding of wrong-doing. Damaged children become the byproduct of that hostile system.
I recommend that partners who are separating seek a non-adversarial process to reorganize their families – no matter how angry you are at the moment. Your children will thank you. Do an internet search in your community for “mediation,” “collaborative law,” “out-of-court divorce,” etc.
Marjorie A. Slabach, Retired Family Court Commissioner