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Handling Emotionally Difficult Family Law Matters

What are some complications that can occur when working on a hostile or emotionally charged family law case?

One of the most difficult aspects of working on a hostile or emotionally charged family law case is attempting to keep attorneys’ fees and costs from escalating.  Many times when Parties are involved in a hostile divorce they insist on filing needless, time-consuming, financially draining and impractical Orders to Show Cause or Motions just to prove a point, harass the other side or gain some imagined advantage.  The same often holds true when Parties enter into discovery, or the process of obtaining information and documentation from the other side.  The higher the conflict between the Parties, the more costly it will become, as such behavior often results in lengthy and thus costly letters, pleadings and communications between the Parties' respective attorneys.  Disagreements over custody become exponentially much more expensive in a particularly hostile or emotionally charged divorce where the Parties cannot agree even on minor custody and visitation issues and make false and/or irrelevant accusations against each other.  Such actions generally necessitate a professional custody evaluation, which can cost many thousands of dollars and take between six (6) and twelve (12) months to complete, and which completely drains the Parties both emotionally and financially, not to mention the extremely high and irreversible emotional cost extolled upon the Parties’ children.

In general, Parties to a high conflict divorce are unable to rationalize or do an appropriate cost-benefit analysis.  Often, due to their unreasonable demands, the costs of litigation far exceed any material or psychological benefit that the Parties and/or their children may receive.  Parties looking for "emotional justice" or for a Judge to agree that the other Party is morally in the wrong will be sorely disappointed, as that unfortunately is not a function of the family law judicial system.

What are some effective strategies for working on a  hostile or emotionally charged case?

One strategy to try when working on a particularly hostile or emotionally charged divorce is to try to diffuse the situation and bring reason and practicality to the case.   Obtaining temporary orders to bring a semblance of normalcy to the family can help.  It is also often helpful to suggest to the client that he attend therapy to try and resolve his emotional feelings about the divorce.  If the client is able to work out many of his feelings of anger or disappointment in therapy, he will be less likely to try and use the litigation as a sword to act out his emotions.  Another effective strategy is to try and develop a good working relationship with the opposing attorney.   Even if the Parties themselves are engaged in a hostile battle, it is extremely helpful when their attorneys can work together to resolve issues from a non-emotional perspective.  Unfortunately, quite frequently attorneys transfer the client’s issues to themselves and take on the client’s battles personally, which benefits no one.  This makes the job that much harder for the other Party’s attorney as well.

What Resources Will Help the Family Law Client Involved in a Highly Stressed, Emotional Matter?

First and foremost, the team approach to resolving difficulties and differences must be considered.  In collaborative law, it is routine for there to be experts in various supportive fields, such as mental health, financial planning, accounting, and the like, involved in the case.  They can work to sort out the issues in their particular field of expertise while the lawyers sort out the bigger legal issues.  This then becomes more time and cost-effective for all.  The same approach can be applied in any family law matter, not just collaborative family law.  The important thing is to recognize that this is a time when you must marshal all of your resources, including family and close friends, but rely on the professionals only for advice.