February 2015 Bar Bulletin
What Happens When Mr./Ms. Right Turns into Mr./Ms. Wrong?
By Lisa Dufour and Sharon Friedrich
A client comes into your office complaining about her spouse and seeking a divorce. The wonderful person she thought she married has turned into a person whom she no longer wants to live with. What words of advice can you give that will help her through this emotional process? Are there ways to reduce the conflict and keep some sanity during the dissolution process?
We interviewed some King County family law attorneys and have compiled their list of helpful hints, ideas and possible solutions.
You can tell the client that they can say to their spouse: "We should let our attorneys argue over this." Something else I recommend to reduce conflict, which the attorney has a little more control over: Don't blithely send the nasty-gram to opposing counsel reciting whatever complaint your client had about the other party, complete with exaggerated importance assigned to the transgression, empty threats of litigation and a personal attack on opposing counsel.
A little humility can go a long way, and a little extra politeness can help, too. Sometimes, there's a good reason to send a threatening letter. For example, "Pay the child support or I'll bring a motion for contempt." But if all you're doing is complaining about the stains on the kids' clothing and the dirty looks at the exchanges, then the attorney is the one guilty of creating conflict.
I tell my clients that we have a wonderful legal system that we have been working on for 240 years, but when it comes to modern family law, it's currently dysfunctional: too many matters, not enough resources. In a word, it's broken.
So, if the two attorneys can guide you and your spouse to a final resolution without resorting to litigation, it's almost always a win-win. It requires trust in your legal counsel and acceptance that you may be too close to the situation to be objective. Think of the court as a bright-red fire alarm: We do not want to pull the handle unless it's a true emergency.
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