May 2014 Bar Bulletin
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May 2014 Bar Bulletin

The 12th Man: The True MVP of Family Law Litigation


The "12th Man" is a term for the fans at a football game. As the term implies, the fans have a potentially helpful role in the game and can profoundly impact how a team performs. Of course, Seattle's 12th Man played a key role in the Seahawks' run to winning the NFL championship in Super Bowl XLVIII.

At first blush, it is counterintuitive to think that this analogy would be helpful in family law litigation. But there generally is a high level of adversity that colors litigation and the fact that each party wishes to "win" is not unlike a football game. So, wouldn't each party have its own "12th Man" with the "game" moving forward and each side's fans cheering for their team until there is a "winner?" Well no, not if the goal, the real "win," is the long-term well-being of the family and the children.

When parties fight pursuing their own interests, it creates a polarizing effect. Consequently, financial and parenting decisions are either not made or are imposed upon the parties by a judge, which results in both parties feeling anger and resentment toward the other.

Typically in parenting cases, such "scorned" parents will be unwilling to grant favors for the other parent in the future. They are unable to see valid points made by the other. They will argue for the sake of argument.

In the midst of all this are the children, who are caught in the middle just looking for calm, consistency, and the attention and love of their parents. To overcome this, the parents must rise above their own self-focused interests and develop the determination to cooperate and provide a feeling of family cohesion for their children. They need to "pass the ball," even when they know they may not get the accolades, because they want the team (the entire family) to get the touchdown.

It takes a mature adult to do this because it is hard to stop your private vendetta for the sake of the team. Thinking outside the box, the "12th Man" in a family law case would be rooting for reduction of conflict and creative solutions tailored to the facts of the particular case, and promoting healing after the relationship ends, while trying to understand that each person is entitled to his or her own point of view.

While not all family law cases would benefit from the idea of the "12th Man," in many cases the family as a whole, and in particular the children, benefit from family law attorneys suggesting ideas and strategies that will reduce the level of conflict. It is important to realize that from the beginning of a case an attorney's choices and guidance of his or her client can impact the entirety of the litigation.

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