An Open Letter to All Clients, Present and Future
When we say our firm has “The Right Approach to Family Law,” we really mean it! Our philosophy of the practice of marital and family law is found in the following letter that we give to all new or potential clients:
“America’s system of justice is based on the adversarial system, where each side is pitted against one another. Each side gets a turn to put on his or her case, but it has to be within a certain set of rules (rules of evidence, rules of presentation, etc.). This system works wonderfully if you are charged with a crime, suffer a personal injury, or have a business dispute. But over twenty years of practicing family law has shown me that the adversarial system does not work well at all when dealing with families in the midst of crisis, due to a dissolution of marriage, child custody dispute, or any of a host of family-related issues. The adversarial system, as it relates to families, is unproductive, inefficient and horribly expensive. Worse, the conflict created by the adversarial system only fuels the fire of acrimony and bitterness.
“There is gathering momentum from the bench and the bar to change things, but profound change is likely to take years. Until that time, we have adopted a set of standards that we impose upon ourselves and our staff; we also expect our clients to follow them as well. These standards are as follows:
“Each person in a family-law action (dissolution of marriage, custody, paternity, child support, etc.), including the attorney and the client, has the absolute obligation to operate properly, regardless of the behavior of the other side (attorney or party). We must avoid stooping to his/her/their level. We must always strive to do the right thing, no matter how the other side behaves.
“Fighting accomplishes nothing positive; fighting only sets up another fight.
“No matter how weird or outrageous the other side’s actions, his/her/their behavior makes sense to him/her/them and he/she/they can justify it, no matter how misguided or incorrect it seems to us.
“In a marriage, all disagreements finally come down to giving in or giving up. If you insist on being stubborn, in always being right, or demanding your own way, you doom your case to never-ending conflict. All harmonious human relationships require compromise, even in a dissolution of marriage action.
“Arguments are usually caused by fear. Jealousy is fear of loss. Anger is fear of domination or control. Resistance is fear of being overpowered.
“In order to overcome fear, you must show courage. A willingness to be open-minded and to view your spouse’s behavior in light of new information is evidence of courage. To show courage, the first thing you must do is temporarily give in – surrender any pride, stubbornness, vindictiveness, contentiousness and any desire for revenge.
“We expect you to show courage, respect and rational behavior.
“In a dissolution of marriage action, punishment in any form, particularly keeping power and control, is likely to make unwanted behavior continue.
“Dirty looks, insults, bringing up past mistakes, shouting: these are all forms of punishment. Why should you stop punishing your spouse?
- You will feel better about yourself (you really will).
- You will look better.
- You will show goodwill.
- You will generate goodwill.
- Tension will be reduced.
“It is only human for each party to see the rightness of his/her side and to deny the rightness of the offending party. Each side can conjure up all kinds of arguments and find support for his/her side in books, from friends, etc. Usually, the truth is that there is some right on both sides. To put it another way, there is usually enough blame to go around. When two people are both “right,” and each is trying to make the other see his/her side, they rarely succeed. Only by trusting and conceding, can the deadlock be broken.
“It is respectful to try to satisfy your spouse’s wishes if they are reasonable and possible.
“If you want to convince your spouse of your goodwill, don’t tell him/her; show your good behavior. Do something you know he/she will consider nice. Remember: actions speak louder than words. Kindness and understanding can repair anger and hurt.
“Even if your spouse is really as bad as you think he/she is, describing his/her defects is not going to cure him/her, and repeating old criticisms or past mistakes is not going to undo them. In fact, if you find the right opportunity, you might seriously consider validating and acknowledging some of your spouse’s good qualities (especially a spouse who shows signs of bitterness and anger towards you).
“A productive dissolution of marriage is a function of mutual cooperation or reciprocity. Equals treat each other fairly and with justice. They expect the same treatment in return. If you are unfair to your spouse, mistreat or look down on him/her, you are not treating him/her as an equal. This will only lead to conflict. The following is a brief list of ways to make people feel unequal:
- Criticize them.
- Compare them unfavorably.
- Ridicule them.
- Act superior or arrogant.
- Ignore them.
“Do you have to be right? Do you have to prove your “right-ness”? Do you have to have your own way? Do you have to win? If so, you may have the pleasures of your short-gained victories at the expense of totally unsatisfactory long-term results.
“Finally, if we suggest therapy to assist you in being more productive, more constructive and more objective, please do yourself a favor and follow our advice. Often, the emotional adjustment in the dissolution of marriage process is extremely difficult and will determine whether or not a case is settled.
“Over the past few years, we have only had to take a handful of cases to trial per year. Our goal as a family law attorneys is to settle every case, yours included. It is not because we are “afraid” of going to court. On the contrary, we have extensive courtroom experience. We have learned, however, that “hired gun” tactics and “scorched earth” litigation techniques are just plain wrong in the family law arena. “Letting the court decide” should ALWAYS be your choice of last resort. It should NEVER be your first thought. So, take some time and think about what your goals are. If your primary goal is to fight and to punish your spouse, then you do not want us as your attorneys. If your secondary goal is to fight and to punish your spouse, then you do not want us as your attorneys. If this letter has offended you, then you may not want us as your attorneys. But if any of this has hit home, then you are well on your way to putting things in their proper perspective, and we can work together to make the next few months of your life, as your family transitions from one phase to another, less painful than our current system ordinarily makes it. We look forward to working with you.”