I often get calls and emails from family lawyers asking for advice on the practice of family law.
I recently received this email from a lawyer:
“…I was actually wondering if I could pick your brain about something else—I’m feeling super burnt out about family law right now. The lawyers who make it personal and hurt these families by making this as hostile as possible. The judges who make crazy unfair rulings. The clients who turn on you. The fact patterns that make me think people are inherently cruel and awful. Would love to talk about how you powered through those points in your career since you’ve been in family law much longer than I have…”
The sentiment of this lawyer is more common than we care to admit.
The practice of family law has become extremely stressful.
Some separating spouses have come to believe that they need an aggressive lawyer. They often feel weak, scared and ignorant and so hire an aggressive lawyer to be their bulldog.
Some lawyers have come to believe that the way to effectively represent a client in a divorce is to be demanding, forceful and aggressive. They measure their professional success by their ability to polarize the parties, undermine the other spouse and place their client in a superior position.
Some judges fail to call out and sanction such conduct. They also believe that once the spouses bring their case to court, they have lost their self-determination and must use their authority to make court orders that they ‘believe’ are suitable.
The trend in society is to view separation and divorce as a legal problem. So when spouses separate, they routinely hire lawyers as a first step. They often present with feelings of fear, anger and disempowerment. This leads them to an aggressive lawyer whose advice is to litigate the issues and take their case to court.
But what qualifications do judges have to determine the needs of children? Given the psycho-social nature of the typical family problems that appear in family court, there has been a growing view that such issues are better resolved by mental health experts and not by judges.