It is not uncommon to see family law cases descend into a type of fight club, only moments after exchanging a promise to resolve matters amicably and without the need for protracted litigation.
At the family law fight club, accusations of infidelity, sexual dysfunction, child neglect, mental illness or personality disorder, to name a few, are regularly traded despite often being unsubstantiated, untrue or irrelevant to the proceedings. Idiosyncrasies once thought cute and endearing, are used combatively to destroy character and spur spiteful recriminations.
The cycle of denigration in the family law fight club can be so damaging as to shatter any prospect of cooperation, which is crucial for the success of ongoing arrangements concerning children. A seldom contemplated cost of that acrimony is the likelihood that parties later return to court over minor or trivial breaches of those arrangements.
Sadly, for many who have been through family law proceedings, none of this is new.
However, before you hang the adversarial system and turn to dispute resolution practices such as collaborative law (which can be more time-consuming and expensive), understand some of the steps you can take to avoid the family law fight club.
Get professional support
A professional counsellor can help you manage your hurt and anguish away from the courtroom, making it less likely that you’ll seek catharsis or retribution through family law proceedings. With some of the sting taken out of the process, you are more likely to make concessions, settle early and reduce your costs.
However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your dealings with your lawyer constitute professional support. While it is vital for us to understand what you are going through, remember that our time with you is no substitute for professional counselling.
Your emotional wellbeing is a health issue which means the best person to reach out to is your GP, who can discuss with you appropriate treatment and referral options to psychologists, counsellors and other accredited professionals.
Under an approved mental health care plan, the government can subsidise up to 10 such appointments per year, the costs of which are significantly cheaper than your lawyer’s hourly rate.
Be careful taking advice from friends
A friend that has been through the ‘same’ situation can be a useful sounding board during family law proceedings, but be careful in taking their advice as no two cases are ever the same.
Curiously, people leave out facts in their case which paint them in a negative light; you might do the same when you talk to your friends about your case. Remember that your lawyer and other professional advisors know the intimate details of your case and are better-placed to advise you in your circumstances.
Sometimes, friends who have been through a ‘messy’ divorce, seek retribution through yours. They can push you away from settlement discussions and drive you towards litigation. You don’t need to prove a point for anyone else, or on behalf of all women, or all men. You will be better off if your case is resolved quickly and without unnecessary costs.
Beware certain types of lawyers
The overzealous lawyer will aggravate your conflict and put you on a one-way track to an expensive legal battle. They’ve watched too many episodes of Suits or Boston Legal and their undue focus on ‘winning’ ignores the fact that no one really wins in family law proceedings.
Similarly, the lawyer who cares too much, can push you towards litigation and drive up your costs. They become too emotionally invested in your case and cease to act objectively. They get baited by the overzealous types and interpret their strongly worded letters as personal attacks.
It begs the question, if both you and your lawyer are equally distressed about your case, who is your voice of reason?
Unfortunately, family law clients gravitate towards these types of lawyers who they see as ‘willing to fight for them’ and ‘on their side,’ but neither will move them towards resolution.
Don’t be afraid to change lawyers
Lastly, if it becomes apparent that your lawyer is unable or unwilling to act in a manner which progresses your case towards resolution, consider changing lawyers. It’s your case and your money, so don’t worry about causing them offence.
A fresh approach can stop that toxic cycle of denigration, break a stalemate, and keep you out of the family law fight club.