Why would I hire an attorney? Imagine that I am not one.
I would hire an attorney if I felt like I was in over my head, if I sensed someone was trying to rip me off, if I wanted someone to be aggressive and it’s not my personality to bite back, if I was facing some kind of criminal case, and if I just did not have the time to fight a battle in court.
I believe that people generally contact me, as a family and probate attorney, because they need help and they are scared. They have heard stories about a parent losing access to their child, or a spouse taking financial losses, and they cannot bear the thought of either happening to them. Whether these threats are real or not, the mere possibility of them happening becomes THE controlling force in a divorce, child support, or child custody case.
I recently had a show host interview me about my profession and he asked, “Why don’t more people go the mediation route instead of spending all of this money for a court to decide?” This question invades my thoughts regularly. I am a crusader for “alternative dispute resolution” because I see how slow and painful justice can be, and I see how few have the resources to make it through this process. Why DON’T people try mediation? Why can’t people see the benefit of settling and getting it over with?
Something occurred to me. Mediating, settling, negotiating…all require some work on the client’s behalf that I think people find off-putting or impossible. Quite often, their world is caving in around them (emotionally, financially, logistically) and they pay us to do the work that just seems impossible at the time. And…people want to “win” so they do what they can to stack the deck in their favor.
So, where is there a problem with that? Clients pay people for services and the attorneys do what is desired and necessary. Clear cut right? The “problem” with this is that people pass ownership of their end result on to attorneys and say, “Take my money and go win for me.” They wash their hands clean of the work and pay hundreds an hour to an attorney to dirty theirs. This is our culture. “I’ll see you in court” and until then I am not lifting a finger, “talk to my attorney” if you have something to say to me.
This relinquishment of ownership is problematic in two ways. First, we attorneys know how to create complicated divorces and we do get paid more money the more complicated it becomes. And you, the client, just handed your attorney the keys to your case and they now own your final resolution. Where else in our lives are we willing to give up so much autonomy and pay someone to take it? (If you just said “my marriage,” then think about how that turned out for you).
I am not saying every attorney will rack up your bill just because, but you gave them permission to do it, so you open yourself up to those risks.
Second, handing over ownership of your resolution to the court system and your attorney, is problematic because you, the client, stop working at basic conflict resolution with your former partner. If there is a shortcut, a VALID, VIABLE shortcut to the end result, you won’t see it, because your autonomy has been also handed over to the judge. Your pipe dreams of “winning” the conflict and your visions of the judge finally “setting the record straight” cause you to be blind to any other possible conclusion. Again, where else in our lives would we abandon our autonomy and count on the government alone to be the deliverer of truth and master of our future?
I am not trying to run attorneys out of business nor am I attempting to question the integrity of the court. I am however calling for those going through family law issues to re-assess their strategies and their attorney’s strategies over and over again. Look at yourself and say, “Why do I need to have a hearing about this issue? Can I do some work on my end to figure out how to fix this without court intervention? Am I just doing this because that is how it goes on TV? Am I being apathetic in reaching a resolution because I want some emotional satisfaction or good old-fashioned revenge?” And then, when you have questioned it all, do some WORK.
Do work with a mental health counselor, do work with a financial advisor, do work on your spirituality. And then, open your mind to possible avenues of resolution that you have been ignoring. You know your family better than anyone could ever possibly know them, especially your spouse. Do work in communicating with your spouse and kids about what they want. Do not be afraid to step away from battle mode for a bit to see if a mediator, or better yet, YOU, can figure out a fair and reasonable resolution. One that YOU own because YOU did the work. You might be surprised what you and your attorney can come up with. And you might be surprised at what your spouse will agree to, but you will never know unless you get up, and out, and do the work.
Written by: Annie Rodriguez, Esq.
Florida Attorney and Certified Family Mediator