The Divorce Coach’s Corner: This is My Village--Why One Lawyer Refuses to Litigate Divorces
As you may have heard, there is a centuries-old proverb, common among various African cultures, and made famous by former First Lady, Hillary Clinton in 1996 that, "It takes a village to raise a child." Regardless of your political affiliation and no matter how you may feel about the Clintons, I think there is a little something to be said for being mindful that everything we do and say in our lives has the potential to affect those around us. I personally choose to internalize this saying in my divorce practice.
Not that I’m literally going to baby sit my clients’ children or help pay for their college education—that is not the point. In fact, chances are that in my role as a mediator and family lawyer, I’m never actually even going to meet my clients’ children. Regardless, in working with divorcing couples, it doesn’t make me any less responsible for thinking about how my actions will impact the family and the children of that family—be they minor children residing at home or adult children with their own lives.
The way I choose to interpret this saying is simple: My community is my village. I live in this village. The children in this village go to school with and interact with my children. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and yes, a member of this village, before I am a lawyer or a mediator. What happens here concerns me. The more healthy, happy, well-adjusted people there are in my community, the more prosperous my community will be. I have the power to either make it a better place or not. By encouraging couples to avoid litigating their divorce and find a more peaceful way to get on with their lives; by focusing them on the future and the well-being of their children, rather than encouraging one of them to “fight, fight, fight;” by reminding them that even if they are no longer “Husband” and “Wife,” they are still “Mom” and “Dad” and both needed dearly; I am looking out for the children in my village. I never want to have to walk through the halls of my children’s school and have to avert my eyes or feel uncomfortable because there is a parent there who feels I tried to help his or her spouse “take their kids away.”
I’m not saying there aren’t certain dire circumstances that might require the intervention of the court—such as in cases with domestic violence, extreme personality disorders or criminal activity. I would like, however, for more divorce professionals to think of the judicial system in divorce cases as the Emergency Room of a hospital. There are plenty of attorneys in our community who are very capable at handling such “Emergency Room Divorces.” However, I submit that for most cases, the filing of contested petitions and counter petitions and turning dissolution of marriage actions into a war or battleground only serves to destroy families. I personally cannot bring myself to participate in the destruction that comes with litigation, even if the litigation is warranted. This is why I have chosen to only handle divorces and other family matters either as a mediator, a collaborative lawyer, or a lawyer in cooperative or uncontested cases. If it goes to litigation, I immediately refer it out to another lawyer.
Most people most of the time are fully capable of doing the right thing, being good parents and discussing how to dissolve their marriage and resolve any differences in a civilized, private and healthy way. It is my honor to assist such people get on with their lives with as little psychological damage as possible. After all, these couples and families live in my community. This community is my village. Their children are my children—or at the very least are like my children—and although it might sound trite, it is absolutely true that all of our children are the future of our community, maybe even our nation or our world.
I believe we all have the responsibility to look out for the good of our community. We can do that by living our lives and conducting ourselves in our professions in a way that does as little harm as possible to others. As divorce professionals, we can start by encouraging people to get along and reminding them that their children will always need both of them. We can help them talk out their differences and move on with their lives. We can support them as they endeavor to do what is right both for themselves and their children.
After all, this is my village. My children live here.