FAMILY | Lawyer: Friend or foe?

AuthorHagen, Erika

Debunking the myths and legends that haunt family law.

This article is the first in a series dedicated to debunking the myths and legends that haunt family law. Today's topic? Lawyers.

Many people experiencing a family breakdown have pre-conceived notions about the role of lawyers. These ideas come from TV, the "grapevine," past experience, etc. Some that I hear often are:

* "My ex hired a bulldog, and so I need to hire a bigger bulldog."

* "Our situation is very simple, so I don't need a lawyer."

* "If I hire a lawyer then I won't be able to go to mediation instead."

* "Lawyers just charge a lot of money and get nothing done."

* "My ex has a lawyer but I don't, so I can't talk to the other side."

Let's break down each of these myths.

Myth: Only a Bulldog Can Take on Another Bulldog

I tend to think that the best way to approach a snarly adversary is to listen. Just as the best way to put out a fire is (usually) to put water on it. By doing so, the adversary tends to blow themselves out of steam fairly quickly, or at least give the appearance of being unreasonably aggressive. This leaves room for the non-bulldog to step in and take a more sensible command of the situation. In other words, at risk of being cliche, it is difficult to fight fire with fire. This is not "backing down from the fight." It is ending the fight. Ideally the role of the lawyer is to resolve the dispute--not entrench the parties and increase the conflict. Unfortunately there are times when the only option is to take an aggressive approach, but this should be done with caution rather than as the default approach.

The bottom line is that if you are interviewing potential counsel, the most important factor is that you feel comfortable with that counsel before retaining them. It is often a good idea to meet or chat with a few lawyers to find one that just feels right for you. It is a big decision and not one to make lightly.

Myth: Family Law is Simple and No Lawyer is Needed

Because so many people endure family breakdowns, it is assumed that the process is quite streamlined. While it can be, and while many people do conclude their matters without counsel, there are risks in doing so. In most client interviews that I conduct, the party I am speaking with is surprised to learn something very significant about their case that they did not know before. Maybe they will be entitled to spousal support and had thought they would not be. Maybe they had "waived" child support and...

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