The Landscape of Family Law
The bumps along the legal road can be mountains or molehills. Just ask the attorneys who work in family law.
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FAMILY LAW. Strikes a familiar, almost comforting chord, doesn’t it? Family: clan, brood, brethren, kindred spirits. And law: canon, code, covenant, order.
But what a deafening dissonance between those lofty terms and the minefield that is family law in the legal realm, peppered as it is with explosive human emotions: rage, heartache, recrimination, longstanding bitterness, even violence. Here, the law strikes at the very heart of who we are and what really matters to us. What do we truly value? How do we want our children to be raised?
Consider the matters at stake: the disintegration of a marriage, child-custody battles, contentious property disputes, verbal brawls over spousal support and child support, even charges of child abuse, spousal abuse and infidelity. It is often a most contentious terrain. There are restraining orders, subpoenas, disclosures of the most intimate corners of a couple’s life chronicled in the public record, long-fought battles over assets and property acquired over the course of a marriage spanning years, sometimes decades.
Attorneys who work in this area say they have to constantly steel their sensibilities; otherwise they can find themselves swept up in their clients’ emotional maelstrom.
“You have to distance yourself emotionally while you try to calm your client,” says attorney Gordon Cruse, a family law specialist who has practiced in California since 1983. “Some people come in and they are just so raging at first, they won’t listen to reason,” he says. “I’ve seen cases where one or both parties will use every discovery code, issue subpoenas, create contention. So there’s all this money that’s being spent on attorneys’ fees while their kid’s college fund is being siphoned away. I’ll ask them, ‘Do you really want to put me in a new sports car instead of sending your kid to Harvard?’ I try to guide them along a rational approach without being so negative.”
Those sentiments are echoed by other attorneys.
“I often have to discourage my clients from letting emotions rule,” says San Diego attorney Meredith Brown, who specializes in family law. “The first step is to get them away from knee-jerk reactions and personal attacks. Talk them down from the ledge, so to speak. A knock-down, drag-out fight is a waste of time for everyone involved,” she says. “If someone comes to me and says, ‘I want a shark. I want blood,’ then I send them on to another attorney, because I know they’re not going to be happy with me.”