Your Attorney’s Talking–But Are You Listening?

Via the folks at Wevorce, the following article came across my Twitter feed yesterday:

Truly interesting stuff, this.  Three pointers that purport to be things “your divorce lawyer isn’t telling you:” “Come prepared,” “Get a therapist or divorce coach,” and “Be Prepared to Pay.”  The problem with a headline like this, albeit the clickbait nature, is that we DO tell people each of those things.  Many times it’s spelled out in our retainer agreements.  Clients who come to us just choose not to read them, or ignore the provisions entirely.  It’s understandable to an extent–the future ex husband or wife is dealing with one of the most stressful life experiences a person can muster, and they’re not thinking with their rational brains. Even the article points this out:

As one attorney put it, “My clients sometimes seem to think there is ‘divorce life’ and ‘regular life.'” In regular life, you pay your bills on time, act logically and treat people with respect. In divorce life, you act irrationally, demand unreasonable outcomes and fail to pay your divorce attorney on time.

Lest anyone think I’m shouldering the burden of this on the party, I’m not.  Divorce and family law attorneys are not exactly trained to display emotional sensitivity during a client meeting.  Tact, yes; discretion, absolutely; but we don’t do emotion very well.  So we sit there and listen patiently while the parties get their life stories off their respective chests, and then we slide the contract across the table after explaining how the process is going.  We attempt to go through the contract line by line, and we do what we can to make sure the parties have a clear understanding of what they’re signing, but there’s a little piece of me that wonders how good a job we’re doing with making sure they understand each and every provision in that contract.

So we get numerous phone calls hearing about how the husband is screwing the maid, or the wife is smoking cigarettes in the car with the children while the windows are rolled up.  We attorneys listen, and we do so politely, because that’s part of the job.  Those phone calls still get billed out at our respective hourlies, and when the final bill comes it’s not uncommon to see the sticker shock from a client over how much those phone calls cost–and how many thousands of dollars they add to the bill.  We continue to listen, because that’s part of our job.  We offer legal advice where we can, because we are required to do so.  If we know of a particular course of action that will help a client, we can often give our advice.  After all, we are called “counselor” in certain situations.

I like the notion of a divorce coach or therapist separate from hiring an attorney because it will serve as a means of allowing the client to “vent” and give the attorney the breathing room he or she will need to complete the job in the legal capacity.  We hire specialists for all areas of our life, and making sure our mental health priorities are taken care of is no exception.  I’ve often suggested, maybe with a degree of humor in check, that I’m no therapist–I’m “half as good and twice as expensive”–but I wonder how many people take that as an attorney joking around and then move forward thinking it’s okay to talk with me about anything and everything regarding the outcomes of their divorce in their tumultuous emotional state.  If one suggests the notion of hiring a divorce coach or therapist at the time of signing the contract, then it becomes a sticky land mine for ethical problems because we’re referring services of a non-legal nature to someone else, and attorneys have enough of a problem as it is with advertising requirements.

One of the best things about the Wevorce method for divorce mediations is that there is a component dealing specifically with family emotions and the feelings the parties experience during a divorce.  They’ve even coined the use of the term “puppy brain” to describe the “divorce life” feelings listed in the quote above.  These costs are included in the model, and the use of one particular specialist in this area is explained during the initial consultation.  Wevorce architects are trained to deal with party emotions–it’s a big part of what we do–and trained to listen, reframe, and validate the emotions the parties need to express.

It’s okay to talk to someone about your emotional state when going through a divorce.  It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Just make sure you enlist the right person for the job.


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