The client needs to be focused on an attainable goal and a way to get there without hurling bombs at his or her spouse. The best resolutions to high net worth divorce cases are usually hammered out in attorneys’ offices, without court intervention, after intense negotiations, and avoiding the press. Simply put, the client should be told at the beginning of the process that their goals can be achieved without the mud-slinging press coverage that can only mean problems for the family. The client should be helped to see the forest through the trees.
2. Preaching Civility. If the attorneys are sending daily nasty missives to one another and cannot have a civil discussion or correspondence, there is no doubt that the parties will likewise be at each other’s throats. A settlement will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. An attorney does their client a great disservice by failing to maintain a working relationship with their adversary. It is understandable that a client and his or her spouse will be extremely emotional and have difficulty communicating with each other in the midst of a divorce. It is inexcusable, however, for the lawyers to have the same inability to maintain a civil relationship. Divorcing clients hire an attorney to help them find solutions to their problems, not exacerbate an already difficult situation with an inability to communicate effectively with the attorney on the other side. A professional and respectful tone between counsel will go a long way to avoiding a “scorched earth” divorce.
3. Best Interests of the Children. While this may have become the most overused phrase when referring to divorce and custody, it is particularly important to remind a divorcing client that their actions can have serious negative effects on their children. Do they want their children to do an internet search on their parents one day and find that they each falsely accused the other of drug use, theft, and marital infidelity in documents leaked to the press? Should a child have to go to school and hear from their friends how everyone is talking about their parents’ divorce, which is being reported in newspapers and on the internet on a regular basis? It is important for a child to have a positive image of both parents while growing up. A protracted divorce or a hard-fought custody battle can do serious damage to children if not handled very carefully. It is the attorney’s job to remind the litigants that the manner in which their divorce is litigated can have a serious impact on their children’s welfare. This should be considered at every step of the litigation.
There is no question that the “scorched earth” divorce is entirely avoidable. It is the attorney’s job to guide their client though the legal morass of divorce with compassion, intelligence and practicality. We all understand the high level of emotions that comes with a divorce. When the client is unable to control their emotions, the attorney should encourage the client to take a step back and make decisions in his or her own best interests and the best interests of the family, without needless attacks on the spouse. Reasonably fair goals are almost always achievable without the mud-slinging seen all too often in the courts.