July 2016 – Kay Rhodenizer
THIRTY YEARS OF FAMILY LAW – THE VALUABLE LESSONS LEARNED
On August 8, 2016 I will have practiced family law for thirty years! Although each family is different, there are many common concerns as people work through the process of separation/divorce, whether this is done through mediation, lawyer negotiations, collaborative law or in Court.
With startling regularity, I have found myself saying the following things to my clients over the years. They would all tell you, I can be blunt but I hope that overall they found the comments useful and that other readers will as well:
There will be a period of time when you feel you are in a “grey area” especially at the beginning of a separation. This is normal. Do your best to work with your lawyer to move things forward so everyone in the family can re-stabilize and get some closure.
No, I do not own a crystal ball! How your separation is resolved will depend on many factors, some more unpredictable than others. As John F. Kennedy said: “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain.”
There is no book on my bookshelf called “Life is Fair.” Often people being introduced to family law concepts disagree with the law. There are reasons for the principles we are obliged to work with in our legal system. Lawyers try to explain them, but in the end while it may be difficult to accept, most people do not have the time or resources to try to change a law they feel is unfair, so it is best to move on and focus on how the law will apply in your case without wasting mental energy on feeling “hard done by.”
Kick a door! Not literally (unless you have steel-toed work boots), but there will be times when you feel frustrated with the other party, the process, or uncertainty. Rather than saying something you might regret, it is best to cool down and think before you speak or hit “send” on an email. Some kind of physical activity often helps.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. So your ex partner is being unreasonable, causing a delay in settlement, not producing documents, making inappropriate remarks to the children or other family members or friends, etc., etc.? The only thing that creates even more delay and frustration in the settlement process is both parties behaving badly. You and/or your lawyer can’t control what the other party does. You can control how you respond.
There’s three sides to every story; yours and mine and the cold, hard truth (Don Henley lyrics, Long Way Home, other numerous paraphrases of this abound). Our attitudes and perceptions shape our view of “the truth.” If need be, a judge will decide what is “true” (see my upcoming article later this year on how they do this), but as we work together during negotiations or to ready for Court it is important to get your best objectively truthful information and for you to try to consider if/why the other party legitimately believes a different version of the same event.
I don’t have a magic wand! Lawyers can’t fix all the fallout from separation. We wish we could but the best use of your time with us is to work on what is within our expertise and where appropriate rely on others (including counsellors) to help you deal with “the other stuff.” Coincidentally, after one client heard me say this on numerous occasions and when we finally settled her file, she gave me a magic wand. I kept it in my office for years. It didn’t work but it added a certain “glamour” to the space!
In conclusion, it has been my privilege to represent clients from all walks of life. I have without a doubt learned as much from them as I hope they have learned from me and I look forward to more years of service in the challenging but fascinating field of family law.