Being a family lawyer requires more than just knowing the law. We factor in human nature and consider our client’s feelings as well as what the legal system provides. Nearly 35 years of experience working with families in the legal system in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas, gives us additional insight and patience. Instead of automatically assuming we will go to court for rulings, we immediately start by focusing on finding the least-destructive and most effective ways to resolve disagreements and find win-win answers. We enjoy creative problem-solving and will go way outside the box to find the best solutions.
It isn’t all just about what the law says. We think a lot about how we would feel, or what we would want, if we were in a client’s shoes.
Start with the end in mind
As Stephen Covey and others have suggested, we need to know where our clients want to end up. We know it is often difficult for people going through the emotional trauma of a divorce or other family law issue to think very far into the future, but we can help identify and understand what’s really important. Focusing on the most important goals, needs and interests provides the best guidance for getting through the process in a way that minimizes damage. It also leads to the better outcomes because we deal with what really matters to our clients.
We ask and listen. Our approach to helping clients with family law issues is to start by asking questions and listening to find out what the most important goals and needs are for our client. We can tell you what the law provides, but we prefer not to be limited to just what the standard court-imposed approaches are.
Our focus is on settlement, if at all possible. We know most family law cases (probably 90–95%) will settle before the judge rules on them. We focus on finding the best way to get the best agreement possible. It also makes sense to start thinking about settlement at the beginning.
It really helps to understand the other party’s motivations and needs. Spending time figuring out those things can pay off when negotiations are going on to settle a case. Negotiations are more successful when both parties can feel like they have gotten what they want out of it. Knowing about the other party will also help us evaluate whether settlement is even possible.
A Way to Peaceful Solutions
The path to resolution used in Collaborative cases is very effective and can often be used even in litigated cases, although may not be as effective in litigation. We usually follow these steps:
- Determine the parties’ goals, need and interests (for both parties).
- Discover and organize the facts in the case.
- Brainstorm possible solutions and generate as many options as possible.
- Evaluate the options.
- Negotiate and reach an agreement.
In Your Best Interest? Court hearings are rarely the best way to resolve issues. They are stressful for the parties, expensive, slow, and often result in arbitrary rulings that don’t solve the most important issues. Some attorneys adopt a strategy of wearing down the other party through expensive and stressful court hearings, discovery processes and threats. That approach is sometimes successful, in the sense that a party may wear out and give up, or they may run out of money. However, that doesn’t bring peace and it is often very destructive to relationships between parents who still have to raise a child with each other.
Easy Way Out? Court hearings are sometimes used as an “easy way out”. It takes less effort and creativity to raise a complaint or issue and then just turn it over to the judge for a ruling. Finding or producing a unique solution tailored to the parties is hard work, but far more valuable and effective for the parties.
Unavoidable? Sometimes court hearings are unavoidable, especially if the other party is unreasonable or uncooperative, or if the other attorney is too conventional in his or her approach. If you have to go to court, you should have an experienced attorney with whom you are comfortable. Taking time to clarify your goals and understand the other party’s positions is not wasted time. It will still help out your efforts in court.
In most cases, knowledge, experience and an open mind can lead to excellent results, if the parties start with the end in mind.