Going for Gold in Family Law

It’s the Winter Olympics, and everyone is abuzz about the winners and the losers, and the lucky few that get to take home gold, silver or bronze.  In the world of sports, there is a definitive winner and loser, whether as a result of the fastest time to cross the finish line or the judge’s scoring of an event.  However, when it comes to family law, in the case of a divorce or a custody determination between unmarried people, there is rarely a clear winner or a clear loser in litigation; rather, the results usually lend themselves to a lose-lose situation because the issues are so interrelated and complex. Thus, in family law, rather than looking for a “win” – or the gold medal – the question should really be reframed from “How can I win?” to “How do I achieve the best result knowing the unintended consequences which may result?”

Here are some tips to achieve the best results in a family law matter:

  1. Choose a Results Oriented Lawyer.  A lawyer who can assist you in defining reasonable goals and can build a strategy to move toward those goals – whether through litigation or mediation.
  2. Keep Goals Realistic. A lot of time and money is spent in divorce and child custody matters when a client’s goals are driven by the emotions of the situation and thus are unrealistic. This is not uncommon.  If your lawyer has not asked you to do so, you should make a “wish list” of what you would like to achieve in the final resolution of your matter.  Once this is done, make an appointment to meet with your lawyer and review your list.  Your lawyer should identify those items which are likely achievable, those which are possibly achievable, and those items which are unrealistic.  Once this is completed, you will have a good road map of what (if anything) to litigate and what to focus on settling in negotiations.
  3. Follow the Advice of Your Attorney. Trusting your family law attorney’s guidance will help get you through the process successfully because the attorney has seen many cases. By giving you the benefit of their professional experience, your attorney can offer you guidance on how best to manage the legal and emotional issues to achieve your goals.
  4. Cost /Benefit Analysis of Financial Issues.  Most, if not all, financial issues can be weighed by comparing the money involved against the cost of resolving the issue.  This means the financial issues need to be looked at from a business perspective focused on your best interests.  Believe it or not, you are in control of much of what your lawyer does in your case.  Work with your lawyer to understand the financial issues, develop a range of possible options, and then instruct your lawyer on how you would like to proceed.
  5.  Remember, Custody is About the Children’s Best Interest.  All custody and visitation issues are decided based upon what is best for the children – not what is best for the parents.  Therefore, developing a strategy from the children’s point of view is immensely helpful.  Most parents are not dangerous to their children.  Despite the fact the parents are clearly not good partners for each other, this does not mean either one of them is necessarily a bad parent.  Separating these emotions, accepting that a change will occur, and becoming flexible and open to establishing new routines will go a long way in helping you strategize with your lawyer to determine what your children’s new future will look like, and will also be beneficial to your children during this transition.
  6. Pick Your Battles.  There are issues in family law which deserve fierce litigation and you should not shy away from those battles; but this is usually not the majority of issues in a case.  Pick the battles worth your attention and expense (financially and psychologically) and do not lose focus.

“Winning” and “going for the gold” in the realm of family law means to carefully calculate your case, know that you may speed down a slope and even take a hairpin curve at record speed; pushing hard where necessary, yet having the restraint to pull back. But, most importantly, trust yourself and your coach (your lawyer); you will reach the finish line and your ultimate goal is to do this without falling down.