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Calling All Family Law Litigators

May 21, 2014

Have you ever worried about the impact of litigation on your client, the opposing client or their children? In the run up to court, are you stressed out, short tempered or more likely to consume alcohol? Have you ever laid awake at night contemplating the impact of a missive sent earlier in the day or strategically planning how to respond in kind only with more intensity to a missive you received the day prior? If attacking a service provider in an attempt to mitigate the impact of a report on your client, have you ever felt remorse, concerned for impacting that person’s sense of self or livelihood, yet soldier on? Does your work intrude on your sleep or dreams? Do you find yourself distracted by your work with your intimate partner complaining about the impact of your work upon you or your relationship? Have any of the above issues been getting worse with time?

Family law litigation is a bit like carpentry with only a hammer. All matters get pounded and considering this scenario takes two to work, then there are two family litigators pounding it out with respective clients concerned about who can be the most vicious to thus win the fight. If you were coming back from fighting in a war abroad and experienced the symptoms noted above, having taken a pounding as good as you gave, having witnessed the impact of same upon those your serve, having then experienced some degree of emotional distress, there is a good likelihood you would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What if though, you could represent your client, without battle, with due concern for the impact of the outcome on the client’s extended kin and on-going relationships? What if you didn’t have to send dramatic bombarding missives having to then sit back and anticipate the return volley? What if you had an expanded tool box that permitted face to face discussion with opposing counsel where opposing counsel turned into a collaborator out for the common good? What if you could feel satisfaction at not having won by trashing the other parent of someone’s children.

Many litigators eschew Collaborative Family Law, but quite frankly, I am not here to banter on the pitfalls or merits of either process. I am only here to offer family law litigators the possibility of a larger toolbox as well as the possibility for achieving greater personal satisfaction from their work and mitigating, to whatever degree possible, those structures that lead to the PTSD of the litigator.

Collaborative Family Law has long been presented as a kinder more gentle way of facilitating the dissolution of intimate relationships where the parties’ finances, assets and other relationships are intertwined and in particular when parent-child relationships will survive the dissolution of the intimate partnership.

Training in Collaborative Family Law, teaches the attendees to work together with a common purpose, appreciating that long after the intimate partner dissolution, the parenting relationship will long continue and as co-parents, this redefined partnership must be successful in order to produce a good outcome for the joint progeny. If one parent does not or cannot survive, then the probability of a good outcome for their joint progeny diminishes. It becomes a matter of fact that for children to achieve and manage well post parental separation, both parents must manage and survive the separation process intact, if not even more capable at the end of that process.

Collaborative Family Law simply expands the set of tools available to the litigator to achieve those better outcomes. Not all matters require a hammer and to bring a hammer to a matter that requires a saw or a drill or a wrench, is only likely to inflict damage. While stalwarts of Collaborative Family Law may at times appear to the litigators as born again lawyers, proselytizing and seeking converts to take on the mission of this process option, the truth is that many lawyers come to investigate Collaborative Family Law to secretly mitigate the impact of litigation that contributes to symptoms of PTSD.

Contrary to the beliefs of the many stalwarts of Collaborative Family Law, this is not a panacea to the ills of the justice system and the impact of litigation upon the parties subject to the litigation or the litigators themselves. This is but one more set of tools to expand one’s repertoire such that the solution chosen might better match the needs and circumstances of the participants.

To someone like myself, I can only tell you that I appreciate working more with lawyers who are Collaboratively trained, whether or not the particular case is run strictly Collaboratively with a participation agreement in place. I find that those lawyers who have taken the Collaborative training are more apt to act in the shadow of the strictly Collaborative style, meaning they do not send demanding or demeaning missives, they are likely to request face to face meetings to resolve matters peacefully and they are apt to more hold their client accountable to better behavior rather than simply defending known untoward behavior. Collaboratively trained litigators are thus more likely to ratchet down conflict and help their clients achieve peaceful reasonable outcomes making for durable agreements. With that, I am confident these collaboratively trained litigators sleep better and eventually heal from the impact of strict litigation process that can inflict as much harm to others as well as themselves as litigators, as the problems it purports to solve.

As a litigator, you may wonder if you would be welcomed into the Collaborative tent.

I can only tell you that almost all Collaboratively trained lawyers were former litigators.

You would be welcome to poke your nose in. Who knows, with time and worst case scenario, you may find yourself completely in the tent with those aforementioned symptoms all but forgotten. Further, you may enjoy the experience of having witnessed whole families transition into new structures that allow for the common good and well-being of the children bringing peace to your own sleep and relationships.

It all starts by attending training to only expand your toolbox. We welcome you.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Reblogged this on Keep Your Head Without Losing Your Mind and commented:
    Thanks Gary for posting this. I do wonder how often divorce attorneys really consider the impact of their actions on the families, especially the children.

  2. Lovely read Gary. Could not agree more.

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