What qualities do the best divorce lawyers have?
It goes without saying that when separating from their spouse, our clients want a divorce lawyer who is a strong advocate for their position. They want someone who is going to be in their corner and who is going to stand up for them in an unequivocal way.
Yet, in our experience, being a great advocate is not enough. The very best lawyers do more. The best lawyers not only advocate for their clients but they also:
As a divorce lawyer, you have to be a lot more than someone who is a strong advocate.
The best divorce lawyers don’t just tell their clients what they want to hear. They give them a real analysis of the likelihood about whether or not their case is going to be successful.
Time and again when we go to the courthouse, we see cases where it seems clear that if the divorce lawyer was straight-forward with the litigant, they would not have pursued the case in the first place. Putting it bluntly, in some cases, a lawyer puts forward their client’s claim even if it is a dead loser. This serves nobody.
Some examples we have seen are:
A lawyer who is worth their salt will tell their clients that their case is not going to be successful even if that is not what their client wants to hear. Good lawyers sometimes have to be the bearers of bad news. Telling their clients otherwise does nothing to serve their clients.
The best divorce lawyers don't just blindly follow their client’s instructions, but give them direct and continuous guidance.
An example? Let’s look at “Joe”. Joe had moved to a new neighbourhood and because the new neighbourhood was farther away from the children’s school than where he lived with them before, he wanted them to change schools. This is despite the fact that the children still remained living primarily with the Mom and that the Mom had not moved anywhere. Joe only had the children a couple days per week.
Joe wanted the courts to change the school the children had already been going to make it more convenient for him. If the children changed schools, it would have been convenient for Joe, but would not have been convenient to Joe's ex-spouse or the children.
Although Joe was not happy to hear it, we told him that his application, based on the facts as he told us, was not reasonable. Being the best divorce lawyer for Joe included us pointing this very fact out to him.
Joe had other reasonable concerns and issues that needed to be resolved by the court. For example, he wanted to increase his parenting time with the children and increasing his parenting time was a very reasonable thing. In Joe’s case, his ex-wife had the children in the care of a babysitter rather than Joe despite Joe being available to care for and parent his children.
Joe asking the court to order his kids to change schools was not only going to fail, but it also removed his credibility from the reasonable position he was taking with respect to other matters he was asking the court for assistance about.
As divorce lawyers, long after we have dealt with one family matter and have gone on to deal with other clients, we leave a client who then moves on to the next part of their life. We, their lawyers, are no longer involved. That part of their life includes the same family members that they just went to court against. The best divorce lawyers never forget this fact.
Especially in cases where children are involved, the relationship will continue long after the lawyers have moved on.
Let’s look at “Sue”. Sue’s lawyer seemed to have totally forgotten that the opposing party was not just a litigant in legal proceedings, but also the father to the parties’ children. Those children are going to have a relationship with their father throughout their childhood and for the rest of their lives regardless of the outcome of a court battle. These parents, no matter what, will still have some kind of relationship with one another.
Sue and her lawyer seemed to be “grasping at straws” in order to show that the other party was not fit to parent. What straws were they grasping at? They claimed the father was unfit because at one point, years ago, he took anti-depressants and had some therapy due to his sadness around his separation. Sue’s attempt to demonize the father because of this was ridiculous.
Attempts to demonize the other parent for the benefit of the court will not only fail (we are very sure about this), it will do nothing to assist these parties in moving forward in parenting their young children.
When representing a party, we have to remember that people are not perfect and that the courts do not expect people to be perfect as parents. This is especially the case during the process of separation.
Trying to pick someone apart because they sought help a number of years ago is not reasonable.
Although the parties may never agree as to the exact parenting schedule for their children, it would be way better if Sue’s divorce lawyer, in this case, had spent less time on trying to tear the father down, and more on attempting to agree to a schedule that would see both Sue and our client involved with their children.
The best divorce lawyers always more towards resolution.
In family law matters, it is important to remember that each and every action in our client’s matter must bring the parties closer to an agreement or order. If that agreement or order does not relate to an issue in that specific proceeding (such as a parenting plan, dividing assets, dividing debt, or support) then we don’t do that action in that particular case.
For example, if the parties are not arguing about assets, then keep assets out of the dispute. If the parties are not arguing about money, then keep money out of it.
Here is an example of where things can go wrong if you don’t focus on the goal. We have a friend (not our firm’s client), and we will call him Danny. Danny spent a lot of time and money to make an application to the court to have an expert talk to his children.
This can be a really good idea. Yet, Danny’s application failed. Why?
Because Danny’s divorce lawyer was not clear about what Danny wanted the expert to ask the children. Danny also had no idea what he wanted to do with the potential information. If Danny and his lawyer had a clear goal in mind (maybe Danny wanted more time with his kids), the lawyer could have been clear about that goal and it would have helped the court say yes to their application.
In this case, the court could not figure out why Danny wanted to have the children interviewed by a psychologist and Danny was not clearly able to say why he wanted them interviewed and what he wanted them asked. The best divorce lawyers get clear communication from their clients about what they want. They focus on the goal always.
If Danny was clear, he could have said that he wanted the expert to ask the children about the parenting arrangement. Did they want more time with their Dad or were they happy with the way things were? Were the children exposed to the ongoing hostility that the Mom generated towards Danny?
If he was clear in what he was asking, Danny could have then used the information obtained for his own application to increase his parenting time if that is what the kids wanted. Maybe it would be good for the Mom to hear how her hatred of Danny impacted the well-being of their children.
Even though it may sound simple, people often get bogged down in the court processes themselves and forget to focus on the goal. Lawyers do this all the time.
The best divorce lawyers always focus on the goal and never forget it.
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Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.