Advice From A Family Law Attorney
How therapists can help families deal with divorce and custody concerns
by, Amanda Swanberg
Family Law Attorney at Martin Law
Family law attorneys often feel like they are providing a little therapy on the side. Much of our job is just listening to our client’s stories and concerns.
There are a significant number of clients in therapy who are dealing with divorce and custody issues—and even more who are dealing with these issues who would benefit from therapy. How can mental health professionals and family law attorneys work together to deescalate the conflict and help bring families through the process in as peaceful a way as possible?
Advise clients to talk to an attorney early. I’m not suggesting you tell them to hire an attorney immediately, but most attorneys offer free consultations. Personally, those initial consultations are one of my favorite parts of practicing family law. People come in with all sorts of fears and unrealistic expectations about the process. I can reassure them, explain the general process, and start them thinking about what steps they can take to prepare. It’s extremely gratifying to hear the relief in their voices and know that they now feel they have regained some control of this part of their life.
Advise clients to find the “right” attorney for them. I believe that attorneys, family law attorneys, in particular, have the capability of being healing professionals. How we choose to engage with our clients and opposing counsel can help ease the stress of these difficult situations. Like choosing a therapist, finding the right family law attorney can take a little work. We are not all the same. Let your clients know that it’s OK to visit with multiple attorneys to get a feel for their approach. They should never feel pressured to sign a retainer if they aren’t ready to move ahead with that person. Even if you like the attorney as a person and you had a great consultation, you don’t have to hire them. Just tell them you need to think about it.
Lawyers and the courts don’t have the power to fix bad behavior. Clients often ask me to write a letter to the other attorney or party to “make them stop xyz” or want the judge to tell their ex to not let the kids watch PG movies or drink soda. Sure, I can write a letter if you have a spare $200 lying around you don’t want, but unless there is a specific behavior with specific, enforceable consequences, it’s not going to do a lot of good. I wish it did. Just as parents who are together may disagree about what’s appropriate for their kids, people parenting apart do as well. Unless the behavior, or accumulation of behaviors, places the kids in sufficient danger that their time with that parent should be limited, then parents need to focus on what they can control. This is where you can help guide them to parent in a way that builds resilience in their children so that they can cope with the different parenting styles and expectations.
It’s OK to fire your attorney. If your client is frequently complaining about their attorney, then let them know it’s OK to fire them. The attorney is supposed to make the process easier. If they aren’t, then it may be time for a change. If they have tried explaining why they are unhappy and the attorney isn’t willing or able to change, then they have every right to hire a new attorney and have their case transferred. They should not worry about our feelings. Their lives and the outcome of their case is much more important.
Family law attorneys often feel like they are providing a little therapy on the side. Much of our job is just listening to our client’s stories and concerns. But we are really looking for problems that have a legal solution. Unfortunately, most of the underlying issues in family law cannot be addressed in the courts. Lawyers can do the surgery, but our clients need therapists to help them get through the procedure smoothly and return to good mental health.
Synergy would like to thank Amanda for her collaboration and insight into a very stressful and often tumultuous situation for parents and families. Therapists often work closely with medical providers, lawyers, daycare workers, teachers, and many more individuals so that we can best advocate for our patients and families.