Everyone wants an aggressive attorney. A pit bull. A shark. Those are the terms I hear the most often. “Someone who’ll fight for me,” they say.
I get it! Obviously, when you hire an attorney, you want to feel like that person is cool and confident, and will have your back in any situation. You want them to put your soon to be ex in his place, and let him and his attorney know that you mean business. You want to protect the assets that you’ve spent your marriage accumulating, and any children that you’ve brought into the world with your former partner, too. It’s a tall order, and you want the right person on your team.
But… After ten years of handling family law cases, I would venture an opinion. You might find it slightly controversial, but I feel convinced that I’m right.
The ‘pit bull’ attorney is not necessarily the best choice.
Sure, it looks good when they pound on the table, and it feels good when they scream at your ex partner. They’re self righteous and indignant about the facts in your case, and it makes you feel well represented. In that moment, at least.
But there’s lots of other moments, too. Like the moment you open the bill for the month and you see how much you’ve spent in attorney’s fees. Like the way that your case maybe could have settled, but your attorney continued to fight with your ex or your ex’s attorney until settlement seemed like the world’s most remote possibility. Like the way you and your soon to be ex are angrier at each other than ever, and even more unable to handle basic activities that require you to be together or work together, like visitation exchanges and responsible, effective coparenting.
It is definitely my opinion that some of the nastier family law attorneys (and, no, I am sorry, I won’t name names) make the situation worse, rather than better. They spend their clients into a black hole, which benefits no one but the attorney. They ruin communication between the parties, which is one thing if they don’t have kids – but is nothing short of horrible if they do. They demolish anything remaining of the relationship, so that neither party has any trust or goodwill towards the other, increasing the likelihood that they’ll wind up back in court again in the future.
An attorney who is a ‘shark’ can make the case longer, more expensive, and exponentially more difficult, but also more dangerous.
No one comes into my office and tells me they want to spend the most money on their divorce possible. No one says, “Well, how LONG can I drag this out?” And I’ve never heard anyone say, “I want to see how much I can make my mental health, my ex partner’s mental health, and the mental health of my children suffer while this process is ongoing – or maybe even for years afterwards.” But that’s what the aftermath of working with an aggressive attorney can look like.
I also worry, though, that working with an aggressive attorney is dangerous, especially in cases where there’s abuse.
You might be thinking, “A case where there’s abuse is EXACTLY the kind of case where you would need a pitbull attorney!” But I, personally, don’t think that’s right.
You see, domestic violence is much more widespread than most people think. And it’s difficult to predict when an abuser will become violent. Certainly, if he has been violent or aggressive with you prior to the divorce, there’s already a strong likelihood that this will continue. But, under extreme stress, sometimes even abusers who have not previously been physical will snap.
Sure, you could get a protective order. And, while that can be helpful, at the end of the day, it’s also just a piece of paper.
But who just pours gasoline on a dumpster fire? A ‘shark’ attorney.
Is that helpful? To me, the answer is clear: no.
I read the other day that in the United States THREE women every single day are killed by their intimate partners.
Three women. Every day. Are MURDERED. Sometimes, the kids are murdered, too, though certainly not always.
You see, in a case where there’s already domestic violence, we’re playing with fire. And we want to get our client what she deserves, in terms of custody and visitation, equitable distribution, spousal support, and more – but we also want to extricate her from a potentially lethal situation with as much sensitivity and delicacy as we can manage. We want to remove her (and her children) safely. That’s the first goal.
And that requires some finesse. A ‘pit bull,’ I am sorry to say, often lacks finesse.
You want a lawyer who is a good advocate. Who listens to your concerns and helps you come up with a plan of action. Who takes safety seriously. And who respects you as a person.
I think that the key with hiring an attorney is for you to figure out what you want – as in, what do you want your life to look like AFTER the divorce is finalized – and work backwards from there. Find an attorney whose vision matches yours, and who can help articulate a plan that takes your concerns into account.
It’s not always a question of duking it out in court. Sometimes it is, but, even then, there’s room for clever, subtle, civil advocacy.
It’s your case, and you’re in the driver’s seat. What you say goes. I would just hate for someone to put her train on the wrong track without even realizing it, and only later think that maybe the problem was in the attorney she hired – or the adjectives she used to describe her ideal attorney.
A lot of help can come from understanding the divorce process and learning how to make decisions that allow you to prioritize your end goals. I definitely recommend downloading a copy of either of divorce or custody books (they’re free), or making plans to attend one of our monthly divorce seminars. You don’t have to hire one of our attorneys to start gathering information, and its probably one of the best things you can do to help yourself as your case starts to heat up.
For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to download a book, visit our website or give us a call at 757-425-5200.