Family laws and sliding doors

by Mike Wells


Hi to all at NLL. Here is another instalment from me!

It has been on my mind lately that we shouldn’t keep doing things if they don’t work: Life is too short.

My thoughts descended on a poem I learnt whilst idly letting my mind wander for a few years at Uni doing an Arts degree. It is called “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound and is coming up for its 100th year anniversary – but don’t worry, it has only 14 words!:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

So, life is short. And beautiful. And dark. And everything else in between. And we are constantly observing all of this. So why do we keep doing things, seemingly waiting for someone else to take the lead, when we know there might be a better way?

Now you readers who have caught any of my blogs or indeed spoken to me in the last 5 years will know that I am very much focussed on family law situations and particularly situations of high conflict. So perhaps all you commercial litigators may want to tune out about now?

Hopefully not.

This blog is centred on the struggle for us as a society to find more humane ways of responding to abhorrent and otherwise inappropriate behaviours, without necessarily thinking that lawyers and courts and old school litigation is the only pathway through. I think we can learn a lot by looking at what many might think of as more primitive societies, where a communal, tribal response was the norm.

But for some reason we have not generally valued this approach, and as a society when there is a perceived or actual need to respond we have been more inclined to involve complete strangers in peoples’ lives (be it counsellors, police, lawyers, judges, etc). We then set off on a completely new path, to the “search for truth” and “for revenge” and “to vent our anger and hurt” in a forum where (at least in the family court, and certainly in the minds of many lawyers) it is a battle of attrition rather than looking for and valuing the ability of such ‘strangers’ and others who arguably are more invested in fulfilling such roles. What I am saying here is that we as lawyers should be more mindful about caring for the impact of the process that we are subjecting our clients to (and not forgetting we ask them to pay us for the ‘privilege’ of so doing).

Another point is that we as lawyers (and barristers and judges) seem to chronically under-acknowledge the damage that can be inflicted on a family by bringing them within the institution of the traditional legal system. For example, why do we as a society permit 20-something-year-old law graduates to think they know more about a family and what is appropriate and necessary for the members of a family, just because they know the law? It is not the fault of such lawyers (who are not necessarily only the 20-something-year-olds, either!) by the way, because my point is that potentially many family lawyers have not had the insight or life experience of trauma, tragedy, loss, and basically have not (you might say fortunately!) had to learn the life lessons of truly understanding and appreciating the impact of a badly handled family law matter where thousands of dollars, years of peoples’ lives, and the unknown impact of significant and sustained trauma and stress of emotionally charged litigation has ensued – and most tragically – has actually been encouraged and exacerbated by some lawyers.

Now, I acknowledge that this is a fairly inexact science because without the benefit of overlaying a “sliding doors” (I love that movie, btw) technology, we never see the actual difference between a family that has endured the cut and thrust of litigation, compared with, say the same family engaging in an interdisciplinary team collaboration. But I say why should we keep this cycle of potential damage spinning along, when it is arguably easier and more humanistic to (say) reverse the thinking and forcibly direct all family law clients to work with lawyers who have been accredited with skills and abilities to work with other professionals in a co-ordinated framework and structure that is geared toward building foundations for the future, instead of going to war?

Why can’t we take lawyers and courts out of the traditional dynamic and instead respond to family and couples who are experiencing the trauma of a separation by recognising the inherent value of using psychologists; financial advisors; counsellors; child experts AND lawyers (but to name a few) to respond in a holistic family focussed way that is consistent with the notion of cherishing and valuing the beauty of children and of a society that genuinely cares for the individuals within it.

So my message is to be a good lawyer, for sure, but don’t ever forget the bigger picture.