Navigating the world of Florida family law can be a surreal, intimidating, and emotional experience. Even if you have a practiced attorney on your side to help you through the legal intricacies of time-sharing, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, etc. there are often very important truths that go unspoken. These important but unexpressed realities are concepts that individuals involved in a family law case should be familiar with and are also points that their attorneys should explicitly express to their clients, but often, fail to do so.
- Time-lines and Delays. For many individuals, the family law case they are a party to is their first instance of being involved in the legal system. Many think that their case should proceed swiftly and assume, for example, they will be divorced within six months or less. In reality, there are many different factors that can affect the time that it takes to completely resolve a case. These different factors include the type of case it is (i.e., uncontested, contested, or Collaborative); the main issues in the case; the court’s availability for hearings or trials (this is different for each judge and county); the availability of both attorneys for each party; the availability of the parties; or even how well the attorneys for each party get along with each other. You should be prepared for the potential delays and understand that your case may take longer than expected to reach a resolution.
- Things Out of Your Control. That leads us to the second thing family law clients should grasp fully: There are numerous things that can affect your case over which you have absolutely no control. Family law cases can involve many people. There is you, the other party, your attorney, the other party’s attorney, the judge, perhaps even other people like a mediator, parent coordinator, guardian ad litem, etc. All these personalities, and how they interact, must be taken into consideration. You, definitely, and to a very real extent, the other people involved in the case, will not be able to control how the other party behaves. The other party may be exceedingly difficult, hostile, or uncooperative, and your case may not be moving forward in the way you believe it should be due to these reasons. However, understanding that these may be the very reasons which have brought you to the current case, understanding that your attorney is attempting to solve problems within those parameters, and understanding that neither you nor your attorney can totally control the other party’s behavior will lead to a great deal less stress during your case.
- “Tit-for-Tat” Behaviors (Parties and Attorney). Frequently, one party in a family law case will do something objectionable or even reprehensible, such as, make derogatory comments about the other parent to the children. In response, that parent will engage in tit-for-tat behavior and since the other person did it (and did it first), feel that they should do a similar action as well. Unacceptable behavior from anyone will be looked poorly upon by everyone involved. This includes the children, the attorneys, guardian ad litem, and most importantly, the court. It may be frustrating but you do not and should not “get down in the dirt” when instances like the example above occur. Doing so will only hurt your credibility, and your case, in the eyes of the court. Further, the same thing holds true for your attorney: If the other party’s attorney engages in overly aggressive or unnecessary actions, please do not expect your attorney to engage in the same behavior or practice. Judges absolutely talk with each other and are familiar with the “problem” attorneys. If your attorney decided to unnecessarily “fight fire with fire,” the attorney’s reputation is on the line, it can affect your case negatively, and perhaps, more importantly to you, engaging in “tit-for-tat” behavior increases your legal fees.
- Financial Realities. That leads us to another thing of which individuals involved in a family law matter should be aware: You should have a very clear understanding of the potential financial implications of a family law case, and what can affect the amount of your legal fees. The total amount of your legal fees is first, frequently unknown, and second, affected by things out of your control (see #2 above). We realize it must be aggravating when, in response, to your questions about how much the case will cost you in total, your attorney responds with the completely maddening, “lawyer” answer, “It depends.” However, it does depend. It can depend on whether the case is uncontested, contested, or Collaborative; how well the attorneys get along; if the other attorney is especially aggressive and litigious; etc. At best, your attorney will be able to provide an estimate as the case unfolds, and all the factors are considered (some of those factors being out of your and your attorney’s control). If your case goes to trial, that trial fee is in addition to attorney’s fees you have already paid, and it can become very expensive.
- Your Day in Court is Not Going to Be Epic. This leads us to the truth about trials: Many people involved in a family law case believe that the only way their case will be resolved is before a judge. They imagine, for example, their divorce trial will be their day in court to tell their story to the judge who will then rightfully see how they have been wronged by the other person. Just like in the movies, justice will prevail, and it will be epic. However, the very unspectacular reality is that the majority of family law cases are settled; only a small percentage go to trial. Further, what many people need to realize is that usually, going to trial is not in their best interests. There is rarely a “slam dunk” case and a “winner.” A judge wholly unaware of you, your life, your children’s lives, etc. will listen for two hours, four hours, eight hours, two days, etc. to your attorneys, your testimony, the other party’s testimony, and perhaps, the testimony of other witnesses. After the completion of those hours or days, the judge will make decisions affecting your future and the future of your children. Simply, going to trial is one of the ultimate gambles of your life and one which despite the facts or law being on your side or the attorney you have, is really out of your control.
- You Do Not Want An “Aggressive,” “Bull-Dog” Attorney. Tying in with all of the other truths above is this: What many people involved in family law cases are unaware of is that the skilled family law attorneys are rarely in court. A skilled, experienced family law attorney acts as a problem-solver to craft settlements in mediation or through the Collaborative process that will be acceptable and beneficial to you, allows you to have some part in shaping your future, and keeps you out of the ultimate gamble of trial. Of course, this is not universal in all cases. Advocating for you and going to trial where necessary is something that a skilled, experienced family law attorney does as well. However, it is usually the attorneys that only want to make money off of your case that know the way to do so is to be unreasonable, not accept or give reasonable or rational settlement offers, and take everything to trial.
It is important to note that not all family law attorneys withhold these truths purposely (or at all), act unreasonably, or are the “problem” attorney. The Artemis Approach believes that clear, realistic, and truthful communication is essential to ensure clients can make informed decisions during what can be a stressful and emotional process. If you have questions regarding a family matter, we would be happy to discuss them further with you. Please schedule a consultation today.