One of the casualties of practicing divorce law for thirty plus years is that, on occasion, I think I have seen it all, and know it all. Even younger practitioners begin to see the patterns that their cases follow. And, like any good soldier, when we see a path we recognize, we can formulate our own patterns and bias as attorneys.
The problem with that lies in the fact that our clients and their family members can surprise us. Especially in my mediation and collaborative work, my clients frequently veer off the traditional “legal” route and create settlements that are specific to their circumstances and personalities.
I am going to go out on a limb and mention several gender stereotypes that appear in cases, which I know each of my colleagues will recognize to some degree. It is these old-fashioned images that need to be shattered so today’s clients are addressed and served appropriately.
To name a few stereotypes, husbands are the breadwinners and work out of the house. Wives can be emotional and less prepared to financially take care of themselves. Men manage the money and wives manage the house and the kids. Husbands are overbearing and wives are submissive. Husbands don’t communicate well and Wives have to repeat themselves over and over.
While these are simplistic and certainly not representative of every client, I think it is easy to fall into a trap of preconceptions about a family coming to you for help. The first hour with a client or couple is very important for every professional to listen with an open mind and good ear. Sometimes husbands are quiet and wives are the voice of the couple. Also, either party can be the primary child care giver. More and more women are the primary breadwinner and are being asked to pay alimony.
To provide the best representation you can, don’t make assumptions about your client or their spouse and practice careful listening so you will learn who they truly are and what they really need. Satisfactory and long-term results come from a well-rounded settlement that meets everyone’s real needs and not what the court or the “experienced” legal professionals might think is best.
To quote a modern phrase, “Thinking outside the box” will percolate a variety of resolutions for clients to consider. Giving clients the freedom to explore what future they want to build for themselves and their children promotes avenues of compromise and resolution we may not have considered before.