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Your Divorce Lawyer Is Not Your Therapist

Your Divorce Lawyer Is Not Your Therapist

          It’s no secret that divorce is among the most stressful life events a person can experience. And although approximately half of marriages in America end in divorce, the prevalence of divorce doesn’t diminish the anxiety for individuals going through it.

          Divorce affects every aspect of a person’s life. For many divorcing couples, the same income that once supported one household may now have to stretch to support two. For couples who are also parents, there may be the additional worry about the effect a divorce will have on their children. The responsibilities of parenting also change as parents go from sharing the work and joys of parenting with a spouse, to alternating between being a single parent and being newly-single when the children are with the other parent.

          While divorce has become increasingly accepted over the last several decades, some individuals still experience feelings of shame, failure, or a loss of identity, as they move from life as a part of a couple to life as a single person. And typically, at least one half of the divorcing couple must find a new home; so, add the hassle of moving to the long list of other stressors divorce triggers. Any one of these issues would be enough to elicit anxiety and worry, and, for some, even depression. Divorce brings on all of these concerns at the same time.

What your lawyer should do for you

          If you are considering divorce, you probably understand that you are going to need a competent lawyer to protect your legal and financial interests, and your parental rights, if you have children.

          Strategize. A good lawyer should help you identify the outcome you hope to achieve in the divorce but must also advise you as to whether that outcome is realistic under the facts of your case and the law in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer should gather all the necessary information to understand your case, spot any potential legal issues, and identify the strengths and weaknesses.

          Negotiate. A good lawyer must be skilled at communicating with your spouse’s attorney and negotiating with him or her to achieve the settlement you want. The parties and their attorneys may be required by the court to attend mediation or may choose to do so as a means of reaching a settlement. This will require your lawyer to effectively present your theory of the case to your spouse and his or her attorney, as well as to the neutral mediator.

          Litigate. If you don’t achieve a settlement in advance of litigation, your lawyer will need to timely file all the necessary pleadings in court. Your lawyer may need to file discovery requests or take depositions so that the facts necessary to prove your case are made a part of the record in the event you have to go to trial. If you have minor children, additional pleadings related to child support and custody and visitation are required, and will require the approval of your presiding judge, even if you and your spouse have agreed to the terms. And if you go to trial, your lawyer should have the trial practice skills necessary to maximize your chances of a successful verdict, including preserving the record for appeal, should you need it.

What your lawyer should not do for you

         If you think the above list of skills your lawyer needs to possess is a long one, you’re not wrong. But there is also a long list of things your lawyer can’t, or shouldn’t, do for you. There are services you may need as you navigate the divorce that your lawyer is simply not well-suited to offer you. Although some lawyers are drawn to the profession because of a desire to help people through legal and personal problems, your lawyer is not your therapist.

          Provide psychological counseling. Your lawyer doesn’t have the skills and training to be your primary source of emotional or mental support during divorce. In law school, lawyers are trained to understand the law, persuasively advocate on behalf of their clients, and solve complex problems for the benefit of their clients. Lawyers are not trained to be mental health professionals. They do not know how to identify who is getting sufficient support from family and friends and who may need professional help. Acting as your therapist will distract your lawyer from being able to do the job you have hired your lawyer to do – represent you in the divorce.

          Be your friend.Your lawyer needs the detachment of a professional relationship, not a personal one, to represent you effectively.The potential legal issues for which your divorce lawyer is responsible are substantial. Your lawyer’s ability to manage those issues effectively requires a detached, objective, professional relationship. While the subject matter of divorce litigation necessarily involves an understanding of your personal relationships, the relationship you have with your attorney should not itself be too personal.

Why it is important to maintain healthy professional boundaries

          Legal fees. If you find yourself frequently initiating calls or emails to your lawyer for reasons other than providing information your lawyer has requested from you, your legal fees are likely to increase drastically. No client wants the shock of receiving a bill for thousands of dollars for attorney-client communication that hasn’t advanced the progress of the divorce case. And the financial stress of divorce doesn’t need the compounding effect of legal fees that are higher than necessary.

          Clarity and attention. Your lawyer likely represents other people in divorces and child custody litigation. If every single client treated the lawyer like a therapist, the lawyer would not have the stamina to resolve the cases. Bearing the emotional toil for each client is simply too much for any individual lawyer. It distracts from the tasks of strategizing, negotiating, and litigating. It drains your lawyer of the energy and clarity necessary to attend to the legal needs of each client.

A Healthy Attorney-Client Relationship

          It’s not that your lawyer doesn’t care about what is happening in your life. Your lawyer should and likely does care. It is just that helping you process the worry and anxiety, which are perfectly normal to experience, is not a task your lawyer is best suited to handle. And, you really want your lawyer focused on what your lawyer does best – resolving your case.

          If you find yourself leaning on your lawyer too much for emotional support, you should reconsider and find a trusted friend, confidante, or counselor to fill that role. When it comes to your relationship with your lawyer, focus on providing your lawyer with the information and documentation necessary to resolve your case, and save the venting for someone else.