William J. Rudnik, Esq. is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Attorney. He is also qualified as a Mediator in the field of Family Law under the New Jersey Court rules, and he is trained in Collaborative Divorce. Contact Mr. Rudnik at 908-735-5161 or via email.
Over the course of my 22 years as an attorney and 17 years focusing on family law, I have acquired a great deal of knowledge and insight pertaining to the divorce process. Below are ten of the most important things I have learned about divorce.
1. Divorce is an Emotional Process and the Client’s Emotions Cannot be Ignored.
Family law attorneys are typically removed from the emotional aspects of a divorce case. However, attorneys must always be aware of the emotions of both parties and understand that divorce is a difficult process from an emotional standpoint. The parties’ emotions can impact how they proceed through the process and whether or not they are reasonable in terms of settlement. It is important for attorneys to not simply ignore the emotions involved, but to try to get their client to address the emotions they are feeling, either through therapy or other outlets, so that they can make decisions that are not solely based on emotion.
2. It is Natural for There to be a Lack of Trust in Divorcing Couples.
Most people trust their spouse during a marriage. However, when one or both parties decide to divorce, it breaks that trust. It should not be surprising to anyone involved in the divorce process that there will be skepticism and distrust. Each side should not assume the other side will simply take them at their word. Documentation should be used to support any claims and there should be a free flow of documents during the discovery process. Withholding or refusing to provide documents can only increase the level of distrust.
3. Think Twice Before Firing off a Nasty Letter.
Many times the initial reaction to a divorce request is for the receiving party to send a nasty email to his/her spouse, or to have his/her attorney send a nasty letter to the spouse. Rather than immediately responding , a party and/or the attorney should let some time pass while they think it through. They should consider two things: a) will this help to bring a resolution to the case; and b) how will this correspondence or email make me look? After pausing and contemplating those two concerns, on most occasions letters and emails will be toned down before being sent, or may not be sent at all. You do not want to look back and think “I wish I had not sent that email (or letter).”
4. The Children’s Best Interests Should Be the Ultimate Concern of Both Parents and Their Attorneys.
The children are innocent bystanders in the divorce process. They did not ask for the divorce and they almost always want their parents to stay together. The parties and their attorneys should always keep the children’s best interest in mind, but experience has shown that many times they do not. If the focus remains on the children, the parties are more likely to communicate, cooperate, and resolve their case.
5. The Best Parenting Schedules are Those Where Both Parents are Involved in a Child’s Life.
Research has shown that children want both parents in their lives. Parents must understand the role the other parent plays in the child’s life and the benefit to the child of having both parents involved. It can be damaging for a child to see competition between parents. The focus should not be about who can have the most parenting time, or to determine who is the better parent. The focus should be about raising the child to be well adjusted and cared for so they are not emotionally damaged and are able to form their own relationships as they get older.
6. Being a Family Court Judge is an Extremely Difficult Job.
Being a Family Court judge is often a thankless job. Family Court judges are often overwhelmed and without sufficient help due to the lack of judicial appointments. They often receive criticism from the litigants and attorneys despite the fact that they have an extremely difficult job. They have to make decisions that will impact families not just from a financial standpoint, but more importantly in regard to custody and parenting time. It is a very stressful job. While no one would expect an attorney or a client to agree with all of a judge’s decisions, everyone should be aware that judges are making their decisions based on what they believe is best for all involved. Before criticizing a Family Court judge, put yourself in his/her shoes and consider how difficult it truly is to make these types of decisions.
7. The System May be Flawed, But It is What We Have.
We hear all the time from clients, attorneys, judges and court staff that there are problems in many areas of the divorce process and system. We have too few judges, and those judges are under pressure to move cases along. We have too few court personnel, and at times there are conflicting purposes in regard to moving the process along as compared to what may be best for the parties going through the divorce (such as alternate dispute resolution). There are processes and procedures that are inefficient, time-consuming and costly in terms of attorneys’ fees. We must accept that the system we have, however flawed, is what we must use to get parties divorced. As a result, attorneys must guide their clients accordingly, and properly explain the flaws in the system, rather than simply complaining about them. Attorneys, judges and Court personnel must work together to make the court process as efficient as possible. This ties into numbers 8 and 9 below.
8. No One “Wins” in a Divorce Case.
The divorce process can be expensive, time-consuming and extremely frustrating. Judges often state that “a fair resolution or an equitable decision by the court is one where both parties are equally dissatisfied.” The goal of the parties and their attorneys should not be to “win,” but to get through the process in a fair and equitable manner without incurring substantial attorneys’ fees. Alternate dispute resolution, including mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration, can help to resolve cases.
9. Resolving Issues Amicably is the Best Solution.
Settling cases in an amicable manner has been shown to result in less post-judgment issues returned to court. In addition, the cases that are resolved amicably are less expensive from an attorney fee standpoint and take up less of the parties’ time. An amicable resolution leads to less stress on the parties, which, if there are children involved, is important for them as well. Routinely, parties who litigate their cases reach the conclusion that the dispute was not worth litigating. Typically, parties who use alternative dispute resolution are more satisfied with the reduced cost, reduced stress and resulting settlement than those who litigate.
10. Do Not Judge Others.
All human beings have flaws. As divorce is an emotional and difficult process, we must understand that individuals going through the process are not always at their best. Many individuals have made mistakes during their marriage and many make mistakes during the divorce process. In general, people tend to judge others and place judgment based on how someone looks, how someone acts, or what someone says. It is important that we try to have some compassion and understanding for others, not just our own clients, or our own friends and family, but for everyone, especially when going through a difficult process such as divorce.