Senior Judge Michael Scopelitis raised an interesting (and, unfortunately, common) problem at a bar meeting some years ago. He explained how he had just entered another order for legal fees from one parent to the other parent’s attorney in a divorce case.
What stood out, Judge Scopelitis explained, was that the dispute was over how the parents would divide their responsibility for a college tuition bill—and the fees for just one of the two lawyers had already exceeded the college bill itself.
Intending to be humorous, one of the lawyer’s in attendance blurted out, “So what’s wrong with that?” The room of attorneys erupted in brief laughter.
How funny this all-too-common event actually is can be debated. (One has to doubt that the family on the receiving end of this legal experience would see the humor—or that the children living in the bitter family aftermath would.) But this case, like so many others, can help teach an important principle about resorting to law.
Especially in family cases (where the participants will be having thousands of future interactions), it’s a dangerous myth that legal rulings always put differences to rest. Quite commonly, the opposite is true. Here are four observations that may help make the point.
- From Florida family attorney Sheldon (Shelly) Finman: “The judge’s decision is actually the starter’s pistol to the family’s odyssey of conflict.”
- From Valparaiso University Law Professor Seymour (Sy) Moskowitz: “The real custody fight starts immediately following the judge’s custody decision.”
- From Illinois family attorney Richard Kulerski: “Lawsuits don’t pay. You do.”
- And from an old Danish proverb: “One goes to court with one lawsuit and comes home with two.”
Experience teaches that it’s up to parents to maturely build their new relationship, one based on meeting their children’s need for peace in their family. And that part of what parents must do is to arrive at some numbers compromise they can live with—and promptly move on.
Court may be necessary in the unusual case (domestic abuse, withholding kid’s access to a parent, etc.). But if yours is a more typical case, you may want to consider whether a judge’s ruling on last month’s three issues are really going to resolve the eight issues you’ll be running into next month.
For more resources regarding the law, you and your family, please visit the UpToParents.org Videos and Articles pages.
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