In every divorce where spouses have children, no set of issues matters more to parents than those related to their children. These issues range from the amount of time that each parent spends with the child during the school year, holidays and periods of recess; how decisions are made regarding education, religion, medical treatment, psychological care and extracurricular activities; or whether the child may relocate. Understanding how the court will likely make decisions in each of those areas is critical. Educating oneself on how to select the right attorney for such litigation is just as important.
When determining issues such as parenting time, decision making responsibilities and relocation, the court applies specific statutory factors. In addition, the court often relies upon appointed psychological experts. A skilled child related litigation attorney will not only have legal education and training, but will also have a mastery of the current state of psychological and social science research relative to children and their development, as well as years of pragmatic legal experience necessary to assist the client in navigating the forensic evaluation conducted by the appointed psychological expert including being well versed in how to buttress or attack the evaluation report, knowing the meaning and import of the testing modalities frequently used by psychological experts, and understanding the intricate methodologies used and guidelines followed by each expert. Ultimately, the adept attorney practicing in child related litigation will be well versed in unpacking the intersection of the psychological evaluation with its relevance and applicability in the law.
While an attorney’s technical mastery of social science research and methods is necessary, it is certainly not the only factor to assess for child related litigation. Perhaps just as critical are the “three c’s” that any attorney practicing in this area should possess: Character, Clarity and Compassion.
Character. Many lawyers will simply advise or affirm their clients’ initial viewpoint, regardless of whether it is consistent with the law or the facts. However, an experienced and reputable child related litigation attorney will provide informed, practical and detailed advice, even if it is not what the client wants to hear. Clients can only make informed decisions for themselves and their families when they possess reliable information from experienced counsel. To that end, being transparent and honest with a client, even when that leads to difficult conversations, requires an attorney to demonstrate character.
Clarity. Relatedly, it is important for the child litigation lawyer to possess clarity of judgment and analysis. Because the issues involved are intricate, complex and sophisticated, an attorney should be able to explain his or her approach to this form of litigation with clarity and sound reasoning.
Compassion. In addition, a superior trial lawyer in child related matters will have compassion. The complexity and intricacy of the issues is, in large part, a result of the fact they are deeply personal. A skilled attorney in this area of law is able to empathize with the emotions, feelings and perspectives of the parent he or she represents. The litigator in child related matters has learned, over time, how to hone both head and heart.
Although no parent wants to see themselves in a courtroom across from their spouse, fighting over issues related to their child, such litigation is sometimes inevitable. Although a talented lawyer will attempt to avoid the necessity of trial where possible and warranted, clients must be confident that a lawyer has the requisite experience, skills, and abilities to navigate both the pretrial process and litigation if settlement fails. Clients should be very wary of lawyers who cannot demonstrate a personal track record of success in child related litigation.
Just as most people would not want to be “under the knife” with a surgeon who does not perform procedures, clients must conduct their own due diligence to ensure that the attorney they hire is qualified both to navigate settlement and as an experienced litigator who will not shy away from trial if necessary. Informing oneself about the real-world experience of the potential child litigation lawyer you may retain is an essential step in ensuring that your case will be best positioned for success on all levels and in every circumstance.