October 10, 2014

Attorney-Centered vs. Party-Centered

78005661It makes me happy when I am not needed.

I recently had an experience with another lawyer that left me with a sour taste in my mouth about the involvement of attorneys in the divorce process. My client (Husband) and his future ex-wife are on good terms, as far as divorcing couples go. Although he is preparing to move out of the marital apartment, the parties are, for the time being, still living under the same roof and jointly parenting their three-year-old as best as they can. Husband, who earns about a third less than Wife, has been clear with me about his terms of settlement, which involve no anticipated exchange of assets (meager in this case), but center rather on 50-50 parenting time with his son and an agreement that neither party will move further than thirty miles from their current location. In other words, while there may be some bones of contention, this is a relatively low-conflict divorce.

Enter the opposing attorney.

Although in her first email, she claimed to “look forward” to receiving my settlement proposal, when I sent it to her I received in response a terse note citing her busy schedule, her upcoming vacation, and the fact that we had not yet exchanged documents as reasons that settlement talks may be premature. This, from an attorney whose client was actively engaging in informal settlement talks with my client on a more-or-less daily basis.

Now, I am not so naïve as to be wounded by another attorney’s disinclination to discuss terms of settlement with me at an admittedly early stage of a case. But it was this same attorney who filed her case with the court a scant few days after serving pleadings on the Husband when he had shown no disinclination to engage with the process, nor hostility toward his Wife, and who had barely had time to consult with an attorney of his own. It seemed to me that this attorney was, perhaps by rote (she has been practicing for a long time), valuing an attorney-centered process over a party-centered one. The end result of her emphasis on her own schedule, putting off settlement, and filing quickly was to put herself and her services at the center of a process that, from my vantage point, the clients were managing admirably on their own.

I might tie this to Collaborative Law by observing that the Collaborative process offers just the opposite: a party-centered model of conflict resolution that puts the short- and long-term interests of the parties above those of the attorneys. But mostly I wanted to observe what I take to be a difference between me and my opposing attorney: I am gratified when my services are not needed and a client and his wife are able to move their dissolution forward at their own pace and in their own best interests.


Joshua Gitelson comes to the practice of law via a first career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, as a film editor and writer for motion pictures and television. The son of a lawyer on the one hand and a clinical psychologist on the other, Josh has gravitated toward family law as an amalgam of these two “family businesses.” His parents’ amicable divorce inspired him to help others through the divorce process with as little rancor and conflict as possible. As a result, Josh has embraced the collaborative divorce model as a technique to complement his work on divorce in the traditional litigation mode. Learn more at https://www.lindawray.com/CM/AttorneyBios/JoshuaGitelson.asp.

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