May 18, 2009
Grief– glasses or blindfold?
My ninety-three year old maternal grandmother died recently , on the heels of the unexpected death of my beloved cat, Goober. So I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about grief, and about how most of my clients are the stages of grief.
Many family law attorneys practice from the perspective that letting clients chose their own divorce settlement is a disservice. One day I was second in line to speak to the lecturer at a divorce law training. The lecturer, whom I respect professionally and like personally, said to the attorney in front of me, “You can’t let your client choose to waive her interest in the house. Your client doesn’t know what she’s thinking, and you don’t want to be blamed you for not getting her that interest when your client wakes up a few years from now.” I couldn’t stop from piping up, “But what if the client is making an informed choice, and despite her grief, she is in her right mind?”
The lecturer and the other attorney looked at me, both identically snorting and rolling their eyes. “Clients have no idea what they want when they’re getting divorced.”
But not all family law attorneys practice from that perspective. I have colleagues who practice as I do, as a faciliator, rather that as an evaluator. But by practicing law that way, what does that say about my view of grief? I believe that grief does not automatically make someone unable to make the best decisions for themselves. Grief can often be a pair of new glasses– giving clients new eyes to see through– or a thorny blindfold– challenging clients’ ability to navigate effectively. Clients seeing things with new glasses, maybe exposing the heart of their lives to them, might focus on developing a truly “peaceful” outcome, which may look totally different than a truly “legal” outcome. And for those clients with their view somewhat blinded by grief, a facilative family law attorney is more likely to empower the client to get a healthy perspective of their situation, for the client to take control of what they can control, allowing for the possiblity of healing and a positive future.