REINVENTING FAMILY LAWTo better acknowledge and respond to the emotional, relational nature of family disputes.
Family Law based on human relations
Like other family law firms, WFL helps people marry, divorce, adopt and do all the other legal things families do. But no matter what the event, our approach is likely to be very different. A lot has been learned about how human beings think and feel and act over the past decade. We believe the practice of Family Law should reflect that. If you want to learn more about our approach and what it’s based on, take a look or read more.
WHAT WE DO
It’s pretty simple : we pursue the long term best interests of our clients in every family law dispute we participate in. To this we bring experience, excellence and the conviction that divorce can be a time of growth and new beginnings. Key to our approach is to :
The first job of a good family lawyer is to really listen to our client to make sure we will be responding to the client’s actual needs. Empathy and understanding are key to good listening. We listen to the “other side”, too. Knowing what’s really important to each participant in a family dispute helps us do a much better job.
Can we clearly enunciate the issues as the participants see them? Have we got it right? If not, how could we hope to address them? Many lawyers listen just long enough to fit the case into a neat legal box. Not us. We know each marriage is unique, and so is each divorce.
If our first job is to listen, our first priority is to protect our client, both financially and emotionally. What does our client need to get through this divorce and thrive in its aftermath, and what legal and other measures can we put in place to make that possible?
For us, to advocate means to make sure our clients’ (and their children’s) long term best interests are served. We are skilled in the most effective techniques and can either accompany our clients through negotiations or represent them at the table or in court. Because our expertise covers the range of options, we do not force fit our favored technique onto your divorce.
Sometimes a situation calls for expertise that goes beyond what a lawyer can provide. If that’s the case, WFL works with a wealth of professional associates, experts in everything from child development, to business evaluation, to protective agencies.
Families are our closest connection, often at the core of our identity. Family conflict calls that identity into question.
During divorce, most people experience grief, loss, disappointment, anger, fear and mistrust. Yet Family Law is limited in its ability to help families because it is based on dry legal concepts and outdated procedures. Legal containers such as negligence, intentional tort and alimony leave the underlying emotional forces that drive the conflict unanswered. At WFL, we work with the emotional component of divorce to ensure our clients reach decisions that are good legally, financially and emotionally.
HUMAN BEINGS ARE SOCIAL ANIMALS, HARD WIRED TO CONNECT.
Emotions, Divorce & the Law
Strong, heartfelt and usually totally justified, emotions during divorce are never “wrong”, but they are often detrimental to your best legal interests. A good lawyer’s job is to acknowledge emotion, but not to amplify it or translate it into legal maneuvers. These recent cases show how emotions can influence the decision making process and how our clients were able to avoid letting their emotions make their decisions for them.
The emotional reality: Pam was married just over 20 years when she discovered Justin had been having an affair – for 5 years!
Hurt and devastated, she wanted a divorce, but she was sure that Justin, a career financial advisor, would be as duplicitous about their finances as he had been about his fidelity. She didn’t trust him to do the right thing, and she was very angry. Pam wanted to go to court, to expose him for the cheating liar he was and she wanted the court to punish him. Justin made several settlement offers that Pam rejected out of hand.
The legal reality:
- New Mexico is a no-fault state and the courts award judgement based solely on the financial realities, not as recompense for bad behavior
- Family law attorneys have a very good idea of what the courts will award.
- Going to court is enormously time consuming and expensive. If an offer meets or exceeds what the court will most likely award, it is always financially better to settle out of court
- Forensic CPAs spend their careers finding assets ex spouses want to hide. When one is brought in on a case, the likelihood that an ex can substantially cheat is pretty minimal.
The Lawyer’s role: Acknowledging Pam’s anger and mistrust. Verifying the financials submitted by her ex. Determining the court’s likely distribution of assets. Working with Pam to ensure that both her emotional and financial needs are met.
The outcome: The case settled out of court. At a final meeting with the two parties and their lawyers, Pam was able to express how much the affair hurt her. With tears in his eyes, Justin genuinely and sincerely apologized across the conference room table. Pam later said that his acknowledgement of what he had done and its emotional toll on her was what helped her let go of the hurt and anger and move on.
The emotional reality: My client Hannah decided to leave Frank only after years of agonizing about it. She was miserable. But Frank was a big corporate CEO with an immense ego: not the type to be left.
He was selfish, never giving an inch to either Hannah or any of the kids, and needed constant adoration to soothe his overblown narcissism. Hannah, whose father had abandoned the family when Hannah was 11, had fallen hard for Frank, precisely because she thought he’d always be there for her. And now she was the one jumping ship. She was afraid her kids would go through the same thing she did as a child.
When Hannah finally summoned the courage to leave, Frank pulled out all the stops to punish her: He refused to share income, he badmouthed her to the kids and he even wire tapped her phone! But Hannah wanted to accept whatever Frank offered. She wanted it “done” and she wanted to preserve whatever peace she could so that the inevitable co-parenting would be at least marginally feasible.
The legal reality:
- Any court directed sharing of the assets would result in a much higher settlement for Hannah than the one Frank was offering.
- Frank was breaking the law with the wire tapping – but it was unlikely that he would receive anything more than a slap on the wrist
- An interim court hearing, required due to Frank’s refusal to let Hannah have access to any of their joint funds, cost Frank $3000 in attorney fees, and the court made him share the income exactly as had previously been requested of him
- Accepting a low ball offer rarely translates into a more harmonious post-divorce relationship
The Lawyer’s role: Bring in a Family Systems therapist to get Frank engaged in a way no coercive process could and to help the children navigate the divorce. Avoid ratcheting up the hostility by not pursuing useless litigation against Frank. Help client to resist accepting an unfair settlement by presenting facts of what the court would award and what her financial needs would probably be in the future.
The outcome: The final settlement that Hannah accepted was enough to allow Hannah to take the time to develop her career and become independent and self-supporting.
In post-divorce therapy, Hannah worked on tools of how to co-parent with someone so self-absorbed. Unable to change her ex, Hannah developed her own personal skills for dealing with a narcissist.
The emotional reality: Lauren’s husband Phillip was a prominent professional in town and had been married to Lauren for 30 years when he announced he wanted a divorce. For him it was an easy decision – like a business deal.
“The marriage is just over”. Lauren, a very sophisticated and intelligent woman, was distraught. What would she do without him? He was her rock, emotionally and financially. She was 63. She had been a receptionist, but had quit eons ago to bring up the kids. Phillip wanted her to go back to work immediately! He did not want to support her. And far from being understanding of her emotional distress, Phillip, and his lawyer, kept making aggressive and accusatory statements about her as a wife and mother. Lauren conceded to these in a depressed and helpless manner. She was ready to continue to do whatever Phillip wanted.
The legal reality:
- Family law attorneys have a very good idea of what the courts will award. A good attorney will not allow his/her client to settle for a substantially lower amount.
- The courts consider both the age and the ability to generate income of each spouse in their determination of support
The Lawyer’s role: Investigate the disparity between the client’s lack of assertiveness and the husband’s allegations. Administering a Domestic Violence questionnaire revealed a history of coercion and control, falling short of physical violence, but undermining self-esteem and confidence.
Get client into therapy and push back against husband’s bullying offers. Move towards going to trial.
The outcome: The case settled the day before trial with a reasonable offer. Lauren received support sufficient to live without working, including her share of social security benefits and their pension at retirement age. She stayed in therapy and, as the dust settled, regained a strong sense of her worth.
BE IN TOUCH
Walther Family Law PC serves clients throughout New Mexico, including the greater Albuquerque and Santa Fe Area, and Bernalillo, Chaves, Cibola, Carlsbad, Curry, Dona Ana, Grant, Lincoln, Los Alamos, Luna, Otera, Sandoval, San Juan, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Taos and Valencia Counties.
You may contact us using the form, however, no information submitted will be treated as confidential until a lawyer in this law firm has actually accepted your case.
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Walther Family Law PC Albuquerque
One Park Square, 6501 Americas Parkway NE, Suite 820
Albuquerque, NM 87110
505-889-8240 Fax: 505-889-8242
Walther Family Law PC Santa Fe
1640 Old Pecos Trail, Suite C
Santa Fe, NM 87505
505-984-0097 Fax: 505-983-2467