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Author: Todd Burnham
My parents divorced right after I was born and I was raised by my mother. She was a social worker for the New York State Division for Youth. She worked there for decades and I can remember going into her government office, in Syracuse, New York, and raiding the office’s supply closet. Money was always tight. Being raised by a single mother was challenging, for sure, but I was very fortunate that my mother was emotionally intelligent. In fact, had I been raised by my father I suspect my life would have been far less purpose-driven and more focused on self-centered endeavors. I am a very lucky man in that respect.
I am now a divorce and family attorney with a family of my own. I speak with people every day about divorce, custody modifications, relocation, decision-making and everything else one would expect of someone managing a large family law firm. I watch competitors everyday market to their “target audience.” We have a lot of “Men’s Rights Firms” here in our state, and they get many clients calling everyday. We have law firms locally that market “aggressive representation” (admittedly I did as well in the beginning) and messaging similar to “We Win Family Law cases.” Nobody wins these cases. I see no value in advertising an expertise or specialty related to the sex of a client. It’s marketing based on fear, and it’s natural for parents to be fearful as they contemplate major life changes.
I disagree with the idea that you need to have any plan in place other than being very deliberate and thoughtful about choosing an attorney. He cheated on you. He lied to you. He isn’t a good dad. He used marital money to buy his mid-life-crisis answer. If someone told you, when you are raw and emotional, to get aggressive and hire Lawyer X to fight for you, I suspect you would think that is a good idea. I suspect I would feel the same way. But that is really, really bad advice.
Fighting and being aggressive has its place in every family law case, but how you fight and how you are aggressive is the key. Understand that you are extracting yourself from a dysfunctional relationship. There is pain, fear, anger and every other emotion open and available for you to experience. The feeling you do not want is regret with your choice in representation.
I strongly suggest that you seek representation that does not mirror you, your emotions, or your anger…at least at the outset. Do not hire an attorney who gets you motivated to destroy him. If your case warrants a parenting time restriction, or a protection order, a private investigator or a Child and Family Investigator then the right attorney will guide you only after he or she understands your case, your relationship with your husband and children, and your goals. Choose an emotionally intelligent lawyer. What exactly is that?
Emotionally intelligent people are…aware. That’s all. But that’s huge! An emotionally intelligent attorney uses all her tools in her toolbox. She doesn’t react to opposing counsel who thinks being a jerk is in the job description. An emotionally intelligent attorney uses data, strategy and thought in accordance with a communicated plan of action geared towards a successful outcome. They think about their actions and advice, understanding the raw nature of the situation, and they don’t exploit client’s fears. Emotionally intelligent attorneys can inspire and protect clients, oftentimes, from themselves.
Think about it. Your husband cheated on you with someone you know. He is clearly a piece of trash and shouldn’t have parenting time because he can’t be trusted. Right? Or, even more cutting, he introduces your children to her as he and your babies “accidentally” run into her while grocery shopping. You want it to stop. You want him to pay dearly. That mindset will have many lawyers licking their chops to follow your strategy and blow it all up…and bill you for it all.
Emotional intelligence is not a weakness. It is the epitome of strength and most lawyers don’t have it. Emotional intelligence is seeing the case from both the 30,000 foot view, anticipating behaviors based on the data, and having the legal and factual knowledge to make strategic decisions that benefit the client in the short term and long term. Emotional intelligence is not ripping off scathing emails to opposing counsel, at your behest, because you are hurt. Emotional intelligence is using your narcissist husband’s abusive texts to your advantage by waiting until he portrays himself the way he sees himself and opposite to what the facts, collateral witnesses and written or recorded communications conclusively portray him to be. If your “aggressive lawyer” did what you asked, or on her own acted, by emailing opposing counsel and threatened your husband you will feel better…and you likely lost the benefit of all the data because you allowed the lawyer to tip off your husband that he has bad facts to overcome.
Emotionally intelligent lawyers see the forest through the trees and effectively saves you from your emotions, while at the same time advancing your effectively strategized case towards a successful resolution. Sophisticated, emotionally intelligent representation can be lulling your husband to sleep with false confidence, only to trap him in his lies at mediation or trial. That is effective, and even aggressive, representation and is done at the highest level by very few attorneys.
There is nothing worse than lining up a narcissist with his own words/actions/behaviors only to see this leverage disappear because a lawyer was lazy, greedy or both.