“Thank you for calling Sandia Family Law. How can I help you?” The friendly voice asks when you call our office. And just how many life-changing journeys have begun with this simple exchange? Hundreds.
These can be journeys of transition, liberation, empowerment, surprise, humiliation, vindication, disappointment, abject surprise and sorrow. This is a frightening journey to be sure, particularly to the uninitiated. So, the voice on the other end of that greeting is usually friendly enough, but not always so chirpy, “I…I…, I guess I need to talk to a lawyer…..” The voice trails off, and we know right away that this caller is in a state of stun. If this is you, then something in your life, at long last, has come to a head, or perhaps your worst fear about the other one has come true. Maybe the other party has taken action against you and you were served papers, or maybe you have finally decided that enough is enough and it is you who needs to make a stand. Having been pulled into this or pushed into this, the gloves are off and here you are.
Because it’s Family Law, these first calls are sometimes more like we’re manning a crisis hotline than a law firm, and we are. The typical initial crisis is based in fear because you really don’t know exactly what is happening and you also don’t know what exactly to expect. So, you certainly can’t plan anything. You simply understand it’s not good to get court papers or otherwise wade into litigation, and your life, finances, property and most precious relationships are at stake. What crisis!? Right?
Knowledge is power, and you are doing exactly what you need to do to address this kind of crisis by consulting and retaining competent counsel as early in the process as possible to minister to just those needs. The journey you are wading into is not nearly as scary when you’re empowered with a reasonable understanding of the process and competently guided though it. Believe it or not, the process is designed to preserve your rights and interests from the beginning if you how how navigate it correctly. And navigating it for you is only scratching the surface of how we (at Sandia Family Law, LLC.) hope to help you out of the wilderness you’re in and into your best possible future.
Just as Pamela, Charles and I represent our clients to the Court, we also represent the Courts to our clients. And being the access point to whatever “justice” the family courts provide, we are responsible for the ongoing management of our clients’ expectations. And there are some expectations that we will never be able to meet.
Consider the young father who has been fighting for timesharing with his preschool daughter since before his daughter was born. Since the mother was pregnant with the baby, she has been accusing the father of everything from substance abuse, to domestic violence, to mental behavioral issues and criminal activities. So, she has never agreed to him having a single minute more with the baby than what the Court has ordered.
None of her accusations were ever true, but father was still required to submit to regular drug testing for many months, submit to a Domestic Violence Assessment and a psychological evaluation before he was allowed any unsupervised timesharing, in addition to paying child support the entire time. When the baby was almost three, father began enjoying overnight visits and the tables finally started turning and he started on a clearer path out of the wilderness and toward equal timesharing.
Father didn’t have counsel until the baby was about twenty months old, and that’s exactly what it took to turn the tables: someone finally represented father to the Courts in the language the court speaks, to produce the best result. On the other hand, representing the Courts to father, father wants his attorney not only to explain, but to justify how the process worked properly here. How can she get away with slandering him for two years, denying and limiting his contact with his baby daughter and causing him endless costs and fees and Court hearings? His lawyer cannot provide a satisfactory answer because father is right. This shouldn’t have happened, and it did anyway and here he is. Father now bears a bitter scar because he placed his trust in a system that was used for too long to vex him with no accountability for his accuser. Father understands that his lawyer did everything possible under the circumstances, but he remains dissatisfied and steamed by the process because the mother got away with it.
Consider also the husband who never wanted the divorce in the first place. He believed that he and his wife of almost twenty years were well on their way to reaching the goals they had long since committed to, and truly thought things were fine, until things weren’t fine and he was served with papers.
In the year it took to get to the divorce trial, husband reviewed a great deal of financial documentation exchanged and came to see how his wife had been planning the divorce for a long time before he ever knew about it. Then in retrospect, husband also began to recall events and conversations and agreements he had made with his wife occurring over the year or two leading up to the divorce and he became increasingly angry at realizing her solid premeditated betrayal. Hindsight being 20/20, she set him up and knocked him down.
Very little of what the wife did to set up the divorce was even arguably illegal, but of course husband wanted the court to administer his idea of justice for her bad faith anyway. He wanted the court to make her to regret her scheming and conniving and possibly regret divorcing him in the first place. A reasonable position, but not supported by law.
Not wanting the divorce in the first place, and having never gotten any explanation as to why, husband also hoped to at least get an answer to the question of why his wife was divorcing him. So, at the trial husband’s lawyer asked the wife why she’s divorcing him. Wife’s lawyer objected to the question as irrelevant because the grounds cited for divorce were irreconcilable differences. The judge agreed and sustained the objection, and she did not have to answer the question.
After the trial, husband expected his lawyer to explain to his satisfaction how the system could let her get away with this and he doesn’t even get an answer to the question of “Why?”
His lawyer cannot provide a satisfactory answer because husband is right. She did him wrong, but not in an illegal way. This shouldn’t have happened, and it did anyway and here he is. Husband now bears a bitter scar because he placed his trust in a system that was manipulated in a premediated manner. Husband understands the explanation of how this matter unfolded under the laws and rules, but he remains dissatisfied and steamed by the process because wife got away with it, and he gets no explanation.
When we enter the kinds of relationships that lead to war in family court, we get no guarantees. We risk that those relationship will go badly and end badly. And the more we invest in these relationships, the more we stand to lose when they come apart, but the loss is not limited to property and financial matters. There are the mental, emotional and spiritual investments we stand to lose as well. The courts can order someone to give someone money easily enough. The courts do not have the authority to order, “Husband shall be okay with this outcome.”
The Court has no mechanism to provide relief for the negative emotions people experience as a result of contact with the system, but people expect it to produce relief anyway. So, they usually want answers from their lawyers about how to get it and good lawyers will explain that the laws do not cover this. They can contact their legislators to enact better laws and give us lawyers some tools to work with when this happens. Their efforts will help make sure no one else gets treated like this.
Honestly though, at this point counselling is what the person needs, not further litigation seeking relief from the very process that gave them this bitter scar in the first place for trusting a system that was used against them with no accountability for the other, leaving them dissatisfied and steamed by the process because the other got away with it.
Going through a family law battle can be the single, most difficult and transformative experience of your life, and sometimes all we can do at Sandia Family Law isn’t enough to minister to all of your needs, to relieve your hurt. So just like hiring a lawyer very early in the process is the smart thing to do, anticipating the gravity of this process, there is no shame in seeking professional guidance in all aspects of the troubled waters you must navigate if you truly want healing and wellness, also as early in the process as possible. That means you should consider seeking counseling, particularly if you feel overwhelmed.