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Why Are They Doing This? Motives in Family Law Disputes

When they are trying to settle their cases, clients ask why the other parent or spouse is doing certain things. As attorneys, we can’t know exactly what anyone is thinking or tell you the reasons why people do things. But based on our experience, we see some routine reasons people do things when they are dealing with family issues such as a divorce or child custody matter. Unfortunately for many families, the legal system is an adversarial one.

When a spouse or parent gets along fairly well with the other, each might intend to reach an agreement without the time and expense of court. They may already have attorneys and the negotiations may be underway but when one decides to take action against the other (often by filing a lawsuit), it can be shocking and very offensive. People have many rights they can exercise, even doing so isn’t necessarily useful or “fair.” It goes against common sense, but the law doesn’t always require reasons for doing things. It is a system, played out on under the fluorescent lights of the courtroom. 

The most common time for wondering why the other side does something is when one party decides to file a lawsuit out of the blue. The only way to force someone to do something is to take it to court. Instead of letters going back and forth, a lawsuit means there is immediately a list of deadlines and a trial date. It can mean someone calls a bluff. The other person must then decide if he or she really wants to litigate their case or not. 

Another common question is why the other side is lying about something in court documents. First, lying is frequently open to interpretation. Second, people do genuinely misunderstand and/or miscommunicate about their dispute, which probably contributed to their separation or dispute in the first place. By the time you add two attorneys with second-hand information arguing about something, you have four interpretations of the same event or fact. Others are in denial about what really happened. Third, people do lie. 

The relationship between the attorney and client offers another piece to the puzzle of figuring out why people do things that don’t seem to be practical when dealing with a dispute. Like any relationship, there are numerous types of the attorney-client relationship. Some clients actively manage their cases or even argue about the way their case will be handled. Other clients are passive and do everything they are advised to do with no questions asked. 

The relationship can mean the other attorney is in complete control, and perhaps aggressive and prone to “scorched earth.” When a client has plans about how the attorney will assist him or her, the case will reflect more of his or her values. Emotions run high in these cases, and it is easy to get wrapped up in the relationship itself and hurt feelings. Unfortunately, another reason a case takes a turn for the worse is finances. This means the person who has the money might turn up the pressure, a tactic to “starve out” the other person financially.


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