A colleague of mine refers to being a lawyer as being similar to suffering from a “genetic defect”. I tend to agree. Many of us have been, at least in part, inspired to a life in the law by friends or family members who share in the misfortune of bearing the traits necessary to be a proficient lawyer.
For better or for worse, I am no different. I have an uncle who is a lawyer, and a very good one at that (not that he’ll admit to it). And as my mother will attest, there is no doubt that he and I are both equally “defective”. Aside from the invaluable tips on tormenting my siblings, my scholarly uncle has given me a number of pieces of advice, one of which is to never make career decisions between November and January. After a long year of nobly defending the rights of the downtrodden and marginalised, by Christmas time a career as a bartender in the Caribbean can appear nigh irresistible.
Whether the decision to remain in our offices post-Christmas is a good one is a question to be addressed after a few more drinks, but a recent study from the University of Washington has suggested that my uncle’s logic does not seem to be regularly heeded when making decisions involving separation from a partner. The study found that there are two peak divorce periods each year, following the summer and winter holidays. Those behind the study have explained that their expected reasoning for the pattern is the tension, pressures, and expectations that arise in relationships around family holidays and cultural celebrations.
Such statistics are not necessarily reliable in Australia, given that, in this country, the date of divorce very rarely reflects the time that a separation has actually occurred. Despite this however, similar trends have been recognized here by organisations such as Relationships Australia.
It goes without saying that many decisions around separation are made in a state of severe emotional turmoil. If these decisions, and their ramifications, are not appropriately addressed, this turmoil has the potential to be transformed from a relatively brief phase of difficulty, into an extremely long, arduous, and painful journey.
We have found that many clients react with surprise when we explain that, in most circumstances following a separation, throwing on the suit of armour and charging into a series of angry letters and emotive accusations, or worse, an adrenaline-fueled court battle, is very much our last resort. After this surprise subsides, most clients then also indicate an overwhelming sense of relief.
We have an obligation to discuss with clients the possibility of reconciliation before undertaking any formal steps involving the Family Court system. In the event that reconciliation is not appropriate or realistic, there is no doubt that our client’s lives are made exponentially easier by an approach to matters that favours open and meaningful discussion, reasonable negotiation, and constructive communication. The aim, in large part, is to try to ensure that decisions made by our clients in the midst of heightened stress and conflict do not have irreversible, long-term, adverse side-effects on their lives.
In most circumstances, we can be of limited assistance in deciding whether to separate from a partner. That is not our place. By adopting an understanding, empathetic, and insightful approach to assisting our clients, however, we can certainly assist in making life after separation more optimistic.