Mar 31, 2009

In my last post I explained a few of the benefits of effective communication in divorce and other family law matters. In a recent discussion with our pastor on this topic, he made a great point: If a couple could communicate effectively, then they likely would not need a divorce in the first place.

That one had me stumped for a bit.

But, as I thought about the conundrum, I realized that his statement assumes that effective communication is like your vertical leap; you either have it or you don’t. The truth is that effective communication is more like your jump-shot; anyone can develop it with dedication and practice. (I apologize for the basketball metaphors, but with UNC in the Final Four they are coming naturally).

In fact, even if a lack of effective communication contributed to the end of the marriage, it does not have to contribute to problems with co-parenting, the resolution of legal issues in divorce or the future relationship between the parties.

The natural question is how two people that have been communicating in a deficient manner for years suddenly learn to discuss issues in a productive manner. The answer, to a large extent, is that their attorneys can teach them the communication skills that they will need.

Many attorneys will not do this either due to a lack of their own communication skills or a belief that fighting is somehow more productive than cooperating. However, I strongly believe that one of the roles of an attorney in a family law dispute is to teach their client how to communicate effectively.

Obviously, this will involve some direct discussion of the best ways to communicate effectively. But, it also involves modeling effective communication for the client. If an attorney communicates with opposing counsel in a hostile, position based, threatening manner, then the client assumes that this is the most productive technique. In fact, it is not. No matter how contentious the case, threats, position based negotiations and aggressive postures rarely move the parties closer to a resolution, and almost always push the parties further from their goals. Thus, attorneys can head off a lot of wasted time, money and emotional fatigue by teaching clients how to effectively communicate.

So, the answer to our pastor’s conundrum is that past communication techniques do not have to continue. New, more effective techniques can be learned and used to resolve the legal issues in divorce. Attorneys can and should play a large role in that process.

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