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Zealous Advocacy and the Emotional and Psychological Divorce

Submitted by: Kelly D. Thames, Attorney & Counselor at Law

Within my first week as a practicing family attorney, I had already experienced an opposing attorney yelling at me during negotiations in the hallway of the Daley Center. He was civil and nice in the court conference room in front of the judge (and outside of the presence of his client.) But as soon as he was in front of his client his demeanor changed. Was this zealous advocacy, did his client want him to act in this manner, or was he just being a jerk because he was having a bad day?

It is an attorney’s job to be a zealous advocate for their client. But what does this mean? And does the definition change depending on the client and the situation? Would his client think that he was not being a zealous advocate in negotiations if he didn’t yell?

A divorce arouses some of the most intense emotions a person will ever go through. And even though Illinois is a no-fault divorce state, one spouse often wants to prove that the other spouse is the one at fault, even though life and relationships are really never that simple. A hurt spouse often wants their “day in court” to explain why their spouse is the reason for the failure of the marriage.

The fact is: divorce is not only about the legal process. There is an emotional divorce, a psychological divorce, a financial divorce. Although technically attorneys are “counselors,” attorneys aren’t trained to guide you through the emotional and psychological phases of your divorce, and it’s not the reason you hire an attorney. If you try to process these phases through the court process, you will likely end up with sky-high attorneys’ fees, and a lack of closure (and if there are children involved, damaged children).

Some might feel like “zealous advocacy” does mean fighting to the death in court. A client wants to feel like you are “going up to bat” for them and they may feel like yelling at the opposing attorney in negotiations is effective and required. The attorney should be going up to bat for their client, but an attorney can fully represent their client’s interests in court through negotiations without being a bully. It is also important that the attorney fulfills their duty to be a counselor, and this may mean suggesting that their client seek assistance from a therapist to process the psychological and emotional phases of divorce instead of mudslinging in court.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting my feelings hurt when another lawyer yells at me or tries to intimidate me, but you are probably getting a divorce because the relationship was unhealthy and a divorce can be a healthy new start for each spouse, as long as you realize that the court process will not grant you an emotional or psychological divorce.

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