When an attorney asks me to consent to an adjournment of a pending court date, deadline, or otherwise, I generally consent as a matter of professional courtesy unless there is a good reason not to (perhaps there is someone else who can fill in for the attorney who is familiar with the matter, or consent was already given on an earlier occasion in connection with the same court date and, quite frankly, enough is enough). We as family lawyers have all stood in each other’s shoes on many occasions for better or worse, and also know that a family judge, or appellate court may not kindly view your refusal to consent to an adversary’s request (especially if the requesting attorney has a conflict or personal issue). In other words, your client’s best interests may be negatively impacted if you DON’T consent.
I recently concluded a case where the trial court advised me that I would have to file a motion to procure a form of relief that was actually sought by both parties. Since a Consent Order would not suffice, I contacted my adversary to procure her consent to filing the motion and the relief sought so that I could note the consent in my paperwork and make it easier for the deciding judge. The other attorney provided consent without hesitation. It was, thus, astounding to me when, after I filed my motion, suddenly I received an opposition to my motion that – bizarrely – indicated that her client wanted the relief sought, but that my client had not fulfilled the requisite legal burden. When I contacted the other attorney to ask why on Earth the opposition was filed, she indicated that she was just “following orders.” Now whether that meant her client or a superior was unhappy that consent was provided and was calling the shots, I will never know. The point, however, is that there was no reason not to provide consent when both parties wanted the same relief. What should have been easy thus, became an issue of gamesmanship and unnecessarily increased counsel fees for both parties. Proceeding in the manner that ultimately occurred only showed her client’s bad faith intentions and impacted her when the issue of counsel fees arose.
In another prior matter that comes to mind, I immediately consented when an adversary requested an adjournment of a court date because of his own personal issue. My client had been waiting for the court date for quite some time, but the judge undoubtedly would have granted the adjournment request under the circumstances and only the client would have looked bad if I didn’t provide consent, especially because there was no one else to fill in for the requesting attorney. Incredibly, I have had adversaries refuse to provide consent to my own adjournment requests under similar, if not far worse circumstances because the forest gets lost in the trees. Even years later, we still remind the attorney in that earlier matter of his refusal to consent to an adjournment in that situation because of how unreasonable it truly was.
Ultimately, this is not simply about working with each other as family lawyers. It is also about the clients and how certain actions that may seem harmless at the time can come back to bite both you and the client at a later date. In other words, consenting could be about both professionalism and strategy.