I am not generally one to make resolutions at the New Year. Most of them would involve eating, and I have a sweet tooth, so I am destined to fail. That being said, I do try to make some improvements to my work life each January and in addition to cleaning my desk, they include giving my clients some resolutions they should think about.
Number 1. Don’t be a jerk. Your dissolution/custody/post-judgment matter has enough difficult substantive issues involved without having to deal with unreasonableness for the sake of making things difficult. It is so often tempting to lash out at someone who has acted in a childish, mean spirited manner against you. However, while it might make you feel better for a hot minute, the longer effects of your actions may be that they come back to bite you in the derriere. In today’s day and age, almost all of our actions are captured in some form of technology, whether it be a post on Instagram, a comment by someone other than you on social media, or a response by the recipient of your actions in an email. Trust me- a judge will not be amused.
Talk to me first before you act against your ex. Let’s discuss what was done to you and what is an appropriate response. Remember, we judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their actions. This oftentimes necessitates taking the high road. Let’s make sure we know how you will be judged by others (most notably a judge or expert).
Number 2. Don’t ask me to be a jerk for you. I am a professional. And I am courteous. Add the two together, and I will practice professional courtesy. Which means I will respond to a fellow attorney in a timely manner; I will pick up the phone, and yes, if I am asked to consent to an adjournment I will do so unless it will hurt my client’s interests. Trust me, I am doing this for you. Why? Because the fact of the matter is, you are going to need something later in the case, and chances are if I am a jerk, the other attorney will be a jerk right back at me. More importantly, if I get a reputation of being a jerk, I am never going to get a break from the judge on your case. When you have a school play scheduled for 3:00 in the afternoon the day of a settlement conference, don’t hand the judge a reason to deny our request to move it.
Number 3. Understand my occasional scheduling issues. You are important to me. I promise. And it has nothing to do with the amount of money you have, the complexity of your case, or whether you are male or female. I strive to do the very best I can for each one of my clients. However, stuff happens. It happens to you, and it happens to others. And when one of my other clients has an emergency, I can only be at one place at one time. I am fortunate to have amazing colleagues who work with me, so it is rare that attention cannot be given to you. I once was almost fired by a client when I had to reschedule an appointment to review documents when another client had been physically assaulted by a spouse and I had to rush to the courthouse to get an order of protection.
Number 4 (and more important than number 3). Understand that I have no power over the Court’s scheduling issues. Trust me, I am just as frustrated at the fact that we have waited for over a month for an order from the Court. I do understand that it is having a detrimental effect on you and your children. However, the fact of the matter is that judges in NJ have approximately 400-450 cases, and there is only so much that can be done in a day or week. Don’t ask me to call the court every day or write a scathing letter. Trust me, this is not the way to endear you to the judge.
Number 5. Take a deep breath. Your case is like a Bell Curve. You are at the apex and it stinks. I will help you get to the bottom, but it will not happen immediately. Your matter will be over, and you will be able to move on with your life.
Jennifer Weisberg Millner is a partner in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Jennifer is resident in the firm’s Princeton Office, although she practices throughout the state. Jennifer can be reached at 609-895-6712 or firstname.lastname@example.org.