If you know our team at R+A, or if you have checked out our biographies, you know there’s not a mental health professional in the bunch. We attorneys are called counselors, but that means counselors at law. We are technically no more qualified to give advice on psychological issues than the next person, although it seems we are often called to by well-intentioned clients on a daily basis.
Many times we “counsel” with a client like one would with a trusted friend seeking to determine what’s really driving a dispute. After peeling away some of the layers, we hear that our client is fighting or wants to fight because “it’s about the principle.” In most cases, we couldn’t agree more that their belief is worth the struggle, but we typically want them to clearly articulate exactly what principle makes the battle worth fighting. If the client can’t, they may have a problem that the legal system is not going to be able to fix.
Sometimes the principle is easy to state. When kids are involved, the principle might be holding accountable a non-custodial parent brazenly refusing to pay financial support for months or even years. The custodial parent obviously needs the help but also does not want the children to pick up terrible habits, like not following the rules, by watching the guilty parent get away scot free. What about a husband of 25 years finding his wife in bed with another man? He is justified in his conviction that his wife and the meddling third party should answer for what they’ve done. Like we said, sometimes it’s easy to coherently state the principle.
In some cases, though, it’s tougher for people to say exactly what they want and why they feel the need to push forward with a case. We get puzzled looks in response to the question, “Why?” If you find yourself thinking about legal action because of principle, do this: state aloud, in one sentence, the principle. Then say what you want the law to do for you. If it’s something like, “I want the hurt to go away” or “I want to understand why I can’t get over this” or “I want him to quit drinking” or “Why doesn’t she love me?” The principle is definitely important, but there may or may not be a legal solution. It might be something that a real counselor, a mental health professional, is better equipped to help you address. It may be something to talk over with your pastor, a spiritual mentor or the Counselor that the Bible is written about.
You see, every dispute has an emotional component (the E) and a concrete component (the $). In Mississippi family law the concrete component is most often money, but sometimes it can encompass more abstract parenting arrangements and attitudes. It is unhealthy to skip over the emotional component of a dispute because you end up in orbit around the solution- never breaking the cyclical nature of passions that fuel conflict. Often times, unfortunately, a person wallows in the emotional aspect of a dispute and creates a tangled mess of emotional debris that can cause real damage and incredible wreckage making conflict resolution impossible. Both of these scenarios are bad. The key to authentic dispute resolution is to deal with the emotional issues in a healthy way with qualified assistance and begin to focus on the solution as opposed to the problem. Move through the “E” in a healthy way to get to the “$.”
Also, you need to bring into sharp focus whether your stated principle is worth real money to pursue. For example, if your ex-husband is 3 days late in paying a $300 cellular telephone bill, is it worth a $50 phone call to your attorney and the additional charges associated with resolving this particular conflict du jour? Maybe. Maybe not. You must make yourself think in terms of cost versus benefit.
In summary, stating the principle and what you want the law to do to help you will not only prepare you to communicate with your attorney, it will also prepare you to speak about these ideas in open court if your situation unfortunately is resolved there. At R+A, we are serious about our client’s principles and will help you move through the emotional component of your dispute and reach real legal resolutions when a problem can be resolved through our admittedly sometimes very flawed system.