I recently heard another attorney say that “just because a person made an appointment, doesn’t mean they need a divorce…don’t give them a divorce just because that is what you know how to do.” This is so true. It is not uncommon for something to happen in a relationship to send a spouse running to a lawyer’s office. There are several times when a potential client is not ready to file a complaint or start the process; they are reacting to a temporary crisis. It then becomes a question as to whether the lawyer should “sell” the potential client on a divorce when maybe that is not what the potential client needs.
The role of the lawyer is to help people. We are to help a client through a situation – be it an accident, a criminal offense, a death or a dispute in a relationship. Is it helping someone to talk to them about getting a divorce when the advice they are seeking help saving the marriage?
Every Complaint for Divorce in the State of New Jersey includes a document showing that the person filing is aware (or at least provided with a form) of alternatives to litigation. The descriptive materials are to be provided pursuant to R. 5:4-2(h), with a very basic explanation of mediation, arbitration and collaborative divorce. There is not a requirement that lawyers explain to potential clients that there are alternatives to divorce.
I have had several potential clients come to my office upset because there has been an argument or problem in their marriage. During our conversation, it becomes clear that they are not in my office to end the marriage – they are asking for help to save it. Rather than talk to them about how to get divorced, the conversation becomes how they can save their marriage. It may mean a referral to a marriage counselor. Or maybe a support group. Or their church. Or an accountant. Or even a travel agent. There are many different resources available to someone who is looking for counseling on whether their marriage is worth saving and what they can do.
Many lawyers entered into the practice of law with the intention of helping people. Directing potential clients towards divorce when maybe that is not what they truly want does not coincide with the desire to help. Sometimes it makes more sense to allow someone to walk out of your office without a retainer and instead give them a card for a marriage counselor.