Originally published in the Family Law Section’s Commentator, Fall 2019
[Note: The author intentionally places quotation marks around the title to communicate that the author does not agree with the use of the term.]
by Eddie Stephens, Esquire
While most disputes are, and should be, resolved without resorting to litigation, there are always those cases that involve high conflict, extreme wealth or poor decision-making that end up before a Judge.
I cannot think of a worse way to make decisions about a family or children than pushing them through the adversarial process of the circuit court, and leaving such important decisions to the “Stranger in the Black Robe,” who likely hears only a very small portion of the story.
It takes two people to promise everlasting love. It takes two people to create new life together. When those same two people are unable to make important decisions with the assistance of trained professionals when their relationship fails, that case will be processed by the legal system and the impact of that decision not only affects the two parties and their children, but this ritual also has a tendency to poison all those involved.
As a family law attorney, I know I am being exposed to toxicity on a daily basis. Throughout my twenty-two year career as a divorce attorney, I have become mentally and physically ill during those moments of high stress on the job. Divorce law is certainly not for everyone.
So why would one choose to willingly expose himself to such contention?
From my perch, I have witnessed miracles. I have also seen people commit atrocious acts. Here are a few beatitudes that have helped me stay sane in a vocation that is often irrational:
Be caring. Among the family law attorneys whom I admire, the trait each of them possesses is that they truly care about what they do. They care about their clients. They care about their outcomes. If you don’t care about what you’re doing, don’t do it. Someone will get hurt.
Be competent. Whatever you do, be a master of it. I chose to specifically focus on family law. By knowing every aspect of my vocation, I am confident and do not get anxious about issues that arise with my cases and my clients. It took several years to learn my trade well enough to the point I could teach it to someone else. By putting that effort in early, I have eliminated many uncertainties that would have caused additional anxiety. Whatever it is that you do, do it well.
Be resilient. Over the years, I have “won” more times than I have “lost.” But over 22 years…I have lost many times. Each loss produces a scar. Even some “wins” can scar you. Even though I have more “wins” than “losses,” there is an element in litigation that makes some results unpredictable. I have many scars that demonstrate that fact. If you are unable to accept the fact that at times you will lose when you should have won, change professions.
Be good to your body. Your body is a machine. It requires proper fuel and rest. It also requires regular exercise. If you neglect your physical and emotional health, your body and mind will not adjust well to the unexpected curve-balls that life has in store for each of us.
Be patient. We are all human. We all have our personal struggles. We do not know all of the struggles of those whose paths we cross. Allow yourself to be patient with others.
Be forgiving. Most of us have baggage. Why would you let your life be defined by a negative event? There are things that are within your control, and there are things that are not in your control. Logic dictates you can change those things within your control, but you cannot change those things outside of your control. If that is the case, then why would you allow those things outside of your control to cause you to suffer? If you let go of a hot rock, the burning will stop and you can heal. It requires a conscious decision to let go.
Be humble. There is no need to brag in this profession. Let your actions and achieved results speak for you. We also have a “code” articulated in our Oath of Attorney, Rules of Professional Conduct and Bounds of Advocacy. Follow the rules, follow the code.
Be helpful. I think everyone will agree that if we want a more productive, functional society, we have to leave this world in better condition than we found it. We have to make a commitment to make a difference. As we do, we are leading by example. If this is done in an enthusiastic, appropriate manner, you will find it to be contagious and others around you will become infected; and thus, the positive cycle continues. If everyone in the world put effort into a selfless act, this would certainly be a better place. It is unrealistic to think that everyone will take this extra step. However, if you consciously chose to do that right now, we would have one more person creating positive change in this profession, and in this world. . If you do so enthusiastically, you might even influence others to do the same. Having a cause or hobby that you are passionate about will add necessary balance to your life, especially when things get hectic at work.
Conclusion. For thousands of years, American Indians have protected their communities and lands. “Warrior” is an English word that has come to describe them. Their traditional roles involved more than fighting enemies. They cared for their fellow people and helped in many ways, regardless of the of the difficulty, and were regarded with the utmost respect in their communities.
I think this is an accurate description of what we do. We are hired to bring these matters to a judge, if necessary. However, it is our responsibility to avoid litigation, if feasible.
A true “Warrior” knows their path is a lifelong journey, and mastery is often simply staying on that path.
Eddie Stephens is an equity partner in Ward Damon, PL, where he leads the family law department and manages community relations for the firm. Eddie is a Board Certified Family Law Attorney who specializes in high-conflict matrimonial law. He has earned the AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating by MartindaleHubbell, a professional rating indicating the highest ethical standards and professional ability. Eddie is a past recipient of the Family Law Section Alberto Romero Making a Difference Award (2017), the Leadership Palm Beach County Leadership Excellence Award (2018) and most recently, the Families First of Palm Beach 2019 Harriet Goldstein Awardee (2019). In addition to practicing family law, Eddie is an author, lecturer, and community leader who supports a number of local civic and charitable organizations. His hobbies include cooking, yoga, camping and spending time with his family. Eddie is happily married to Jacquie and has two children, Christopher and Matthew, and they all call Palm Beach, Florida home.
This article is inspired by the progressive rock band, TOOL’s, song of the same name: