As a family lawyer receiving new instructions from a client you obviously only see one side of the story. Your client will often seek to paint the other party as the villain, and themselves as the victim. However, when you make contact with the other party or their solicitors, you quickly come to see that things are not at all as clear cut as that.
Even if you are not a practising lawyer it is very easy to find people who think they are the innocent victims in family disputes – just look at any forum dealing with family matters, or the comments on a family law blog. These people see things in black and white terms of right and wrong, with them clearly and wholly in the right, and the other party clearly and wholly in the wrong. However, it is rarely like that, usually comprising some shade of grey.
It is, I suppose, quite natural to see oneself as the innocent party. After all, it can be extremely difficult to acknowledge fault in one’s own actions. Accordingly, when a relationship breaks down it seems as if it is all the fault of the other party, even when to any neutral observer it clearly is not. And then it follows that any failure to reach agreement on arrangements for children or financial matters is all the fault of the other party, who are taking a completely unreasonable position.
Just as in most marriage breakdowns there is some measure of ‘fault’ on the part of both parties, so in most disputes following relationship breakdown the ‘blame’ for any failure to reach agreement is, to a greater or lesser degree, shared between both parties. And when I say ‘blame’, I don’t necessarily mean it in the sense of purposely being difficult – what can seem unreasonable to one person can seem perfectly reasonable to another.
A classic practical example of this is the one of the father who is seeking contact with his child, who resides with the mother. The father can see no reason for him not having unrestricted contact, and therefore feels that the mother’s objections are completely unreasonable. However, when one hears the mother’s case one often finds that it is based upon perfectly genuine fears for the welfare of the child, rather than on any thoughts of using the denial of contact with the child as a weapon against the father.
Yes, it is true that after a relationship breakdown feelings of antipathy may be very strong, but this does not automatically mean that the other party will thereafter do everything in their power to thwart your aims, extending to taking a clearly unreasonable stance. Of course, there are cases where one party is at fault (see, for example, this post for a case in which a court penalised a party for behaving unreasonably in the litigation), and these are very often the cases that make the headlines or the law reports, making them seem more common than they really are. Certainly, it would be quite wrong to believe that such cases are the norm. The norm is that most parties to family disputes behave, for the most part, in a reasonable manner.
In short, all I am saying to those involved in a family dispute who believe they are entirely right and the other party is entirely wrong is this: ask yourself whether this is really true – could it be that yours is not the only ‘right’ side of the argument?
Why is this important? Well, at best such black and white thinking is likely to cloud your decision making, meaning it can be you who are actually taking an unreasonable stance. At worst, it can drag out damaging and costly disputes, to the detriment of all concerned, including any children. After all, if you are not able to see the other side of a dispute, then the chances of reaching an agreed outcome are surely very small, if not lost entirely.