The Important Role of Empathy in Family Law

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At one point or another, every family will find themselves enlisting the help of a family lawyer, and for more reasons than you may think. Despite all the media representation that says otherwise, family lawyers don’t just handle divorce proceedings. In fact, the importance of the many services that family lawyers provide to their greater community cannot be overstated. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that this branch of civil law also demands a fair amount of empathy. Here are a few ways family law can be quite distinct from other areas of the law.

Representing families, not just clients

Family lawyers in Melbourne and other big cities often speak about the need to view their client as a single member in a family unit, especially when it comes to property settlements and writing up discretionary trusts. Family lawyers operate under the principle that the best solution for their client is one that’s also greatly considerate towards their loved ones, but finding solutions that are mutually beneficial to all involved is usually a lot harder than you may think. And the more individuals involved, the trickier the case may become.

Making judgement calls

It’s worth noting that the circumstances surrounding a client’s need to form a trust can be rather delicate, and usually entails some level of financial concern or even a health scare or two. Family lawyers can attest to the fact that oftentimes clients may find their judgement to be impaired, simply because they’re too caught up in their personal situation. In these instances, family lawyers would have a professional responsibility to advise their clients against decisions which may have adverse effects. Not to mention that in the event of a client’s death or in the case of testamentary trusts, family lawyers would need to act on behalf of their deceased client, or even serve as an executor if no other representative is available. This is a monumental task that often results in unavoidable disruptions within families who are already grieving.

Maintaining impartiality in disputes

It’s vital that family lawyers maintain impartiality in all cases, most notably divorce and separation proceedings. As the process of filing for divorce in Australia requires spouses to record at least twelve months of separation, by the time divorces are close to being finalised, both parties are usually on amicable terms. The problem is that the majority of asset distribution, settlements, and the other particulars involved in separation need to be sorted out within that twelve-month period, which can be tricky if the dust hasn’t particularly settled on the relationship’s end. Even so, it’s important that these procedures are organised so that the divorce can be finalised with minimal conflict and minimal impact on any dependents. 

Bearing emotional labour 

In reading this article, you may have noticed that managing emotions seems to be a large component of practising family law. In fact, it’s largely agreed upon by industry professionals that family law is the branch of civil law that demands its professionals to bear the most emotional labour. Essentially, emotional labour is the practice of having to suppress or manage your own emotions to suit your environment or serve the needs of others. When asked to think of professions that would require one to bear emotional labour, most people would think of customer service workers, social workers, or therapists and healthcare workers. But practising family law cannot be done without bearing the burden of emotional labour. 

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The mark of a good family lawyer is their ability to remain impartial whilst still being empathetic, to think big picture whilst also being detail-oriented. It’s a job that requires a chameleonic, multi-disciplinary mindset, and it’s a job that’s indispensable to the modern-day family.

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