Sensational tales of families ripped apart by the legal system get top billing, but this week in the probate court, I had the opportunity to participate in the healing of family strife rather than its exacerbation. My client, a 17-year old, and his mother had a strained relationship, and he considered life with mom less than stable. He desired to live with his grandmother and attend school in that district, but mom was thwarting the plan. To force the issue, we filed a petition with the probate court asking for grandma’s appointment as client’s guardian.
Learning of the court action was understandably emotional for mom. She called me to tell me she would attend the hearing and fight – my cue to gear up for litigation. Instead of rushing to plan my litigation strategy, however, I listened carefully to mom without interrupting. While doing so, I heard an opportunity: mom was not really objecting to the proposed arrangement, she was hurt. She was putting up a fight over something other than my client’s end goal. This meant that I had an opening to bring everyone together rather than add fuel to the growing fire. By focusing on points of agreement and the goals of each party, we were able to craft a plan that worked for everyone and preserved the tenuous relationships. Everyone left happy with the outcome and feeling heard.
The moral of this story is that there are many options for resolving disputes and honoring everyone’s viewpoint. If handled respectfully and compassionately, the court process can bring people together rather than separate them.
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