In my representation of clients involved in litigation over child custody matters, I have often found myself in an interesting ethical position. Do I zealously advocate for what my client wants, or what is in the best interest of the children, because the two are not always the same.
The current state of California law with respect to child support is that the child support figures are, in part, the result of how much time you spend with your children, often called timeshare. This dynamic has produced many parents who want their kids more often, and will vehemently pursue litigation to that end so that the dollar number they must pay in child support is reduced. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes these parents do not have their children’s best interests at heart. The other reality is that although many of my clients are excellent parents and ultimately want the best for their children, I have had clients on the other end of the spectrum, that simply want to reduce their child support.
Thus I find myself asking whether my obligation as an attorney for one of the parents, is to fight for the children’s best interest or to fight for my client. In the past, when I have found myself in the above-referenced quandry, I have usually dealt with it by having the “come to Jesus” talk with my client. This talk usually involves some stern admonitions that they better ultimately be concerned with the interests of their child(ren) and act accordingly, followed by a threat that if the above is not the case, I will no longer be able to represent them. Although with the above strategy, I felt that I was doing my part to represent my client as well as uphold my own personal ethical and moral duty to the children, I still had lingering doubts on how to handle the situation.
The Orange County Lawyer monthly magazine finally spotlighted the issue and actually shed light on an emerging trend with family law attorneys. Bounds of Advocacy; Goals for Family Law Lawyers address the oft difficult role of the lawyer in this situation. one of the troubling issues in family law is determining a lawyer’s obligations to the children. The lawyer must competently represent the interests of the client, but not at the expense of the children…an attorney representing a parent should consider the welfare of, and seek to minimize the adverse impact of the divorce on the minor children.
In an era where it seems many family law attorneys have forgotten that at the heart of most of their cases, are living, breathing, moldable little people, who are sometimes getting lost in the chaos of an emotionally charged divorce, it is refreshing to know that, not only in my own personal moral boundaries, do I need to be cognizant of the what is best for the children, but now inherent in an attorneys professional duty, that same notion is present.