To Do No Harm

The Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase “Do no harm.” This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.

Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused. Our job is not to instigate and play on those fears and anxieties. Our job is to help calm them down by helping them to find their voice and get their needs met in a way that will help them move forward with their lives. It is for this reason that I choose to collaborate, rather than litigate divorce and family law cases.

Not every attorney sees things this way. An example is a conversation I recently had with a woman just starting the divorce process. She told me that although she wanted her divorce to be as amicable as possible, the last attorney she had called immediately told her he would file motions with the court to “scare” her husband. He bragged of his experience using the courts to intimidate people, and he promised her that he would win her as much money as he could. He basically said, “We’ll go after your husband with no holds barred.”

On the other hand, sometimes it is the client who insists on going to court. For example, if betrayal is the reason for the breakup there may be a high level of emotion, which might compel a party to want his or her “day in court” to air the grievances. This knee-jerk reaction to betrayal and anger may be understandable on the surface, but people who expect to have emotional needs met in a courtroom are always disappointed.

I encourage my clients to try another way.

The collaborative law process is a less harmful alternative to litigated divorce. It starts with a contract signed by both the attorneys and the clients affirming that:

  • The attorneys and clients will not act in an adversarial way toward each other.
  • There will be no use of threats of any kind.
  • If there are children, their best interests will be the priority.
  • The clients are encouraged to work with other related professionals, such as mental health and financial professionals.
  • If an agreement cannot be reached in the collaborative process, the clients will retain other attorneys to litigate the case for them.

By following these basic tenets, we as collaborative attorneys are promising to do no harm and honoring the trust that our clients are placing in us.

But it is up to the clients to explore all of their options and choose the right lawyer for their needs. Clients need to understand that if they immediately choose to litigate and start their divorce within the court system, they will likely miss the opportunity to come to a peaceful, thoughtful and voluntary settlement. Working with a collaborative team helps spouses reach an agreement that meets as many of their their long- and short-term needs as possible – as opposed to the scorched earth and poisonous, winner-takes-all model of litigation.

Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022 avacca@vaccalaw.com