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Can’t See the Forest (Gump) through the Trees

Divorce AttorneyEvery day I get affirmation as to why comedians need look no further than the daily news to get enough fodder for a full stand up comedy routine.  Case in point: Mary Umberger wrote in The South Florida Sun Sentinel (my Broward County/Ft. Lauderdale hometown paper),   that a Mississippi couple who purchased some property in 2002, and moved into a home on the property in 2007, sued their neighbor because the couple was unaware at the time of purchase that the neighbor maintained over 80 alligators in the adjacent property.   According to the article, the gators “robbed them of enjoyment of the land.” (That’s legal jargon, folks but why would a lawyer just write, “We were scared as heck to walk out the front door for fear of becoming ‘gator bate’.” Of course, this was in Mississippi and not Gainesville, Florida, so these were obviously not Florida Gators, in which case, after this year’s football performance, they would have just invited them in for a cup of tea…but, I digress…and the Gators are, at the moment #1 in basketball).

And the neighbor’s retort (and defense) was that the real estate agent (hey, I see another defendant coming into this action) did inform the couple of the reptile community and besides, the statute of limitations had run. (This is a good defense once you get over the notice issue, but I’m a family law attorney so I don’t have to deal with that issue too much these days….it’s not a defense to a divorce that the spouse seeking the divorce “knew or should have known” that the other spouse was a jerk days after the wedding…or possibly even before the wedding…you can still get a divorce)

Now, get this…the defendant/neighbor is Exxon Mobile (can you say “deep pockets?”), and here’s the clincher… the gators were on the property because it is a refinery waste disposal site, and the gators were placed on the property in the 1980s as “canaries” (their word not mine) to warn of the contamination!”

Don’t you think that the litigious neighbors might be a little more concerned that they purchased property (and then five years later decided to live there) next to a toxic waste dump?  Heck, maybe they just figured if the gators were still alive, then they’d be okay too?

So, you might be asking, what does this entertaining story have to do with family law?  (I’m getting there…)  All too often clients come in to me with family law issues, from divorce to  child custody(I know, I know, its “time sharing” in Florida but only lawyers and those that have had custody issues since the change know this..Except now all reading this know too) to alimony and everything in between, and focus on the minutia.  I have spent countless hours hearing that “he did this,” or “she did that,” or the “crock pot is missing,” (really- who cares about a crock pot, except me, because I have one of the originals  from the 1970, and it was handed down from my mom and brings back memories of some really inedible meals), or something else that, if the client stepped back and looked at it objectively, would seem like complaining about gators when they should really care about toxic waste.

Family law is certainly one, if not the most, emotionally saturated area of the law.  I mean, I really cannot recall one time when I used to do construction law, that I told an electrician that he’d blown the statue of limitations for not timely filing a construction lien foreclosure case (those days I did have to deal with statutes of limitation) that he broke down into tears. Not so with my daily practice. I do understand and appreciate the emotional upheaval that divorce brings, and I know (from speaking with my fellow family lawyers) that I come into a case with a lot more sympathy than most….make that probably 99.9% of other attorneys.   But my goal is to help my clients move on, to help them let go of the crock pot and focus on the kids or how they are going to survive financially or other issues that as an attorney I can help get resolved.  What I don’t want is to have clients wasting their money with an attorney on issues that are best addressed with counseling.

So, if you find yourself in an attorney’s office addressing a family law matter, remember those gators… they were not the real problem.  Don’t waste hours of time on the minutia, (and, unless you’re in my office, the lawyer probably doesn’t care and is thinking about what he’s having for lunch). Focus on the toxic waste dump and work on getting that out of your life and moving on.




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