"I'm a divorce lawyer representing a client who's having an angry, bitter divorce. I want them to cool it down, but the spouses won't let up with their personal attacks. What's the right course here?"
We know that efforts at bridge-building may be met with rebuffs. For example, a man might surprise his wife with flowers and fine wine in an attempt to build a bridge. He is likely to be met with an angry rejection of his gesture and may hear a snide comment like, "You're a little late with that, Buster." But the man must be coached to do it anyway. Of course, he should be warned beforehand about a possible brush-off and coached not to react hastily.
A female client may choose not to sue her husband for divorce on some fault ground, hoping to keep the matter from becoming adversarial. Her husband might, nevertheless, react to the mercy shown him by canceling her credit cards and draining their joint financial accounts. If this client truly wants to be a bridge-builder, she should be counseled about the risks and warned that the other party may try to take advantage of the situation. But if her true mission is to build bridges, she should do it anyway. (However, a client should be advised not to place herself in personal or financial jeopardy if there is no reasonable method of recovery. For example, a client who would have no access to money for basic living needs should not be allowed to run the risk of having it taken from her.)
Mark Chinn is a divorce lawyer and the founder of the family-law firm Chinn & Associates in Jackson County, Mississippi. This answer has been excerpted from The Constructive Divorce Guidebook (ABA Books, 2007).