McGwier Family Law ~ One Attorney’s Pledge to Help Families in Crisis
Kim McGwier, Esq., dedicates her practice solely to family law in Central Florida. As a certified collaborative law practitioner, she devotes her profession to teaching families that divorce, while extremely traumatic, can yield to a healthy outcome. Her passion for Collaborative Law is evident in her demeanor when speaking about this amicable alternative to the sometimes destructive aspects of conventional family law litigation. We recently sat down with her to find out more about this non-traditional method of practicing law with a team of experts dedicated to preserving the family by minimizing conflict and creating respectful solutions. McGwier Family Law firm is representing families with distinction.
OWN: Tell us a little about what makes your Family Law firm different from the rest.
I approach Family Law from a very emotional and cost-effective position because Family Law is truly 90% emotional and 10% legal. I have always instinctively practiced in a manner that is now formally defined as Collaborative Law. By instinctively, I mean I have a genuine passion for helping families heal from the devastation of a divorce. Children are so severely affected when their parents split up. The numbers are alarmingly high of children doing drugs, dropping out of school and getting into criminal trouble due to an unhealthy divorce. Parents typically fail to educate themselves on how to help their children cope especially when the breakup is bitter. Some parents are so emotionally scarred and cannot help themselves let alone their children. As a parent with children from a divorce and seeing the pain it caused my own children, I felt compelled to coach parents on the process. It truly is a good deed to society to help children maintain emotional well-being and rise above the long-lasting and devastating effects of a divorce. As family law practitioners, I feel, we are obligated to see to it that our children are productive, healthy members of society.
Now let’s look at the economic devastation a family suffers. Anyone involved in any litigation is going to pay a high price. The family has already suffered a severe emotional loss and a financial loss is inevitable as well when the family goes from one household to two. People fail to realize that reacting off of emotions and fighting over principles are costly. What I try to accomplish for the family is help them work through their emotions so mothers and fathers can make rational decisions while going through the divorce. During my initial consultations, I typically recommend counseling, and it’s mandatory for those cases that I feel are in the initial emotional stages of a divorce. Anyone going through a divorce will suffer a death—the death of the family. With this death, the entire family will go through the five stages of grieving—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As family law practitioners, we are also obligated to be educated on the stages of grieving our clients will suffer through and have compassion and respect for the process.
OWN: Are you finding that the economy is having a direct effect on divorces today?
Absolutely. Not only are people arguing more over money issues or unemployment, but people are also choosing to stay in unhealthy marriages because they cannot afford to separate. When families divorce, typically, and especially in today’s economy, couples cannot afford to live alone. If couples are unhappy because they are fighting over finances, the marital discord creates vulnerabilities in the marriage. One partner or both have a higher tendency to seek a “quick-fix” to the unhappiness each person feels over finances. One common “quick fix” to unhappiness is an extra-marital affair. I would have to say that 90% of cases walking through these doors are because one spouse is having an affair. Does the economy create marital discord? Undeniably. However, the irony here is that while these hard economic times do create severe marital discord, people are choosing to stay married because they cannot afford to divorce. I would not be surprised if studies show a decline in the divorce rate because of these harsh economic times.
I will also tell you that if all marital counseling resources have been exhausted and the marriage remains in an unhealthy state of disrepair, those couples with children choosing to remain in unhealthy, financially unstable marriages are doing a disservice to their children. People need to know there are resources available to those who cannot afford a divorce. People should know that the financial impact on divorcing families does not have to be so devastating. I refuse to let my clients waste attorney’s fees on arguing over principles or emotions. I’ve always had a keen eye on the art of negotiation within family law. You know divorce law is not rocket science. While family laws are ever-changing and attorneys must constantly educate themselves on the new laws, it is the true art of negotiating the family’s needs that requires a higher skill. Fathers and mothers have equal rights within the confines of the law, but the law cannot define the needs of the family better than the family and the needs of the children better than the parents? Therefore, shouldn’t parents and not judges decide the best interests of the family and children?
I am extremely pleased to see the implementation of psychological terms within our ever-changing laws. For instance, a few years ago, we referred to parents as either primary residential parent or secondary residential parent. Just imagine what parents hear when one is designated as the primary and one secondary? One parent is “superior” than the other. I have always felt these terms instantaneously place parents on unequal ground. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel a child needs a father just as much as he or she needs a mother. Both parents are equal and there is no greater weight on either side. Of course this excludes circumstances where one parent is unfit, neglectful or abusive. I’m referring to cases where parents are generally “good” parents and simply have disparate parenting differences. For this reason, lawmakers changed another term within the law—“visitation.” Parents spend time with their children not visit with them. So “visitation” is now an unfit term and parents now have “time-sharing.” I eagerly await a time when the law specifically states that time-sharing for parents starts equally (50/50) and any disparity in the percentage of time spent with either parent should depend upon on a specific set of factors, of course. I feel a child deserves to spend equal time with both parents.
OWN: While I know some who have “healthy” divorces, that isn’t always the case, especially when one party has been wronged.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” right? Well, I can assure you there is no gender bias in this statement. Men have equal occasion to fury when scorned. What typically occurs when one person has left the relationship, the “wronged” person refuses to let go so he or she tries to hang on to material possessions because it’s all they have left from the marriage. One person may cling to the home even though it is not financially feasible to maintain it and another may cling to the 52” flat screen. So the banter and bargaining begins until the acceptance stage sets in, which is the healthiest stage of the divorce process. At this stage, people are less inclined to argue over silverware and dishes. Therefore, the person who “wronged” typically works through the process more quickly than the “wronged.”
This is why it’s so important for couples to recognize that in cases where divorce is inevitable, divorce counseling should be considered. As a divorce attorney, I feel obligated to help my clients move toward emotional closure whether through counseling or through my very direct, yet compassionate, “tough love” techniques and reality checks I offer my clients. One of my most memorable clients was extremely thankful for not sugar coating realities to her. She had been married for forty something years and her husband cheated on her as she entered retirement age. While she is the epitome of wisdom, all of her sense and sensibility was lost as she struggled with the devastating thought of starting over at sixty. She trusted me to get her through the process. I helped her regain her confidence that I knew had been buried in the overwhelming pain over her loss. By the time it came to mediate her case, and I of course refused to force the process too quickly, she, with much dignity, communicated to her husband how he “wronged” her and yet she told him that his divorcing her would not kill her. She gracefully and successfully negotiated the division of their retirement assets as she sat there, I was sure, still perched in fear about starting over alone. She let go of a forty-year marriage and all she had ever known, despite the fact that she didn’t want to let go. After holding her hand through the divorce process, I felt more passionate and compassionate about women her age going through a divorce.
OWN: Tell me about the formalities of collaborative law?
If a case involves deep hostilities or complex emotional and/or financial issues, collaborative law works well for these highly conflicted families. The focus is on the family as a whole and not as individuals. The end result usually yields a healthier emotional well-being for all parties involved, especially the children. The format involves hiring two attorneys, a mental health professional and a financial professional. The process generates emotional healing and cost effective, respectful solutions in so many ways, and it’s a process too in-depth to explain within the confines of this interview. I encourage people considering a divorce to read more on the collaborative law process at www.cfl-cfl.com.