Monthly Archives: November 2019

The Quest For Precision In The Practice Of Family Law – When Words Matter

I love words.

I absolutely love to find where and when the writer’s economic use of words becomes both effective and impactful [as just one such example, one of the first associate justices of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Joseph Story (1811 – 1845), wrote this: “In the law, the power of clear statement is everything”].

I love how words such as “binary” or “concurrent” or “paradox” or “compel” or “expressly” or “constellation” or “default position” or “pertinent” or “nuanced” – along with many, many other such words – just sound so right to me, and fit so seamlessly into sentences and paragraphs and documents and agreements.  I love to have read a great book and find some turn of a phrase from the author – perhaps even a single sentence – which became memorable to me.  And (maybe much to your chagrin) I also love footnotes…I love the way a footnote can be effectively used to explain a point, but not to “get in the way” of the writer’s intent in making that particular point.

I love the constant struggle (and for family law attorneys it most definitely is a struggle) – that quest – to translate a negotiation or a discussion or “spoken-out-loud” streams of thought into a clarity of words, phrases, and paragraphs so that, no matter the reader, everyone immediately knows not only the intent of the use of those words, but also the precise point being made by them.

Last year an excellent and skilled young attorney asked that I review a final marital settlement agreement which some years earlier had been approved by the family court judge and entered of record (note here: the “requesting attorney” was not the one who had drafted this settlement agreement); and I was struck by this provision which had become court-approved so as to govern the parties’ conduct under the court’s contempt powers:

“Children’s Extracurricular Expenses:  The parties acknowledge that the children have historically been involved in various sports and other extracurricular activities, lessons, church activities, and overnight summer camps, and that they wish to have the children continue with such activities.  The parties shall pay the expenses related to all agreed upon extracurricular activities, sports, lessons, and camps, as follows: 90% Husband and 10% Wife.” Continue reading