Bonita K. Baker, Attorney at Law
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First Choice

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“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” So says a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Ouch. How insulting! No doubt, part of this hatred toward lawyers comes from our tendency to insert indecipherable Latin terms into not only our documents, but also our daily language. Family law lawyers are just as guilty as anyone. We commonly use terms such as “Sua Sponte order” and “pendente lite maintenance.” I admit that as a former staff attorney for the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, I can write legalese with the best of them.

But I’d rather just chat.

I am excited about blogging because, temporarily at least, I can throw those babied legal terms out with the proverbial bath water and simply talk in a relaxed manner about family law topics. Blogging also will provide me with an opportunity to discuss the emotional aspect of family law issues. I learned very early in my legal career that no matter what the family law matter, there is always emotional turmoil and heartache involved.

I handled my very first divorce in 1981. At the time, I was so naive that I actually believed my client when she told me that the man she was bringing with her to my office was a mere co-worker there to lend her moral support. I also believed her when she told me that her husband was too busy working to care about their children. She portrayed her spouse as a greedy workaholic interested only in acquiring material possessions.

Tensions were so high between the parties that they were unable to divide their pots and pans without my help. Because the husband was unrepresented by counsel, I was able to talk with him directly. I instructed both parties to make a list of everything they owned, and told them we would flip a coin to see who would go first. That person would have first choice, then the other side would pick, then back to the other, and so on. The day finally arrived for the division. My client arrived at my office with her male “friend.” Her husband was too upset to appear in person, so he was available by phone.

My client handed me a long list of possessions. New television set. Expensive stereo equipment. A camera. Camping equipment. Golf clubs. It looked like my client was right: there was no end to the parties’ material possessions. We performed the coin toss, and the husband won.

“What is your first choice?” I asked the husband as I gripped the phone and stared at the list. What would this greedy man pick? I scanned the list, and thought that it would be a toss-up between the television set and the stereo equipment.

“I can have ANYTHING I want from the list?,” the husband asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” I said, and prepared myself to write down “television set.”

His answer stunned not only me, but my client and her boyfriend.

“In that case,” the husband said, “I’ll take the family photo album.”

Unbidden, my eyes filled with tears. At that moment, I knew that I had learned a lesson of a lifetime. Perception is everything, and things are not always as they seem. And sometimes, especially back in 1981 when photos were not easily duplicated, a possession really is priceless.