Family law requires much more than a lawyer’s technical skills
The way the professional handles a client’s emotion and their knowledge about psychology and anthropology is what sets them apart
Anyone who thinks criminal law cases are too distressing has never worked with family law. The lawyer in this specialty will have to deal without exception with people’s emotional issues and will encounter clients with a lot of bitterness, resentment, and animosity. Cases of father and son fights, parental alienation or sibling rivalry which, more often than not, are driven by financial gain.
According to Ana Cláudia Scalquette, a lawyer and professor at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie with over 20 years in the field, a professional in this line of work needs to have a humanitarian spirit with the understanding of people and their imperfections combined with sensitivity in their practice.
“When you have a business problem, you get angry, you go to protection agencies, file a lawsuit, go home and sleep. However, when your problem is with family law, where it is your own relatives on the other side, the problem stays with you during the morning, afternoon, and night,” Ana Cláudia says.
The lawyer says that one of the most memorable moments of her career was working on the divorces that followed the case of doctor Roger Abdelmassih and the possible exchange of genetic material.
“While the women did not want to know if the biological material was their own, in general the men could not live with this doubt. So, what could I do? It ended up destroying several families,” she regrets.
Profile and Most Recurrent Issues
According to Scalquette, the most common lawsuits in this area are related to inheritance disputes between siblings who do not get along well or where the father ends up protecting one at the expense of the other, as well as fights at the end of a marriage and the issue of children’s custody and alimony.
“This profession is not built for those with a competitive streak because the main objective here is maintaining a friendly nature,” she says.
For Euclides de Oliveira, an expert in the field, professionals who choose family law must also enjoy private, civil, criminal and estate law. A knowledge of tax and corporate law also helps you stand out.
“It has to be seen as a vocation because we are essentially dealing not with money, but with emotions and the feelings tied to divorce litigation, child custody and paternity investigation. Professionals must have knowledge of psychology to better understand what happens in these cases,” he says.
Cássio Namur, a lawyer at the law firm Tortoro, Madureira & Ragazzi Advogados, adds the importance of studying different subjects such as sociology and anthropology to put oneself in the situation of other people.
“It is necessary to have a more humanistic vision, to understand the sociological reality and not just memorize the law. In life, no two cases are the same. It is not possible to eliminate complexities. Each case is an individual issue and each situation requires its own solutions,” he says.
In addition, Oliveira says that it is necessary to try to achieve peace between the parties in order to “whenever possible, reach an agreement.”
Family law is taught in colleges as part of civil law. So, in order to have a specialization, Namur says that the best way is to follow specialization course or obtain a master’s degree or PhD.
In Scalquette’s view, a specialization course is important but the most significant improvements are made over time.
“The ability to talk and to make the parties understand their actions goes beyond a specialization course, beyond theory,” she says. According to her, being among strong professionals and remembering that each case can teach a lesson is essential.
Today, socio-affective relationships are valued even more, which is to say that there are no differences between biological and socio-affective children. According to Namur, this is made possible by the new concept of family.
“Before, it was just a father, a mother and the children. Today we have two fathers, two mothers, children of different relationships, homo-affection, and even polyaffectivity, when there is a relationship of more than two people who identify as family members. There is no legal judicial recognition, but extrajudicial and estate repercussions,” he continues.
Equating Steady Union with Marriage
According to Euclides de Oliveira, Brazil has evolved considerably regarding the issue of estate law, mainly because it recognizes the right of partners, of a steady union. “Since 1988, the steady union has been recognized as a family entity, when the partner started to have inheritance rights,” he says.
Two years ago, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) dealt with the issue in a trial with general repercussion determining that the difference between a partner and a spouse in the inheritance is not constitutional.
Besides, the STF also recognized that the same rule applies to homosexual relationships. “Today, same-sex marriage is admitted. It is a big step that undoubtedly modernizes and dignifies people within the concept of family,” says Euclides.
Ricardo Chamon, from Chamon Santana Advogados (CSA), states that the number of litigation cases involving family businesses increased, which has made estate planning one of the main lawsuits of the business.
“In the past, when it came to family law, we thought only of disputes between heirs and divorcees. But as Brazil went through a phase of growth and development, several families became rich bringing about some concerns about inheritances. Before, only large groups worked with this,” he explains.
According to Chamon, estate planning is a long process, especially because it is something that entrepreneurs go through only once in their lives. He also believes that the most complex situation is to identify what exactly is sought from the estate.
Chamon gave the example of a wealthy family in which the father builds his assets and has three children, two of whom do not want to be members. “It is necessary to conduct a psychological study of the client to understand the content and not the form: what the parents expect, what they would like to do with the assets and everything else. It takes a while to get a feel for the family culture, design estate models and scrutinize people’s assets.”
For the lawyer, four steps must be followed:
1-) In-depth discussion with the entrepreneur about possible scenarios. Definition of premises.
2-) Model design, contractual, civil and corporate issues.
3-) Discussion with the family, awareness of the heirs.
4-) Timetabled implementation plan and preparation of a will.