Turn the other cheek!

Posted Sunday, August 21st, 2011 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Litigation Strategy, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public

As a Jew I don’t believe in Christ’s divinity; however, I certainly believe in his wisdom.

Perhaps the wisest of Christ’s counsel: Turn the Other Cheek.  Matthew 5:39.  It’s a lesson many family law litigants, most of whom proclaim themselves to be Christians, would be wise to keep in mind.

In my years of family law practice, I have developed a tremendous admiration for the power of this advice to end interminable conflicts.  Turning the other cheek is a wise course no matter how the other party reacts.

Sometimes the other party will respond to the cheek-turning by stepping back, reflecting, and seeking a way to end the conflict.  This is obviously the ideal.  Short of outright victory or defeat, few conflicts resolve without one party or the other taking the step of making peace.  Turning the other cheek is often the necessary step on this path.

However, there are certainly times when the other party responds to turning the other cheek by continuing the figurative slapping.  Here the benefits of continuing to turn the other cheek are subtle but no less valid.  First, most family court litigants want dignity and equipoise as much as they want victory.  Taking the moral high road by turning the other cheek and disengaging from the continued conflict allows one this dignity and peace even if it doesn’t resolve the conflict.

The second benefit is strategic.  Observe two people fighting and it’s hard to determine which one was the instigator or whose behavior is worse.  All that outsiders observe is two people fighting.  It’s no different for family court judges: let them see two people taking turns attacking the other and all they see is two people fighting.  It’s hard for a judge to know whether and how to intervene in such disputes.

But by turning the other cheek, one turns a fight into an unprovoked attack.  Outsiders, such as the family court judge, no long see two people fighting: they see one party attacking the other.  It’s much easier to know whether and how to intervene in such situations and it’s human nature to come to the aid of the party being attacked.  By continuously turning the other cheek one greatly increases the chance that the family court will come to one’s aid rather than throwing up its proverbial hands and saying “a pox on both your houses.”

When given the counsel to turn the other cheek, my clients often complain that they have already done so and then challenge me as to how many times they should be expected to do so in the face of the opposing party’s intransigence.   Jesus provides the answer to that demand too.  In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus “how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me.” Jesus answers, “seven times seventy.”  Matthew 18:22.

Given the math skills of ancient Israelites–I assume few of his listeners could count to 490–I interpret this answer as meaning there is no reason to stop turning the other cheek.  This is wise counsel throughout life but especially in family court.

4 thoughts on Turn the other cheek!

  1. Van says:

    Sounds good in theory. Maybe you should explain to judges that there are those in court that are turning the other cheek. I haven’t seen judges recognize this but at least clients can have some peace of mind.

    1. Van-

      Judges sometime see it when one party turns the other cheek and the other continues to “slap.” This is a verbatim quote from a judge in which my client employed this strategy:

      It was my original intention to speak to both of you, as I have done in a few other cases, and to plead with you to put your personal differences aside for the benefit of your children. Although I don’t feel this is appropriate in most cases, when there are minor children involved, I sometimes feel compelled to address the parties in the hopes that I may be able to open their eyes to the harm they are causing their children. In the few cases where I have done this, I generally tend to avoid singling out one party as being primarily at fault for their conduct, instead focusing on things that both would agree upon, that their children love both of them, and their children want them to be able to get along.

      This was my original intention, for both of you have clearly acted selfishly, out of spite, and with the intent of causing as much pain as possible to the other party. However, in reviewing the current affidavits, I believe that there has been a pattern over the last few years of conduct, primarily by [father], which is clearly contrary to the best interests of these children.

      Although both of you have made poor decisions in the past, the most recent problems have come about due to [father’s] continuing efforts to ‘win’, regardless of the effect it has on [the children].

  2. Jenny Moser says:


    Thank you for this. I feel like this summer’s heat has had its effect on family law cases across the board this year. I feel as if this lesson can’t be “preached” enough whether it’s to clients, their families, or other attorneys. While it’s true the process is slow and the remedies in family court sometimes cannot come quick enough, the behind-the-scenes jabs that litigants throw at each other can so easily unravel all the progress that is being made through the court process. That effect is in the best interests of no one.

  3. In our practice, Erin K. Urquhart and I have a policy that out client does not testify to negative facts about the other party, either in affidavits at the temporary hearing or live at the final hearing. That does not mean that I cannot prove negative facts through cross-examination of the adverse party or the adverse party’s witnesses. We have found this to be a winning trial strategy.

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