Ten Family Court Lessons from The Walking Dead
Ten Legal Lessons from AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead
By M. J. Goodwin
I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead (TWD). Sunday nights at my house have some pretty basic rules. Get ready to watch TWD. No talking during TWD. But now that Season Four has come to its inevitable conclusion, I have had time think about it and have realized that much of what we learn from TWD can be applied to Family Court litigation. Here are ten lessons you can apply to your contested divorce or custody litigation.
- Teamwork matters. Communication matters. You and your lawyer are a team. Much like Rick, Carl and Michonne, after the prison and on the road to Terminus, you must work together to defeat the enemy or solve any survival problems. If you are not brutally honest with your divorce lawyer and if you don’t follow your divorce lawyer’s instructions, you cannot expect to prevail. You can expect to lose. And just like in TWD, a loss is something potentially devastating for the rest of your life.
- Plan. You must have a plan. I continue to be amazed at people who come to my office with no idea in their heads as to what they want to accomplish short of “get a divorce.” If you don’t have a plan for where you will live, how you will pay your bills, how you will raise your children, then you can’t expect much in the way of a ruling that pleases you. You have to think and plan, just like Glenn on a run into Atlanta, if you want to make it through Family Court. You really need more than one plan. It is always good to plan for as many options as possible.
- Sometimes it is okay to be selfish. If you are starving and you come across 112 ounces of chocolate pudding, eat it like Carl did. If there is something that really matters to you in Family Court litigation, ask for it! Litigate for it if need be.
- Resolve your differences if you can, but fight if that is what you have to do. Rick tried to resolve his differences with the Governor, but that failed, so they had to fight. Now that fight was not well planned, so Rick lost that fight. See how the lessons tie together?
- There has to be some sort of structure and rules in any society. We see this again and again in TWD. Even the “Marauders” had rules of “claim” it. Their band was a brutal group, but it had a structure that worked for them; until they came upon a group with better teamwork and communication. So the Rules of Evidence and the Rules of Civil Procedure are there to protect you. Use them to your advantage. Also, notice how others use the rules. Rick learned from the walkers and bit Joe in the jugular. Rick won that battle.
- Sometimes you have to do very hard things, especially in the best interest of a child, in order to move on. Lizzie’s death was a controversial episode. But Carol did what had to be done. She could not protect Judith in any other way. Family Court litigation is much the same way. Sometimes things have to be brought out that are unpleasant for everyone involved. But the information is necessary for the correct decision to be made.
- Celebrate small victories. The core team on TWD is pretty good at this. We have seen them around camp fires, at the prison and even on the road, enjoying each other’s company and being human. When they found the prison, they were elated. Even though there was a lot of work that had to be done. All too often, people in the midst of divorce focus too much on the pain and not enough on how life continues all around them.
- Simple can be best. Just as a hammer or a crowbar are the most effective weapons against zombies, so can a simple approach to a Family Law matter be the best approach. Keep to the basics. Don’t make your theme too complicated. Focus on the goal. Using a machine gun on zombies is also effective, but it costs a lot of ammo and makes too much noise. It is more complicated and can make more problems. Using too many interrogatories or objecting too much at trial can have similar effects. Simple observation can also be very important. Think about Rick observing that pocket watch and riot gear in the season finale. He sure learned a lot from it.
- Surprise can be your friend. In Anderson, it takes well over a year to get a contested divorce through court. During that time, people want to bring up every little thing that happens with opposing counsel. This is a natural thing to want to do, as it brings a more immediate sense of relief. However, if there has not been extensive discovery, sometimes surprise is an incredible weapon at trial. Just as Rick has used surprise to his advantage over and over, so should a Family Court litigant. Surprise attacks require patience. And litigants are often short on patience.
- Find everyday joy in the midst of chaos. This is sort of like celebrating small victories, but focuses more on life, than on victories (which require some battle). Think of Michonne and Carl balancing on the railroad tracks and then sharing a candy bar. Think of Carol and Tyreece and how they enjoyed the pecans at the farm house that they found. Now is really all we have. Focus on enjoying it.
Now I am not suggesting that your ex-spouse is anything akin to a zombie. But then again, The Walking Dead is NOT about the zombies.