Should I Help Out the Ex?

Bruce Green in The New York Times, June 04, 2010

Media Source

My ex-husband and I could not revise our child-support arrangement ourselves, so we took it to court. At the hearing, my lawyer, a specialist in family law, was better prepared than his, a generalist who made numerous mistakes in preparation and presentation. The hearing officer’s recommendation included several large calculation errors, most in my favor. Each side has 20 days in which to report such errors. Am I ethically obligated to do so? NAME WITHHELD, PENNSYLVANIA

You have no duty to help your husband’s lawyer more adroitly increase your share of child support. Having failed to settle this yourselves, you and he reasonably turned to the courts. In that adversarial arena, each must look out for him or herself. If either has truly inept counsel, it is up to the judge to respond. Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham Law School and director of its Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, said a client’s duty is different from a lawyer’s, but even the lawyer “generally has no professional obligation to correct a mistake that the opposing counsel makes on his own.”

But if the court errs in the form of a bungled order or botched calculation, then you would do well to make sure all parties — your capable lawyer, your ex-husband’s doofus, the court — are aware of it. Green concurs: “Although there is no explicit rule telling the lawyer that he must correct a judge’s miscalculations, many (including me) would say that as an officer of the court, a lawyer must correct a judge’s ministerial error.” Ethical obligations aside, you’ll feel better if you act not only with integrity but with generosity of spirit.

If you want to take an even higher road, you can tell your ex-husband all that you’ve told me. Life is easier when exes, especially exes who share kids, establish amicable relations. If you want to take an even lower road, you can hire a construction company to fill your husband’s car with concrete.

UPDATE: Her ex-husband independently hired a better lawyer who reported the errors. She did not contest them.

My daughter applied to an organization that sends young Jewish adults on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel to promote Zionism. She has no interest in Israel but is eager to study Arabic in Egypt and is using the generosity of this organization to bankroll her round-trip airfare to the Middle East. I think she has crossed an ethical line; she disagrees. You? EDDY, berkeley, calif.

I’m with your daughter: her state of mind is irrelevant. The organizers are eager to give young Jews a personal experience of Israel with the hope that many of them will come to support Israeli policy or at least encourage close ties between that country and theirs. And who knows, maybe they will succeed with your daughter. Not even she can be sure her indifference is unalterable. That’s the whole idea behind the free sample: try it, you’ll like it (maybe). Think of this as the Zionist equivalent of those free Poconos weekends whose sponsors hope to sell you a time-share. Apparently enough people, even those not merely uninterested but passionately anti-Poconos, come around to make this marketing technique worth continuing.

But if you have made your daughter uneasy about her moral reasoning — every parent’s dream — she can eradicate the faint aroma of deceit, of taking this trip under false pretenses, by being candid with the sponsors about her feelings or, more precisely, her lack of feelings. I’m sure they have encountered a wide range of pretrip attitudes. I suspect they will welcome the challenge of giving her a deeper understanding of Israeli life that they believe will alter her views.