The type of attorney you hire for your divorce can make a drastic difference in how your divorce ultimately resolves. But you can’t choose the right kind of attorney unless you have chosen the right approach. People who are reactive and want to do everything they can to hurt their spouse for all the pain they caused during the marriage are likely to hire attorneys who tell them what they want to hear, how they can cause the most hurt possible. Often times this means spending a lot of money to delay things and ultimately achieve nothing.
The typical way this occurs is when an attorney immediately starts off their work on a case by sending out formal discovery, as soon as the case has been filed. This means stacks and stacks of paperwork asking the other spouse to disclose things. But if the other spouse is represented by a similarly aggressive attorney, she will respond with a bunch of objections and the discovery will escalate into motions to compel, a way to get the other side to respond to the discovery questions by asking the judge to force them after they have refused to do so.
These same attorneys often assume that they can’t negotiate with the other spouse to get them to do what they want but instead want to have the courts force them to do what they want. This is the wrong approach for a number of reasons. First of all, when someone is forced into an outcome that they did not have a part in shaping, they aren’t going to be very likely to follow the court’s orders. This leads many of these same attorneys to file contempt motions to ask the judge to force them to follow the order, threatening them with fines and possible jail time if they don’t comply. The contempt process is so costly that it can cost more to force someone to follow the order than it did to get the judge to make the order you wanted in the first place. And if you are trying to get your spouse to pay child support, they aren’t going to pay much when they are in prison because you forced them to comply with the order, one of the results you may achieve if your attorney successfully files a contempt motion.
Second of all, this approach ultimately only benefits the attorney who suggests it. The attorney, who likely is billing by the hour, $200-300 per hour, will charge tens of thousands of dollars to fight all of these battles. Some clients will gladly pay the $15,000-20,000 at the time because they want to see their spouse suffer. It is greatly frustrating to have your divorce case drag on for years and years. Many of these highly contested divorce cases can take two to three years to complete and in the end if there was any equity in the house, it is now depleted to pay for the attorneys.
Many of these same attorneys aren’t happy simply by getting the order they wanted from the court, they instead choose to make things difficult by fighting over how to draft the order. This is possible because after a hearing rather than a judge presenting the parties with a signed, written court order the judge orders one of the attorneys to prepare the order. Preparing an order should be a relatively quick process in which both attorneys should be fairly able to agree on what was ordered, especially if the judge only made a handful of orders. But attorneys who are of the mindset that they need to fight about everything are not happy simply to get an order but instead require the other attorney to spend hours and hours of back and forth before they can agree on the language of the order. And if you were already shocked by how much money you spent to get that order, be ready to spend another $1,500 to $2,000 per side fighting about what the order says.
If you are reading this and thinking “This is ridiculous, why would anyone spend that much money to get a divorce?” I’m glad because that means you are understanding just how pointless much of this fighting can be. Many of these attorneys are doing everything they can to appear strong because they fear anything which shows themselves as being weak. This has been explored elsewhere in the concept of the Viking of Victim mentality. They convince their clients that being aggressive is important because otherwise the other attorney will walk all over you and you won’t get everything you are entitled to. If you want to read more about this phenomenon then you can read the lengthy article by my colleague Mark Baer, Esq. on the subject.
When thinking about what you deserve, don’t you and your soon to be ex-spouse deserve to have something to show for all the work you put in building a life together other than simply giving all that money to attorneys? Did you work together for all those years paying down your mortgage so that you could pay for divorce attorneys? I expect you put that money away to plan for your retirement, or hoping that you could retire one day rather than working until you can’t find a job because nobody wants to hire you when you turn 75. If you haven’t saved in either of these ways and have little more to split than debts do you really want to go into debt further to pay tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys?
Of course to some extent the aggressive attorney on one side of a divorce can drag the other attorney into the same cycle and you may have no choice other than to respond in kind. This is why it matters so much the type of attorney you hire. An attorney who is focused on reaching the best result for your case with the least involvement of the court system can help you convince your spouse to focus on the positive result you hope to have and maybe even to fire that attorney who is spending all the marital assets recklessly. Even if you and your spouse don’t want to speak to each other very much, your spouse might start to listen when you explain to them what results they are likely to achieve by the current path they are taking. They might have been expecting to receive a portion of the equity in the house and may not have considered how their choices are quickly depleting that.
So what can you do to avoid wasting a ton of money on attorneys fees? Hire an attorney who charges fixed fees for their practice and one who councils his clients to think of things in terms of long term goals rather than short term benefits. Most people who get through with a costly divorce look back on their journey and wish they could have done things differently. They may even wish that someone had told them that there was an option to handle things differently.
I’m here to tell you that there is a better approach to your divorce, one which respects your spouse in the process. My approach is different because I am more interested in helping my clients avoid costly litigation than i am in earning the money that I could if I pushed clients to fight about everything. Not only do a lot of people not have the money that it takes to fight, but I believe that in the long term I will have more satisfied clients if I counsel them towards a mutually beneficial resolution of their case than if I spin the wheels and get them nowhere.
In some cases this different approach can be going to mediation. I often recommend clients attend a private mediation if there are children involved because this ultimately helps minimize the damage done to the children by the fighting described above. All those contested court filings and chest beatings get even more out of hand when fighting over children. Most of those cases turn into a contest to show which parent is the least fit to care for the children. It is no surprise that when those court battles are over and the dust is settled co-parenting and working out small changes to custody agreements is difficult. After all, why would you want to sit down and have a rational conversation with someone who just testified in court about how bad of a parent you are? If you want to read more about the impact divorce has on your children, read my review of the recent book, “Putting Kids First in Divorce” and hopefully this will get you to read that book and see your options.
Even if you don’t care about your own retirement, you care about providing for your children. All parents want their children to be taken care of. You may not want your spouse to get a single penny from you again but your children are always going to be important to you and setting a good example for them so that they don’t repeat your same mistakes is much more important than some petty courtroom battle. You will have more money available to help your children through college or to keep them fed until they turn 18 if you realize the difference it makes when you approach your divorce with the goal of being peaceful.
I would much rather have you keep the money in your retirement accounts for what you saved it for in the first place then have you raid your retirement to pay me to channel your anger into the court system. These days every time you file a request for order with the court you will wait two to three months for a resolution and four or five months longer if one attorney demands a trial. And a trial may take two days of court time but you will also pay your attorney for a minimum of 36 hours of preparatory work for that two days of trial, or $10,000 of preparatory work and $5,000 or more of actual trial. And these are conservative estimates.
I charge fixed fees that cover phases of a case. So if a client hires me for a case I will charge them a fixed amount that does not increase as long as we are able to resolve the case outside of court. That way whenever you are considering fighting things out in court, I will give you an estimate of what I will charge for that segment. If you are considering putting your spouse through a deposition I will explain the costs of this so that it is one of the things you consider before taking that step. In many cases my clients recognize the alternatives they face and choose to compromise rather than fighting for everything in court. Learning to compromise can help you out a great deal when you have to re-visit your child sharing arrangement a few years down the road.
I want my clients to remember me as the attorney who doesn’t change the tone of conversation between them as soon as I get involved. So often people believe that as soon as you hire an attorney all attempts at compromise are off the table and your spouse will hire an attorney to fight back. This is true when an aggressive attorney gets involved in a case but typically when I get involved in a case I push for resolution outside of court. Think about it for a minute, when someone threatens you, the natural response is to fight back. When someone criticizes you, you immediately go on the defensive and want to prove the person wrong. If this sounds familiar it is because you probably have had fights like this during your marriage, maybe even this is part of why you are getting divorced.
Don’t you think it is time that you move beyond the hurt and end your marriage with a tone of respect? You might even learn some communication skills that will make it possible for your next marriage to work out. Because even the most jaded people end up longing for a relationship after they end their marriage, even if they originally vowed never to marry. I can’t give you all the tools you need for making this change in your life but I hope that when I finish representing you in your divorce, I leave you wanting to learn from your mistakes and ready to do things better the next time.
People who hire aggressive attorneys and feel satisfied by the time they spent fighting are going to come into their next relationship with the same approach and probably end up hiring that same attorney again when things don’t work out. That attorney will gladly take their money and encourage them along the way, like the devil on someone’s shoulder telling them to seek vengeance whenever someone hurts them. Wouldn’t it be better if you could forgive your spouse for all the hurt you experienced and learn to accept your role in some of those disagreements? If you can grow in that way, you will be much happier when you retire and actually be able to retire because you didn’t waste your retirement on meaningless fighting.
I am not a therapist but perhaps you will lean the value of consulting with one after you learn to change your perspective through my guidance. If you would rather spend your money fighting over meaningless things in the court, remember what I suggested might happen with that approach and you will see that it got you nowhere. Sometimes you have to learn lessons the hard way before you can accept them but this is one lesson I don’t want you to learn that way because there is a better way.