What happens during a divorce?
“You give me one, I give you two.” Client quote.
A comfortable smile comes across my face as I share this quote with you. It can mean many things. For my excitable client, it was a strong expression of his desire to give all he could to his soon-to-be ex-wife with sound caveat that his generosity of spirit was tempered by the fact that he needed to be able to live too. Beyond that sound lesson, I hope that giving this book a chance will be a great resource to you. There are concise and accurate books on the emotional, financial, and mechanistic aspects of divorce. Voluminous studies instruct on the impact of divorce’s precious and faultless victims — children. Tens of thousands of lawyers are proficient divorce law practitioners. Thousands of judges and court-staffers disseminate state-sponsored divorce information and decisions. Professionals — accountants, child custody experts and appraisers, just to mention a few – offer sophisticated advice to the divorcing parties.
Still, people are shocked by both the process and the results of divorce. It is the absence of surprise that I endeavor to manufacture, sell, and deliver in my practice, and it is the goal of this book. Surprise is commonly felt during the divorce process — curbing this feeling is critical to the divorcing person and most efficient for the process.
I offer an honest and bare-knuckled view of the divorce process and its players. Within these pages, you will find examples of what actually happens during a divorce, predictable impact, and mental preparation that will enable you to cope with the inevitable posturing that you, your spouse, the lawyers, the professionals, and the judge will take.
My goal is to offer you meaningful insights into the mindset of the people who, besides you, will shape your divorce process and end result. I offer you a bit of that same general framing here. You need to know how to think about your divorce. You need a good result. You need to manage the lawyers and other professionals. This book helps you anticipate the issues that will send you angrily off track and offers targeted solutions to your potential problems.
Prepare yourself to enter the divorce process from the perspective of a divorce lawyer who cares about what the process does to the people.
Whether rich or poor, divorce litigants are hard-working people. I used to work as a laborer on hazardous waste clean-up sites — operating oxygen-acetylene torches, jackhammers, pumps, shovels, and backhoes. I have not forgotten about the toll hard work exacts on you everyday. Adding the divorce process to your day-to-day experience takes an even greater toll.
By the way, I love being a lawyer, detest lawyer bashers, and abhor lawyer-turned-lawyer-bashers. Regrettably, I am the minority among my colleagues and society.
I have directly participated in the lives (cases) of hundreds of divorce clients. Indirectly, through service as a volunteer mediator and law clerk, I have touched the lives of thousands. I use the term “lives” rather than “cases” because it is personal. I take it personally, you take it personally, and to treat you like a “case” and not a human being is arrogant, cold, and contrary to your best interests.
In my practice, I try to combine my real life, non-lawyer experience with the insights gained through the practice of family and divorce law. As a lawyer, you need information about the process and a realistic result based upon the information available. I provide you with a guidebook toward achieving a reasonable and technically sound resolution. I am sensitive to the stress of day-to-day living while enduring the divorce process. By having a sense of what you are going through and a sense of the impact of the divorce process on your life, I provide you with insights that will resound through the book and through your divorce process.
I am a regular guy who survived law school, the bar exam, and family court judicial clerkship. I view every divorce from its worst case and build-up – understanding that the final product will be a contract between the client, the ex-spouse, the children, the extended family, and society. The effectiveness of the contract will be powerfully influenced by the impact of the divorce process on the people going through it. A harsh process will often result in a situation that neither party can live with and ensure relitigation of the divorce case.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi coined the phrase, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”. For you, winning or losing is not an option — in a divorce, there are no winners. The subject matter of your divorce deals with rearing your children, maintaining a decent lifestyle, and going forward with the rest of your life. You cannot “win it” or “lose it”. You have a choice in how you approach the resolution of your marriage and the creation of the roadmap for your future.
Since so few divorces are actually litigated to conclusion, it makes sense to embrace the settlement process early and use the litigation process and settlement process side-by-side rather than pretending that trial is the only option. This approach is not for everybody. I am mindful of the need for some cases to be fully litigated. Many spouses have endured horrible circumstances during the marriage. Many look to the litigation process to make them whole in terms of the result of the case. Litigation is a way for the person to take control over the end of a relationship in which they were unable to exercise any control. The process can serve such a purpose for few, but the process does not measure the amount of control you might anticipate. I urge you to gain control in other ways. This book advocates litigation avoidance.
We all want a good result. Most of us want a peaceful, efficient, cost-effective process. Most of my clients go out of their way to tell me that they “don’t want to hurt” their spouse. This suggests to me a results-oriented approach. Some control will rest with your lawyer, some control will rest with the court, and some control will rest with expert witnesses. Control of the result rests primarily with you and your spouse.
…reduce process anger, exercise self-determination and achieve net-dollar results…
“I’d rather pay you the thirty grand than pay my wife a dime.” Client quote.
A divorce lawyer who fails to inquire about your willingness to become divorced cares not a wit about anything besides the resourcefulness of your cash flow. I have mirrors in my home and office and, hence, cannot operate on this level. I kick a lot of people out of my office because they are not ready for a divorce.
They are in my office because of acute anger from some horrible thing that occurred in the relationship or because the spouse has demanded a divorce without warning. Either way, the client is working on pure adrenalin. If I feed the anger, I become a fellow combatant in the virtual foxhole where my client resides. If I dismiss the anger or ask how the client’s expectations soared beyond reality, I am a traitor who has been bought-off by the system. In either case, I cannot be that person’s lawyer and that person cannot be my client, at least for now. Some will go away and never come back. Many will appear at the courthouse with another lawyer (or many lawyers over the span of many trips to the courthouse). Often, months or even years later, I will bump into the person who apologizes for not listening to me — but I understand. The client was in no frame of mind to objectively look at his or her life and future at the time he or she met me.
Once, a lawyer announced that he was referring me a case and the litigant had been promised a fabulous result and the need for a $100,000 retainer. What this lawyer meant was that I would do all the work (value $5,000 to $15,000) and he would find a way to justify keeping the whole retainer. The client could easily pay this amount, since she was fully financed by family members worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I prepared a memo outlining the scope of work, studying the worst-case scenario and roughly gauging possible economic results. The anticipated legal and accounting fees did not even approach the previously advertised retainer. I had to give this client the truth and reasonable expectation of the process, the result, and cost. We lost the client — she had already been over-promised and I had already under-performed.
I offer advice to prospective divorcers daily. I give them their options. I always ask, “Do you want to get divorced?” The majority answer that they are uncertain or that they wish there was an alternative. I try to make sure that people understand that divorce does not cleanse you of any memory or connection of the marriage or the ex.
After divorce, people with children are stuck with each other for many years. Childrearing is a life-long commitment and you will have to deal with your ex-spouse. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, communions, and grandchildren could be in the joint future of you and your spouse. If you can survive a rough period and avoid divorce, you may be able to look with great joy into the future of your family. Once you are sure that it will not work and decide to divorce, use your brain to make a series of good decisions.
…reduce process anger, exercise self-determination and achieve net-dollar results…
For help with your divorce here in Tom’s River, give us a call today.