By Jeff J. Horn – Divorce Attorney
Suicide — True Stories
Three Suicide Horror Stories: Divorce Should Not Drive Anyone to Suicide. Guilt, Grief, and Pain Are Normal Reactions. Role of Divorce Lawyer Understands Bad Decision-Making, Inappropriate Conduct. Avoid Litigation Process as Last Resort for Mentally Unstable Spouse. Winning Too Big in Divorce Case Can Doom to Lengthy Litigation. The last thing I want to write about Suicide — True Stories.
My client was a burly, ex-cop turned truck driver. As a truck driver this guy earned over $100,000 per year and yet was always broke. His sophisticated scheme of debt management had created nearly $100k in revolving credit debt. All the debt was at super low interest with one catch — if a single payment was late, the interest rate would skyrocket to 24%! One side effect of divorce is episodic late or missed monthly payments.
When his wife fabricated an incident of domestic violence to the police, he was evicted from the house and his wife took control of bill paying. The magical monthly debt payment was late and the debt management scheme became a consumer debt nightmare. The savior to this disaster was a lawsuit recovery which was due to the client valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars — the problem was the money had been due for years and remained hung up in government red-tape.
The wife wanted the divorce, not Joe. He pleaded with the wife to reconsider. She refused, but in merely talking to him, she enabled him to maintain the delusion that there was hope of a reconciliation. In a desperate act to gain sympathy and attention from his wife and children and to end his own misery — Joe plunged a seven-inch long knife into his abdomen — twice. He was hospitalized and released to his brother’s care. The attention got him nowhere with his wife and children, the court, or me. After he recovered he decided that the whole disaster was the fault of the lawyers, so I had to fire the client. I felt bad, but could not subject my office to someone abusive to my staff and willing to carry out outrageous acts to make his point.
Paul was recently divorced from my client Gloria. She was a lovely woman, but she was an enabler. Paul suffered from depression and alcoholism. Paul had been a very successful salesman and exuded salesman charm. After the divorce, his sales slowed to the point where Paul was fired. He staked out my client’s home at a sympathetic neighbor across the street. He called the house and asked my client inappropriate sexual questions about her boyfriend.
Paul frequently called the children (ages 8 and 11) and told them that their mother was a whore and that he wouldn’t be seeing them anymore. One night he staked out the house and drove by several times. Paul called from his cell phone obviously drunk and told my client that she wouldn’t be seeing him again. He drove straight into a large tree at high rate of speed. Paul broke his neck, but he lived.
Glenn was a loser by any measure. Unsuccessful in marriage, as a father, as a wage earner and as a bill payer, Glenn resorted to alcohol to soothe his ills. One night he went out to the boardwalk arcades at a seaside resort with his 8-year old daughter in tow. My client, Margaret, was confident that Glenn would not drink with his daughter present. He headed straight for the bar and consumed enough alcohol to earn a driving while intoxicated charge. That incident was the last of many and Margaret came to me for a divorce. Negotiations went smoothly for a while — plans centered on what to do with the marital home and how to maintain the children.
Glenn came to feel like he was getting screwed and shut down. The bills of the home were being paid by my client’s angelic brother. Without progress and without a dime of child support coming in from Glenn, a support application was filed with court. It was not flattering of Glenn. The hard-edged judge buried Glenn with a high temporary support order, which he never paid it.
Glenn was represented by an attorney who appeared without him at the support hearing. I pleaded with attorney to get control of his client and settle the case. I assured him a better negotiated resolution than the judge’s support order. Glenn never heard my settlement position.
One December afternoon, he left his parents suburban home and went for a walk. His cell phone rang and went to voicemail for about a week. My client and family members scrambled to locate him. Two days before his walk he had cleaned out his work desk and had been fired in the interim for failure to attend work. In March of the following year, a fisherman found the body, which through dental records confirmed Glenn’s fate. The children asked their mother if dad could have done anything to hurt himself. Of course not — he loved his children. Toxicology tests confirmed death by drowning combined with acute alcohol poisoning.
What I have learned from this
These three suicide horror stories played before my eyes during a very short period of time — less than six months. Each suicide or suicide attempt challenged the assumptions of my practice and caused me personal pain for the loss of people that I knew, and associative pain for all of those touched by divorce. Divorce should not drive anyone to suicide. Guilt, grief, and pain are normal reactions to the end of a marriage.
My role is to understand that those emotions underpin much bad decision-making and inappropriate conduct on the part of my client, the opposing client, and adverse counsel. I cannot allow myself or my law practice to enable conduct that results in a bad result for my client or for my client’s children. I will not revel in a court victory that in the long run does not serve the interest of my client and the children.
Lawyers suffer from their competitive flaws and always want to win. An uncollectable win due to a dead payer spouse merely leaves the payee spouse with a bill for legal fees from my brilliant yet empty victory. This is a bizarre truth about divorce lawyering put succinctly by New Jersey super divorce lawyer, Frank A. Louis, Esquire, “You never want to win too big — you will always be back in court”. Regrettably, far too few lawyers get this subtle point and very few clients understand how a huge early victory can doom the case to lengthy litigation rather than an efficient resolution. If your spouse is mentally unstable to start, use the litigation process only as a last resort. The worst result in a case is a narrative about Suicide — True Stories.
NJ Suicide Prevention Resources
Dave the Roofer – Rising above Murder-Suicide to Succeed in Family Law and Fixing Roofs
Thanks to Horn Law Group, LLC intern Noah Hilsdorf.