Divorce Law

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Divorce Law

Even a contested divorce should not cost you two arms and two legs!

Granted, the expression is “it should not cost you an arm and a leg,” but I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the final invoice from the person sitting across from me at the conclusion of divorce case (when they are coming to see me about filing for bankruptcy since they are now knee deep in debt) and have thought to myself, wow, what in the world was involved in this divorce case?! Why does the docket have 168 pleadings and 13 hearings. What happened here?

 All too often I have been told by prospective bankruptcy clients that they have spent $40,000, $60,000 or even six figures to get divorced. It should not have to be this way! Your legal fees should not afford your divorce attorney the chance to put down a sizable downpayment on a nice beach house. Nor should you have to drain your retirement account or go into serious debt just to get divorced. All too often, these prospective bankruptcy clients could have achieved the same result had they taken a different approach to getting divorce, had they been informed of the likely outcome of the divorce proceeding no matter how aggressive they were choosing to be, while at the same time spending a fraction of the legal fees that they paid to their former divorce attorney.

Here is my approach to those living in Northern Virginia who need to get divorced, maintain their dignity, pay a reasonable amount of legal fees, and get a fair resolution to their case:

  • Do not agree to paying me by the hour. Do not agree to putting down a $10,000 retainer and billing you at a rate of $400 per hour. That is a recipe for disaster. Instead, suggest to me that I take on your case on a flat fee basis, and that you pay me additional money every few months if the case has not settled. This way you know what you are getting into at the outset, there is no “sticker shock” when I ask you to replenish the retainer -as all divorce attorneys eventually do- and I am motivated to reach a reasonable settlement on your behalf, rather than billing by the hour. I will elaborate more when we meet.
  • Unless you really have to, do not file for a contested divorce. And if you really have to go down this road resist the urge to get nasty and remember that “restraint is the better part of valor.” While it may seem cathartic to “get back on your spouse” by accusing him of adultery, cruelty, or desertion, the fact of the matter is that filing such a complaint for divorce, and alleging all the inflammatory and embarrassing facts that go into supporting your fault-based ground for divorce only adds fuel to the fire and sets the stage for a very contentious divorce. At that point “it is on” as the kids like to say.

What does the other spouse do once they are served with this type of complaint for divorce? What does the husband do when he is accused of being a no-good SOB who is entirely at fault for ruining the marriage? Two things. First, he finds a way to get his hands on a whole bunch of money, and then secures himself a real “pit bull” of a divorce attorney to fight back. And once that happens, we are off and running. All gloves are off. It is now a bloodbath. You now spend 15 months of your life in circuit court while your divorce attorneys files countless motions, you spend countless hours with your divorce attorney responding to discovery, and in the end you attend a two-day trial involving thirteen different witnesses such as your friends, family members, and work colleagues. You are now exhausted and drained, and finally divorced.  

And what do you get for all of your efforts of “getting back at that lousy husband of yours” instead of filing for an uncontested divorce after six or twelve moths of separation? What do you get for failing to come to the table and execute a reasonable property settlement agreement? What do you get for not sitting down for an afternoon with a mediator and hashing things out with your spouse?

Well, you get a really big legal bill from your divorce attorney, a realization that you have spent way more on legal fees than you realized while “you were in it,” and the further realization -long after the dust has settled- after speaking to an old friend of yours from high school that you could have achieved more or less the same result had you tried a more “diplomatic approach.” And to add a level of irony, the divorce judge decided to grant you a divorce on no-fault grounds since it is simply easier to do it that way.

  • Divorce should not be about “getting back at your spouse.” Divorce should not be about settling “old scores.” Divorce should not be about vengeance. Divorce is about business, and should be approached in that way. Divorce is about realistically, with the assistance of your divorce attorney, figuring out what you are entitled to under the law (as opposed to what you feel you deserve to get) and setting out a plan to get it without leading to World War III breaking out with your spouse.

What do I mean about realistically entitled to under the law? I mean having an understanding that no matter how expensive your divorce lawyer is, how much grey hair he or she may have, and how respected and feared that divorce attorney is in the community, there are great limits to what they can achieve. By limitations I mean you are not getting full custody of your children if your wife that has been home with the kids for the past five years ever since quitting her job. By limitations I mean you cannot cut off his visitation rights just because he is a jerk and has a bad temper. Unless he is a convicted felon or a well-known drug-dealer he is getting visitation, at least every other weekend, with his children. By limitations I mean no matter how many times your spouse committed adultery, and even if you want to spend a small fortune proving it in court you can’t just keep all the equity in the marital home that has been built up over the last 20 years. Nor will you get his entire pension or other assets of his. You will get half, or maybe a little more than half.  That’s the law. Know the limitations.

  • I get it, it takes two to tango when it comes to divorce. I can preach about the benefits of uncontested divorce, and one that never sees the inside of a courtroom until the cows come home, but if your soon to be ex is determined to wage war by filing a ten-page complaint for divorce based on numerous fault grounds, and is seeking everything under the sun there is not much that you can do right? At that point, all bets are off, right? Wrong!

Just because they are out for blood does not mean that you have to respond in kind. There is no need to respond in similar fashion by filing a counter-claim for divorce that also alleges a fault ground for divorce. This is the time to simply deny most of the allegations in the divorce, let cooler heads prevail, and to see if the other side is open to a reasonable settlement. After all, that is what is best for you, the client. My job is to de-escalate the situation, not to escalate it. My job is to get your divorced in the least painful and expensive way possible. My job is not to try to impress you by ripping him/her to pieces.

  • Don’t confuse my kindness with weakness. Up until now my approach would have you thinking that I am Ghandi, or perhaps Mother Theresa. I assure you that is not the case. I understand that there are limits to diplomacy. I understand that sometimes the spouse with a stronger economic footing that has more to lose economically will go to see a divorce attorney who will prepare a property settlement agreement that is one-sided and that you will be gently pressured into signing it. I understand that you may be a stay at home mom, or may be earning only $50,000 per year and that you need financial assistance now, as opposed to a year from now.

 In these situations, particularly when you do not know much about your spouses’ finances, you need to get his attention rather quickly and send a strong message that you know what you are entitled to under the law and that you will not be treated like a patsy. In this case you quickly file a complaint for divorce, issue discovery to your spouse so that you can learn about his finances, and file a motion for pendente lite relief so that the judge can order to him to start paying you child support, spousal support, and perhaps give you exclusive use of the marital home. After a few months, when reality has set in for the spouse trying to take advantage of you we can start talking settlement.

          So, to state it succinctly, what is my approach? It is to speak softly and carry a big stick, and only use that stick if I really have to!

          If you like my approach and are considering divorce or have been served with a complaint for divorce, please call my office.

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