Mind Your Divorce Case

You consult an attorney. You retain him/her. You give him/her a braindump of all the pertinent facts about your case. You bring him/her all the financial documents that he/she asked you for. He/she gives you some instructions about additional requirements you must fulfill. You fill out a bunch of paperwork. When you walk out of the attorney’s office, you leave the case in your attorney’s expert hands. Now you wait for him/her to tell you when it’s over. Right?

A lot of people seem to think so. But, in most cases: wrong, bad idea. Perhaps, unfortunately so. But, nonetheless: wrong, bad idea.

These days, it can be an enormous mistake to follow the “blind faith” path described in the opening paragraph of this post, even if it seems to be OK with your lawyer, perhaps especially if it seems to be OK with your lawyer.

Your case is your case. Would you leave it to your criminal lawyer to enter a “surprise-me” plea and tell you what it was after he/she entered it? Would you leave it to your criminal lawyer to try your case and let you know how it turned out afterward? Of course not.

Is custody of your children less important? Or visitation? How about support of your children? What about support for yourself or your spouse? And who gets the house? Who’ll pay the debt? Or dealing with the history of abuse by one spouse? Etc., etc.

While the arguably happy mis-perception of a no-muss, no-fuss divorce may be tempting during the early phase of your case, in some (if not most) cases, if you haven’t been minding your case from the get-go, your pleasant bubble of euphoria may eventually burst – expensively, loudly and gruesomely – leaving behind a lot of damage that cannot be undone easily, maybe not at all.

The process of divorce can vary dramatically from case to case, depending, in part, on the spouses and their respective attorneys. The process can affect the legal results in the case.

Just as importantly, it can affect the emotional outcome of the case, the quality of the post-divorce relationships of ex-spouses, co-parents and children. Make no mistake: it is you and your family who will have to pick up the pieces – alone, after the lawyers move on to their next cases, sadly, often without a backward glance.

It is important to determine at your initial consultation whether the attorney you will be retaining views the case as the lawyer’s case or as the client’s case. This will tell you a lot about the likely process of your divorce – and whether you want a particular attorney to be the one helping you to shape the process of your divorce case.

One extreme case going on right now. Long term marriage. Couple’s behavior indicates that they have not totally given up on being a couple and a family. I mention the possibility of reconciliation frequently to my client, the husband.

Wife’s lawyer embarks on a legal crusade, an expensive crusade, pouring oil on the couple’s still-flickering flames. Not unpredictably, wife has second thoughts about reconciling.

I suggest to the husband that he and his wife consider a “stay” (or hold) in the case for a while, so they can concentrate on trying to reconcile without having to deal with the “bad blood” being aroused by what had quite unnecessarily (in this case) turned into a legal battle. The couple agrees.

I contact wife’s lawyer to get his written agreement to a stay. Amazingly, wife’s lawyer rejects the stay, while acknowledging that couple is talking reconciliation.

Since, surprisingly, it is necessary, I push harder on Wife’s lawyer to agree to the stay, without having to waste time and money on taking it to the judge. Knowing he will lose this one, he grudgingly relents and agrees to a 30 day stay – providing that he be allowed to file one motion during the stay. Husband agrees.

While the parties are trying to reconcile, wife’s lawyer’s serves not an ordinary motion but a nasty (and completely unnecessary) motion. Wife tells husband that she instructed her lawyer to take out the nasty parts of the motion, but she guesses “he couldn’t help himself”.

Thirty days goes by. Reconciliation is still on track. I so advise Wife’s lawyer and request an extension of the stay.

Again, Wife’s lawyer refuses. However, Wife’s lawyer drops part of his crusade. But he replies that Wife is anxious to proceed with divorce. News to me.

I relay to client, and wife and husband speak again. Husband reports that wife never told her lawyer that she wanted to proceed with the divorce, only that she wanted to continue the stay.

Remarkably, this is still going back and forth. Unfortunately, Wife didn’t give any thought to the process of her divorce back at the beginning, Wife is overly-deferential to her overzealous attorney – and Wife’s attorney views the case as his case and views his client as little more than a chess piece for him to push around his game board.

But the couple is still working on reconciling.

I can take care of wife’s mis-guided attorney and his questionable tactics. It’s just sad that it’s necessary. And that the family has to pay for it.

Mind your case. And avoid what is happening to this family – and many other families – where one of the parties drops the ball and doesn’t mind their case.