I recently read a story in a legal publication entitled “The Divorce From Hell.”1 The article reported that the Husband had offered the Wife what he believed was a fair settlement2 but she refused it on the advise of her attorneys that she “could do better.” Thus started a four year battle where the parties paid over $400,000 in attorneys fees and ended up angry and bitter.
How can you stop this from happening to you?
We have an article on our web site entitled “Do I need an Attorney?” under the FAQ section of our website, www.benderlaw.com. I suggest you read it to help understand why it is a good idea to have an attorney help you through the divorce process. Not only does an attorney know the law, but the attorney is your advocate and should be able to point out the strengths and weaknesses of your case without the emotional investment that you have had in your relationship.
But what if, like here, your attorney says you could do better? What if you think you may have been offered a good deal? Should you follow the attorney’s advice? Maybe. Advice should be based on fact, experience, and knowledge. But it should also be tailored to your needs. You need to know why it is that your attorney tells you that you could do better. What should you do?
Be Part of the Divorce Process:
Your attorney is not going to know what is important to you if you don’t tell her what you want.
Ask Questions About the Divorce Process:
If your attorney says “Don’t take this deal you could do better.” Ask why your attorney says that and how you can do better. In the above example, the husband wanted to give the wife monthly funds as alimony. That would reduce the amount by an estimated 30% for taxes if Wife had no other income. Maybe that amount is not really alimony but her share of the marital assets. In that case she is coming out on the short end because she would not have to pay taxes on the divorce settlement but does have to pay taxes on alimony. Maybe she could be happy with that amount as alimony but is entitled to half the property as well.
Make Sure You Provide Documents for the Divorce Process:
Your attorney can’t know whether the other side has made a reasonable offer or a ridiculous offer unless and until the attorney has had the opportunity to review the documents which show your assets and liabilities. For example, Did husband have such a downturn in his business that he borrowed all the house equity during the boom years and now he can’t pay it back and the business is going under? If so, maybe taking the funds as nonmodifiable alimony is a good option. Maybe what the attorney should have said was not that you could get more but that you might get more and that it was too early to know whether it was a good offer until your attorney has had a chance to gather and review all the financial information.
Address Fees for the Divorce Head On:
If your fees are getting out of hand and your attorney seems to want to stick it to your ex at every turn, then it is time to have a meeting with your attorney about what you want or you can afford. I bet there are attorneys in your community who are well known for going for the jugular. You may have gone to your attorney for just that reason. But doing that costs money and time and emotional energy, and the results may or may not be better than another attorney could achieve without the discord. Your spouse may have retained such an attorney and your attorney has to respond to their actions. Ask what the attorney has to do to be able to get the “better deal.” If it will cost you $15,000 to get an extra $100 per month for ten years then it is not worth it to go for the better deal. Factor your future attorney’s fees into the review of any offer.
Look at Your Part in the Divorce Situation:
If you are insisting on a certain thing then you may be tying your attorney’s hands. If you refuse to believe the evidence in front of you, you may be causing your attorney to do more research and proceed to court when such actions are not really necessary. Or your actions may be escalating your bill. If you are calling your attorney all the time, or nit-picking about trivial matters, or changing your mind repeatedly, these actions will be reflected in your bill. If you insist on your attorney taking actions which are time consuming or require research, it will cost you. If you do things on your own which cause the opposing counsel to call with angry reports of your actions, or engage in conduct which could be called rude and inappropriate towards your ex, or you use the children as pawns, or you do certain actions such as filing an action for domestic violence or taking all the money from your retirement account without telling your attorney beforehand, you may be escalating both costs and emotions.
Admit Your Weaknesses to Avoid Inaction:
You may feel overwhelmed. It may paralyze you into inaction. Legal matters and business may be new to you. Maybe you don’t want to make a mistake; or people are telling you all different things and you don’t know what to believe. Maybe you have other things that are taking up a lot of your time. Be honest with your attorney; and the attorney can help you get the help you need. You may need to see a doctor or a counselor, or have a friend help you, or have the firm’s paralegal go through the documents you bring in. If your anger just keeps building, you need to make use of professionals to help you get past the emotional crisis you are in.
Get a Second Opinion for the Divorce Process:
If you get to the point with your attorney that you don’t know who is telling you the right thing, why things are taking so long, or if the information you are receiving is in your best interest, then spend an hour or two of your time with another attorney having the attorney review what’s been done and letting you know if the matter seems to be progressing as it should. Most attorneys do not mind if a client has their matter reviewed by someone else. Sometimes the problems are matters of communication, but sometimes it is something more. Sometimes the attorney you have selected is a fine attorney but a bad fit for you. Sometimes things seem to be mixed up or there seems to be a disconnect somewhere. Find out if there is a problem. Maybe it can be fixed without changing attorneys. If it can’t then get a new attorney, but be aware that any new attorney will have to spend time reviewing all that has happened and everything in the file, and that will have a financial cost to you.
Taking responsibility for your case will allow you to make decisions from a position of knowledge. That doesn’t mean you are going to get everything you want, that there won’t be costs, or emotions, or unhappy choices to be made; but it does mean that you will be able to understand what is happening and why, and that you will be able to make your decisions with all the information you need.