Divorce can be expensive, especially in a state like California. Most people point the finger at the lawyers – they’re expensive and they charge for everything (calls, emails, research). In fact, in California, Divorce is big business. In preparation for a training I was going to do on move-away cases (where one parent wants to move with the child, usually out of state, but far enough to interfere with the other parent’s time with the children), I asked a divorce litigator why the courts and lawyers don’t recommend that parents in such cases work with a family therapist first. I do it regularly and have seen how it helps my clients move efficiently through their divorce, rather than being tied up for years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a contested court battle. In fact, most judges prefer when parents are working with therapists; so, what’s the resistance? After some back and forth about confidentiality in therapy and giving people their day in court, my colleague got down to brass tacks: Diana, at the end of the day, move aways are big money-makers.
I wonder how most parents would feel about the advice their lawyer is giving them if they knew that this is part of the equation. But let’s be honest – Lawyers are not the issue here. At a time of already heightened emotions and conflict, it’s empowering when a lawyer tells you “You’re right!”, “we’re going to fight for you”. In fact, if they told you, hey, what you’re proposing can be really damaging to your child’s relationship with you as well as with the other parent and can also impact your child’s future relationships; maybe you and your co-parent should work with a therapist, see if you can work through some of the emotions, maybe help you both with communication; yeah, you’d probably move on to the next lawyer, right? Until you got the answer you liked. Most people in a conflict situation do not want to be told “work with a therapist”. The response I often get when I recommend a divorce coach is “I’m not the crazy one, she is!”
I’ve written before on the value of the divorce coach in collaborative and mediation processes, but recently, a colleague shared a story that put it all into stark perspective. I’d been following a thread on a local bar online list serve. An attorney was asking about separate vs community property based on the following facts: Husband and Wife married 20+ years, net income well over $500K per year, Husband frustrated with Wife’s spending during much of that time, purchasing high end purses, accessories, clothing, etc., spending about $250K on such items that were worth approximately $500K at the time of the divorce filing. Everything was purchased during the marriage and at the time of the divorce Wife tries to claim these items as her separate property. This started a lively discussion among the lawyers on the list serve, as well as one judge. Then one lawyer shared a story about a case he had thirty years ago:
I was representing a husband whose wife was being unreasonable. Whatever husband said he wanted as to furnishings and furniture in the home, whether it be a coffee table or whatever, wife said she couldn’t live without. Finally, husband said he couldn’t take it anymore and he wanted the 35” silver serving tray which had sentimental value to him. Wife said she wanted the silver serving tray. Husband became irate and said no deal unless he got the silver serving tray. As negotiations continued, husband offered that wife could have all of the remaining furniture and furnishings so long as he got the silver serving tray, but she would have to pay and agree to husband’s numbers on other assets. She agreed. The upshot was that she paid about $100K over what she was initially proposing which was a lot back then. She did get all of the furniture and furnishings, which were not worth anywhere near $100K, and husband got the silver serving tray. The case then settled.
About a year later, I got a call from husband. He had a secret and asked if he could tell me, and I could not tell anyone because of the attorney-client privilege. I said sure. He then told me that there never was a 35” silver serving tray, knowing she would want that too. He made it up.
This is why we work to manage emotions and communication first. Divorce is NOT just a business transaction to end a marriage. There is so much more involved. To think otherwise is denying the very piece that can make this transition so expensive. So, before you blame the lawyers, consider what you can do to help you stay focused and make reasoned legal and financial decisions moving forward. Better to prepare and make good decisions than to be fear or other emotion-driven and create more regrets.