Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Cost of Divorce

Walking out of a divorce settlement hearing, a client quipped "why are divorces so expensive?"  Without pause he added with a smile "Because they're worth it!"  Not too sure about that one--it's like asking if heart surgery was worth the pain?  Divorce may become unavoidable, but no one pays to play by choice.

Divorce comes at a high price and with an equally high price tag.  The emotional torment to the couple and their families can't be quantified.  A once loved and trusted partner is now the source of immeasurable torment. A happy and secure child sees his world torn asunder.  In the midst of this mayhem, a distraught spouse is expected to navigate the most significant financial transaction of her life.  Uncertainty reigns.  Now it's time to hire a lawyer?

So why do thirty percent of the population chose dissolve their marriages and why do they pay so dearly?  It's because a divorce is multiple claims rolled into one, each of which requires a separate resolution by parties who are in the midst of mental warfare.  If Fido nips a passing ankle, the issue is simple and the liability absolute.

When there's a certainty of recovery, (and insurance coverage) law firms take cases on a contingent fee basis, with no "up front" cost to the plaintiff.  State bar associations do not allow the same investment arrangements in divorce actions. 

"Divorce" loosely defines many complex issues above and beyond the dissolution of marriage.  It's never simple. Where will the children live?  What's the parenting plan going to look like?  How much child support will be paid?  Where will junior go to school?  Will spousal support be paid?  Medical insurance?  What's the value of the family business?  Who pays the attorney fees?  Is a financial expert necessary?  Are there hidden assets?  Abuse?  What about creditors?  The IRS?  The list is nearly endless. 

Family law is like a fingerprint--no two cases are alike. 

Family lawyers charge an hourly rate against a retainer which is used up at that per hour rate.  The price varies by experience and locality.  The State Bar of Michigan periodically publishes an Economics of the Law study based on surveys of practitioners sorted by practice and region.  This help a potential litigant get an idea of average costs per county.

With lawyers one gets what one pays for, so be careful when bargain shopping.  It's about communication during the process and a reasonable outcome.

Discount lawyers can cost dearly in the long run. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ten Things Your Lawyer Will Never Tell You

Lawyers are all about full disclosure.  We operate in a world of discovery where very little is off limits.  Yet there are some things that your attorney may not be telling you. 

Experienced lawyers are like surgeons.  You don't always get a blow by blow account of the process.  Except in surgery the patient isn't usually wide awake. 

Here's some insight that isn't always verbalized:

1.  There are no guarantees. There are too many variables: the judge, the opponent, how much the other side wants out, and how much each is willing to spend.  If a lawyer seems overly confident in her promises and bluster--be on guard.  It may be solely to charm that retainer right out of your checkbook.  Ask for those promises in writing.  It won't happen.

2.  We get nervous too.  There's often a lot at stake.  Acknowledging the immensity of the issue at hand and the impact any outcome would have on your family is a positive attribute. 

3.  We don't always have the answers.  The key is knowing where to find them or who to call. Sometimes the best answer is "I'll get back to you."

4.  This is gonna take a long time.  Lawyers manage multiple cases in various jurisdictions and often have little control over their own schedules.  Judges acquire thousands of new cases each year.  Still, everyone gets out of the system--eventually. 

5.  The system isn't perfect.  But it's the best there is.  The alternative is inputting the data into a computer, or a slot machine for that matter, and then pulling down that handle...  at least you'd know right away. 

6.  Sometimes it's personal.  Lawyers don't always leave their personal feelings on the courthouse steps.  If it feels like the lawyers are fighting more than the litigants, it's time to lay down swords for a reality check.  Counselor grudge matches only bump up the fees. 

7.  The size of your army doesn't always matter.  The most expensive suit doesn't always get his way.  Preparedness and understanding of the law normally prevails. 

8.  Justice isn't blind.  That judge is watching you in the courtroom!  One eye roll or snicker can cost a litigant the winning point.  Dress like you're going to church.  If the issue is how much you are able to pay, remove the gold chains and Rolex.  Spit out your gum.  Otherwise the clerk may be handing you a tissue right in front of your delighted opponent.

9.  Litigation can be harmful to your health.  I've stepped out into the waiting room, not recognizing a client I saw two weeks hence.  Folks may go on the de-vorse diet, which means either they're not eating or burning up calories in anxious energy, or they may be drowning their sorrows with carbs.  Whatever it is, it's usually temporary--except that new hairstyle.  Those sideburns your wife hated?  You can grow those puppies down to your chin if you like!

10.  Pay attention.  You're paying for our advice--at a hefty price.  My momma always said "you can't learn anything when your mouth is open--except the soup is hot!"

The best tool in your tool belt during this tough time? A realistic outlook and an understanding of the human factor in litigation.

Related articles:

Why Is My Divorce Taking So Long?

Who Gets the Harley?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Borderline Crazy -- How to Divorce a Narcissist and Survive

In a room full of divorce lawyers the subject of subspecialties came up.  I half-jokingly offered up "borderline personalities."  The knowing nods from the rest of the room confirmed I was not unique.  It's not an easy (nor uncommon) occurrence in our line of work. 

Borderline personalities of various degrees are common in high conflict litigation.

Understand that for the borderline, it's truly all about the ride.  These empty souls feed on the fight. 

Healthy minded individuals in the throes of litigation eventually realize that the fight is unhealthy and it's time to move on.  Borderlines have nowhere to go.  Any attention, even via costly litigation, beats the anxiety that accompanies peaceful existence.

The lawyer's challenge is twofold--keeping the client spouse calm and nonreactive and staying away from the crazy vortex created by these voracious personalities. 

One client described the moment when he turned to the internet out of desperation.  Robert had been with his wife for nearly two decades. 

Frustrated, Robert turned to "Dr. Google" to explain a wife whose mindset left him perpetually scratching his head.   Finding a "checklist" online, Robert's heart sank deeper as he checked off most of the criteria for Borderline Narcissist.  His first sad truth.

Borderline essentially describes a human being who can be highly functional, but whose ingrained thought process contains elements of full blown mental health characteristics which restrict the ability to feel empathy. 

Therapy doesn't help borderlines.  That was the second sad truth for Rob.  Borderlines like the way they are--it's everyone else's problem. 

Borderlines lack the human complexities that develop in response to normal human interaction.  The're unable to properly gauge their environment and adapt behavior.  It's not that they don't care, it's simply that they're missing that chip. 

The more calculating can fake it for a while.  That's how healthy people fall in love with them.  Borderlines are not without redeeming qualities--they can be charismatic, successful and driven.  But they're always manipulative at a Ph.d level.

One sign, borderlines often lack humor.  Madam Borderline cannot allow herself the luxury of self-deprecation nor the fear that accompanies any acknowledgment of human frailty. 

It's not pretty when these folks break down.  They completely lack coping skills.  Borderlines are energetic, in every respect, even when they fall apart.  The drama is unmatched.  But they regroup quickly.  Like that scene in The Terminator when the annihilated protagonist is reduced to a pool of shiny liquid metal--once the nose pops out, ugly's only a few seconds away.

Thus the third sad truth for Rob.  There's no easy and quick divorce from a borderline.
His fourth and final sad truth was that there's no healthy alternative. 

A partner who's  ending a relationship with a borderline needs a team  (and a plan) to get out.  The plan should not include educating nor changing the borderline.  It also doesn't include winning in a traditional sense. 

To effectively detach from a borderline, it's important to live by these rules:
  • Don't waste time hoping for compassion or decency.  It's like expecting a dog to "meow"--he can't. 
  • Don't try shame, it has zero effect.
  • Don't get emotional or dramatic.  When you lose your cool or show vulnerability--they win.
  • Always take the high road.  One slip and the borderline will repeat it from the rafters.
  • Document, document, document.  Borderlines are liars.  Be persistent and concise in exposing the truth.
  • Expect setbacks.  The mortal world has only half the energy of these creatures.  Take a nap, punch your pillow and get back on track.
  • Don't give the borderline a platform.  Most folks know they're nuts.  When you spread your business on the street you give them the opportunity to respond to legitimate outlets.  Stay away from social media.  They thrive on the internet because there is no fact-checking--and no consequences.

For the "normal" partner, it takes a village to unravel the mental rewiring needed from life with a borderline.  So rely on the advice of those outside the vortex.

Keep in mind it's all in the perception of power.  Borderlines do not rule their world, they only convince others to think they do. 

In truth, they are powerless. 

Exhausting, but powerless.