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Too Late to Change Horses?

Dear Robin:

I filed for divorce last year and since then I feel like my case has gone nowhere.  I’m starting to wonder if my attorneys are taking advantage of me so they can extend the divorce as long as possible.

Several friends advised me to get a second opinion, so I recently interviewed another lawyer.  He told me I should basically be done by now, but that it was too late to change counsel.

We don’t even have a trial date yet.  Is it too late?  How do I know if these delays are my lawyers’ fault or my husband’s fault?  How do I know if I am being billed too much?  I am beyond frustrated.

-Dina in Dunthorpe

Dear Dina:

Thank you for your letter and subsequent email communications.  I’ve written on this subject numerous times, and spoken with dozens of people who have found themselves in your spot.

You told me:

  • You filed in November last year;
  • You do not yet have a trial date;
  • Your attorneys have discouraged settlement;
  • Your legal fees are well into six figures;
  • Your attorneys are telling you they can get you 70% of the marital assets;
  • Your attorneys are encouraging you to go after a vacation home owned in an iron-clad trust by your husband and his siblings (inherited when his parents died in a car crash prior to your marriage);
  • Your attorneys are encouraging you to seek full legal and physical custody of your three children, even though you agree your husband is a wonderful father and you are OK with 50/50 parenting time;
  • Your attorneys encouraged you to ask for supervised parenting time because on one occasion, three years ago, your husband spanked your youngest son when he ran into a busy intersection;
  • You don’t read your file closely, including your bills; and
  • Second Opinion Guy told you there was no doubt your attorneys were stalling the case to increase their bills and that everyone in the legal community knows that is their modus operandi.  In their defense, a lot of other sleazy DICKs (Divorce Industrial Complex Kingpins) do the same.  Still, their reputation is legendary.

OK, Dina.  I’m going to give it to you straight, by simply answering the questions you asked me.

Is it too late to change lawyers?

Um, hell no.  

Given where you are in your case and the straightforward division of assets standard in your state, it is absolutely not too late to change lawyers.  If you were close to trial I would tend to agree, but your case is in its infancy, despite how long it has been since you filed.

That should tell you something, Dina.  Your case should be over by now.

You mentioned not having a trial date.  Are you actually planning on going to trial?  If your attorneys are encouraging you to go to trial, you need to run the fuck away in the opposite direction.

There is a reason only 2-4% of divorce cases go all the way to a trial: because in almost all dissolutions, trial is a bloody, expensive, awful way to end a marriage. There are no winners in a trial, only survivors – and often there are none of those either.  

I take that back.  Divorce trials do produce winners: the divorce lawyers.

I only know a couple people who have gone all the way to trial and I can tell you this: both had shitty, awful, no-good counsel and both were being directed by those terrible people and their own hurt feelings over the end of the marriage.

In both cases, the post-divorce relationship is utter dog vomit: they cannot communicate about the kids, money, or anything without lawyers involved.  In one case, the ex-husband continues to sue his wife (and by extension, their children) over and over and over again.  His lawyer is relentless and will not rest until every penny in her client’s bank account has been transferred into her own. He is too stupid and narcissistic to see that, so his children suffer and his former wife is being driven into bankruptcy.

Back to you.  Sorry for the tangent.

The reason Second Opinion Guy told you it was too late to change lawyers is because he doesn’t want to take your case.  You aren’t “mid-stream,” as he described it, you are still wandering in the desert looking for water.

Second Opinion Guy clearly wants nothing to do with this divorce. That may be because he doesn’t want to alienate himself from your current firm by taking away a big client.  It may be because your consult signaled to him that you have unrealistic expectations, or that you are seeking revenge, not a fair and equitable division of assets.

It may also be because he doesn’t want to have a case against your husband’s lawyer.  That brings me to your next question:

How do I know if these delays are my lawyers’ fault or my husband’s fault?

That’s easy:

Read your file.

If I had a dollar for every person who ignored their file during their divorce, I wouldn’t have to work for the rest of my life.

March yourself down to your attorneys’ office and go through the entire file, page by page.  Make certain all emails and text messages are in there and pour over them with a keen eye for detail.

If your lawyers are stalling, non-responsive, or communicating things that you know are simply untrue, your problem is down the hallway.

If your husband’s lawyer is suggesting equitable and amicable ways to settle the case and your attorneys are ignoring him or reacting in a combative manner, your problem is down the hallway.

If your husband’s lawyer has a good reputation, while your lawyers do not, your problem is down the hallway.

While all the above is true, all I really need to know in order to determine whether this case is faltering due to your husband and his attorney or you and yours is your attorneys pushing you to demand full custody and limited and supervised parenting time.

That’s fucking terrible.  You told me you weren’t going along with it but the fact you didn’t fire them the first time they suggested this nasty, dishonest, and divisive approach to your divorce tells me you have some deep soul-searching to do.

How do I know if I am being billed too much?

You told me what your current billings are.  I have never heard of a case generating that much money in fees and going exactly nowhere.  I’ve seen a lot of waste and unethical billing in the Divorce Industrial Complex, but congratulations – you win the prize for most abused client in the history of divorce!

You told me what your husband has paid his attorney.

Thus far, you have paid your attorneys roughly ten times what your husband has paid his.

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Go through your bills and compare them to the work done that day in your file. For example, attorneys can get in trouble when their clients report to the state bar association that they double-billed, billed for work that was never done, or my personal favorite, billing for secretarial work.

Is there a cover letter in your file that looks something like this?

Dear Client:

Enclosed is a 12-page memorandum on pet custody and division of houseplants.

Lawyer

Check the billing sheets for that date.  Were you charged attorney time for that cover letter, in addition to the 12 hours of research on pets and houseplants? Does it matter to you that you have no pets and houseplants?

This is the Chinese Water Torture of unethical billing (no offense to our Chinese friends).  They ding you here and there for secretarial work, unnecessary work, multiple attorneys working on and “reviewing” the file, and needless battles.

Do not abdicate your personal responsibility here, Dina.  Look at your file very closely.  If you want to find a peaceful resolution to your case, you don’t even need to fire your attorneys if you determine it is indeed their fault that your case is stalled.

All you need to do is tell them you want to settle it on fair terms, and hold them to it.  You aren’t a puppet.

If you do fire your lawyers and you find your case settled quickly, amicably, and fairly soon thereafter, I encourage you to take a good, hard look at that file and what those people may have done to you.

It’s practically criminal.

I wish you all the best.  Please write back and let me know what happens.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Mark

    Try to settle through a mediator. A very wise person once told me that I would probably send my ex- more than I wanted to, and that she would receive less than she wanted, if we went through mediation. She insisted on going to trial instead, and we did. In the meantime, the attorneys fired both of us after they plowed through our savings, and because I am not a lawyer, I got raped by the judge for permanent alimony. Silver lining to it all was that I got to deduct the alimony, and she had to claim it as income on her taxes.

    Oh, and I as father raised the kids.

    1. Victim of Corrupt Oregon Family Laws

      I never could understand this notion that writing off Alimony is a silver lining. I’ve heard that *many* times. I too got raped for Alimony and have the kids.

      If you have $1 and pay tax on it (in my state with all taxes computed) you get to keep about $.60. If you give that $1 as Alimony to a lunatic that ran off with another man, left you with the kids, and took half of your wealth, as in my situation, then she gets the $.60 and you get the $.40.

      The best way to look at this ruse is to compare it to something similar. Let’s say you buy a second home that you never even get to see or use and that will never be an asset that you can sell. You get to write the interest off there too and get nothing for it. It’s no different than handing money over to The New Cheaters (it’s no longer predominantly the husband that runs off with another person).

      How is that a silver lining?

  2. Signal mixer

    If Dina is being reasonable and Dina’s lawyers are the obstacle to settlement because they want the fees and the good times to continue to roll, then Dina can instruct her lawyers to propose a settlement on very specific terms: Child time, spousal support, division of assets, and so forth. Dina’s lawyers are then ethically obligated to present the proposal. And what’s with her lawyers pushing her to co-own a beach house with her soon-to-be former siblings-in-law?

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