7/30/2012 4:03 PM ET|
10 things divorce attorneys won't say
From how much it will cost to how long it will take, these are the facts of divorce that your lawyer won't ever come out and tell you.
1. You'll pay more than the advertised rate -- way more.
The U.S. divorce rate has nearly doubled since 1960, according to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and the number of divorce lawyers has grown apace. Though divorce rates leveled off during the recession, competition among divorce lawyers has increased -- and billboards flashing "Quick and Easy Divorce for $299" reveal how desperate for business they've become.
Those teaser prices aren't a scam, says Randy Kessler, the chair of the American Bar Association's family law section, but they usually apply only to parties who have already agreed on the terms and just need the lawyer to fill in the forms. Clients who don't fall into that narrow category are likely to pay more.
Of course, such come-ons are partly "just to get you in the door," warns Sari Friedman, a New York City matrimonial lawyer. The fine print, she says, will often reveal extra costs -- from initial court fees to eventual asset-divvying lawyer fees. A more realistic final price tag? Anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, with hourly rates typically running from $150 to $1,000.
2. I get sued -- a lot.
San Diego resident Luwain Ng's 2008 divorce was tough, but it was nothing compared with the subsequent legal battle with her divorce lawyer, Patricia Gregory, who stole nearly $80,000 from Ng's trust account. (Gregory pleaded guilty to embezzlement in January and was sentenced to a year in jail; Ng says she has since recovered most of her money.)
Ng isn't alone. Only personal injury and real estate lawyers get sued more often than family law attorneys, a category that includes those who handle divorce and child custody cases, according to the American Bar Association. Indeed, lawsuits against family law attorneys more than doubled from 1995 to 2007, the ABA reports. One reason: In the past 20 years, the number of lawyers specializing in family law has increased. Plus, Kessler says, divorce situations can get pretty heated -- it's "the nature of their work." So while a lawyer who has been sued isn't necessarily bad, it's wise to check with your state's bar before you pick one.
3. My lack of fiscal know-how will cost you.
Divorces often require complicated financial calculations, such as projecting the long-term value of a 401k. But finance isn't typically part of the law school curriculum. It's a huge problem, says Jeffrey Landers, a New York City financial adviser, "because outside of custody issues, divorce is mostly about financial matters." While many lawyers do tell clients to hire a financial professional, some don't -- and settlement mistakes can cost clients thousands of dollars. Still, the price of hiring a divorce-finance pro can range from $4,000 to $25,000. And a forensic accountant -- who can identify and value assets -- generally charges at least $5,000, says Thomas Reck, an accountant and partner at WithumSmith & Brown in Paramus, N.J. That's why it's important for those going through divorce to do a cost-benefit analysis. According to Zachary Smith, the president of Vox Law in Minneapolis: "People with fewer assets and little debt may not need to spend the money."
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4. I make promises I can't keep.
Of course, it's unethical for lawyers to guarantee a certain settlement. Each state has its own rules of professional responsibility, and violating them can result in sanctions from the bar. But it still happens, because lawyers want to gain their clients' confidence, says Bari Weinberger, a matrimonial lawyer in Morris County, N.J. And by some estimates, up to 50% of all client complaints stem from a failure to meet their expectations.
Even if a lawyer doesn't outright promise a specific outcome, strong hints can be detrimental to the client's wallet. When Minneapolis small-business owner Christine Clifford was in the midst of her second divorce, she says, her lawyer said things like "you have a very compelling case" and "a very good chance of getting a financial settlement." In the end, she ponied up $70,000 in attorney's fees and had nothing to show for it. (Her lawyer declined to comment.) It is appropriate for a lawyer to express the possibility of success, says Weinberger, but "if anyone guarantees you anything, run."
5. I've only handled a couple of divorce cases. Ever.
A lot of lawyers are general practitioners, handling everything from personal injury to estates to divorce. But a general practitioner may handle only a few divorce cases in his or her entire career.
"Law is very vast with a lot of nuances," says Friedman, the New York lawyer. "You need a lawyer who knows the law and has seen a lot of these nuances."
One place to find them: the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers' website. Lawyers in the association are required to spend at least 75% of their time on matrimonial law issues and have at least 10 years' experience in the subject (or with five years' experience, to spend at least 90% of their time on such cases). Matrimonial lawyers say clients benefit from their expertise. "You go to a cardiologist for your heart problems," says Weinberger.
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6. Prepare for plummeting income.
During Amy Zellmer's marriage, her husband had the "big job" that paid for their household expenses, while she cultivated her Minneapolis photography business. When the couple divorced, Zellmer fell into dire financial straits. "I had to drain my IRA account just to stay afloat," she says.
And hers isn't an uncommon story: Households with children in which the parents divorced and remain divorced for at least six years face a 40% to 45% average drop in family income, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Divorcing or separating mothers are also nearly three times as likely as married mothers to end up in poverty, according to a 2011 study by the Family Research Council.
7. Go cry somewhere else.
The financial strain of a divorce pales in comparison with the emotional toll. Among people age 40 and up, 28% experience depression following their divorce, while 63% of women and 44% of men have high levels of stress, according to an AARP study. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and the author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness," says it's an emotional roller coaster: "At first, you may be excited, but then there are a lot of negative emotions and consequences that can adversely affect all aspects of your life." But a lawyer's isn't the ideal shoulder to cry on. "They may let you vent," says therapist Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, author of "A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage," but they aren't trained to offer support.
8. You may not even need me.
Facing her third divorce, dating-site founder LaVonya Reeves decided to skip the lawyer. And she didn't regret it: "It saved me a ton of money," she says. Amicably divorcing duos like Reeves and her ex -- who have no children, shared assets or debts, and who are able to support themselves without each other's help -- can skip attorneys' fees and opt for mediation or self-representation, pros say. The National Conflict Resolution Center estimates that divorce mediation costs $2,000 to $5,000 a couple, a fraction of the price of litigation.
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But while lawyers are optional, using one is like having an insurance policy against mistakes, says the ABA's Kessler. Kathy Minella, a family law attorney in San Diego, says there's a middle road: Spouses can try settling as much as possible between themselves and through mediation before they begin paying their lawyers.
9. I don't have time for you.
Many divorce attorneys have yet to recover their prerecession support staff, so they're handling many of the office duties themselves. "You can wait for days to get a call back," says Erica Manfred, author of "He's History, You're Not." Not only did the ranks of the legal profession diminish by 4% from 2007 to 2011, but hiring is still sluggish, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And lawyers may soon have even less time for each client, because some experts expect the divorce rate to spike in the near future.
If the economy continues to rebound, those who put their divorces on hold during the recession -- an estimated 38% of currently married Americans -- may now go through with them, says W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project.
10. I'm dragging my feet.
There's a correlation between having an attorney and having a long legal battle. Divorces in which both parties have a lawyer take nearly four months longer than when both don't have legal counsel, according to a 2010 study by Marquette University Law School. One possible reason: Those most likely to hire counsel have "complicating factors such as higher husband income, longer marriage and minor children," according to the study. But the researchers also concluded that "it is possible that lawyers deliberately extend the process so as to collect higher fees."
Ann Bradley, author of "Divorce: The Real Truth and Hidden Dangers," goes a step further: "Some lawyers add fuel to the emotional drama to keep you fighting." Kessler disputes the idea that lawyers drag out divorces to extend fees. It's their job, he says, to be thorough -- to avoid mistakes. And that takes time.
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I think some of these comments are from married folk that have not experienced a spouse that has fallen into depression and is being fed lies by her friends.
I too believed in the sanctity of marriage. For better and for worse. My wife of 27 years wrote her own vows...shared with me that she will never leave me and I her. But when I went from average income to crazy income and the kids moved out of the house...she fell into a band of horse loving women that were all divorced but all worked. My "loving" wife wanted to be friends with all of them and started the late night dinners, drinks and all. She started leaving the house at 7am or earlier and coming home 7 or 8 or 9 or 10pm and often times not at all. When I received a call that she will not be coming home because she was too drunk to drive...I said but she does not drink. Well she does now.
As I asked her repeadedly to find another ranch to learn her riding...she filed for divorce. And here in California...there wasn't a damn thing I could do. I now pay her $3000.00 per month so she can ride, drink and party all day and every day. I hate the current no fault system because it is just not right.
Divorce Attorney Secret #11:
If you are a FEMALE, and you go to see a Divorce Attorney, the FIRST question they will ask is..... "Has your husband ever abused you?" If you say "no", the Attorney will remind you that abuse doesn't have to be physical, it can be ANYTHING "mean" that the husband has said (emotional abuse). As soon as you say "yes, there was some abuse", the Attorney will tell you to IMMEDIATELY go to the courthouse / magistrate, and file for a PROTECTIVE ORDER! Why do divorce attorneys try to get you to file for a PROTECTIVE ORDER? Because, they KNOW, that as soon as a PROTECTIVE ORDER is issued (even if it's based on a completely FALSE ACCUSATION), the Divorce case will be a "SLAM DUNK"! Yes, it's TRUE.... it is THAT simple! If you're a female, and you want a divorce, but you don't want to risk losing custody of the kids, or you can't afford to live on your own.... the BEST, and EASIEST way to MAKE SURE you get the "upper hand" is to FALSELY ACCUSE your husband of ABUSE! It doesn't have to be PHYSICAL.... basically all you have to do is: say that you are "scared for your safety", and they will IMMEDIATELY grant you a protective order... TADAAAAA! You're husband (soon to be ex-husband) is now a "DOMESTIC ABUSER", and you will EASILY get ANYTHING you want in the DIVORCE! Trust me, it happened to me, and it has happened to hundreds of thousands of other men. Accuse them of "DOMESTIC ABUSE"... that is the QUICKEST and EASIEST way to get EVERYTHING in a divorce... ofcourse, it only works if you are a FEMALE! Trust me, you WILL NOT get in trouble for LYING to get the protective order... Commonwealth Attorney's and courts NEVER prosecute people for LYING to get a protective order... NEVER! If you're a MALE, you should NEVER get married! When the relationship ends, you WILL lose EVERYTHING! Even with a prenup, you will LOSE... trust me, and EVERY OTHER male who has been through a divorce. The court systems ALL OVER AMERICA, are HEAVILY tilted in a WOMAN'S favor! It's ALL about protecting the "poor innocent females"... it ALWAYS has been..
"But the researchers also concluded that "it is possible that lawyers deliberately extend the process so as to collect higher fees.""
Of course. That is what lawyers do. I remember a court appearance where my new wife was working out custody details with her ex, but the lawyer in the case ahead of us kept repeating himself over and over again, simply to drag out his court appearance time and extend his billing hours.
Divorce lawyers are the bottom of the barrel. They eat you up financially for as much as they can get.
They know of your emotional state and they thrive on it. Mine told me I shouldnt listen to my ex when she would tell me i will have to pay alimony. He would say she isnt the judge and jury or your lawyer. I should ignore her completely. At arbitration he was figuring out with her attorney how much I was going to have to pay in alimony. When I confronted him, he told me if I wasn't happy with him I should find someone new. That is after I paid him a non refundable $10,000.00. He was the lowest life I ever met. He also was late to every meeting. I had to wait until he would show up in his Porsche.
He was worse than my ex.
I find the artice right on point. I had modification and the lawyer said based on ALL the information i gave her it should take about 10 hours including court time of 1 hour to get this done. well 12 hours later and no court appearance yet she was promptly fired, and yes i got all the forms i needed and resolved the remainder of the case myself...
when i questioned why did it take you and your paralegal 3 hours tofill out a non financial form and you still got the wording wrong, you want to charge me for correcting your mistakes...
Never get married without a prenup>>> Pay the money upfront to the attorney so there are no if, ands or butts about it.
Specify in the prenup every little detail
- all assets acquired before marriage are to stay with the original owner.
- all debts are the responsibility of the parties involved respectively (this creates responsibility)
- Children (child support and custody)
- Alimony (which should be outlawed in my opinion)
- Any assets/debts acquired after marriage are to be split down the middle unless one party is a material participant and can prove it.
Include any amendments after X years of marriage so that a judge doesnt throw out the prenup!
or better yet-----DONT GET MARRIED.....keep everything separate and pay household expenses as agreed.
Sometimes I want to get married then I look around me and thank god im not! I would refuse to pay an attorney my life savings for a divorce. There should be STRICT legislation involved in fees for a divorce!
Divorce is one of the BIGGEST causes of so many social problems in our society today with costs for social services in the billions.
Divorce should be a last resort, ESPECIALLY if there are children involved. The selfishness that I have seen in so many people who "want a divorce" boggles the mind. Yes, upon occassion, it is a necessary evil.
Why is it that children "are supposed to deal with it" but the adults in their life are incapable of "dealing" with their family as caring and respectful members?
Most of the social ills we see in society today are because of the breakdown of the nuclear family. The highest rates of children in poverty today are from broken families.
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