It was another very painful lesson for one of my clients. Even seasoned lawyers don’t get it. High Conflict divorce is a different game. Chaos and confusion are rampant. Normal processes don’t work in these cases. Chaos is the main tool that is used in these cases. Not only by the difficult ex-spouse, but by their attorneys to deflect from the real issues at hand and throw off everyone, including the judge. My client learned from her lawyer’s glaring mistakes that he had no idea what her ex (and his lawyer) were capable of in this battle. Perhaps she should have gone Pro Se? In this case, I believe that she would have been better off on her own. At least then there would not have been “pre-trial” meetings with the judge without her and of which she was given no real information about what her lawyer presented- or did not present. I’m not sure if the Judge would have favored her appearing in court to represent herself. However, for $24,000 in lawyer’s fees and a ruling that was based on NO valid financial information, she feels that things could have been done more effectively. Not to mention, in one final “coup d’etat”, her lawyer helped draft a motion that actually gave up more of her rights. When she asked why there was now (hadn’t been before) a motion for her to pay copays on her son’s medical bills, her lawyer said, “Now you’re splitting hairs. How much can it be per month, anyway? A couple hundred dollars per month?” He didn’t understand that any amount of interaction with a high conflict ex-spouse is excruciating and by allowing her ex to collect 50% of medical copays required her to have to interact with him EVERY month. Her ability to stay detached from her ex’s harassing behavior had been compromised again by a lawyer just not paying attention and not caring enough to advocate for her and her hard-won boundaries. Her boundaries were all that she had left. He didn’t understand narcissistic and controlling behavior at all. Thirty years of practice and he still did not get it. After her case concluded, not with a hearing (because the lawyers told us that the judge didn’t want to take that much time) but by spending six hours in the courtroom hallway going back and forth (less time, really?), her lawyer knocked approximately $15,000 off of of her bill. All very shady and confusing. Why wouldn’t her lawyer want a hearing? Was six hours of negotiation in the hallway a better way? Quicker, really? Or, perhaps, her lawyer realized his embarrassing errors in her case and did not want it on permanent record? She had spent over eight months in court over a financial issue and her lawyer had somehow managed to not get any financial information from the other side! Wasn’t that his only job? A reduction of $15,000 in legal fees is hardly the action of someone who feels they have done their job well.
All of this just proves my point. Advocate for yourself first by preparing for the legal system. Form a team of divorce professionals. Find a Certified Divorce Coach, a CDFP (Certified Divorce Financial Professional) for starters. Then, there are certain questions that you need to ask before hiring a lawyer whom you are considering paying thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars and entrusting with your future. Google it. Do a bit of research on legal sites. Read Bill Eddy’s book, Splitting, and reference the chapter on hiring a lawyer.
Your decision to hire a lawyer or divorce professional is one of utmost importance. The most important decision that you will make for years to come. Especially in a High Conflict Divorce situation. Remember, you are the expert on you and your needs. If you are wrong and hire the wrong lawyer, you will lose lots of money and years of your life. And, the kicker is, the bad lawyers know that if you are traumatized and broke when they finish with you, you will be too tired and weak to come after them. I truly believe that is why the atrocities that go on every day in family court go virtually unheard of in a more consistent and public way.
But there is hope. There is a wave of knowledge and more information out there now for all to see. Be prepared. Choose your help wisely and plan lest you get caught in the family court vortex of pay now and wait until much later for any information or control in your case. What’s the saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” You must surround yourself with capable professionals to accomplish your goals and get through your divorce. Life is waiting on the other side.
Divorce Mediator, Certified Divorce Coach and Giver of Peace.