When most people enter a divorce attorney’s office, they experience a wide range of emotions. They may feel broken, violated, lied to, betrayed, abused, or mistreated. They may feel embarrassed that they were unable to make their marriage work. They may also feel completely numb to the process or might even feel relieved.
All of these feelings are valid and perfectly normal, but they can also be incredibly destructive. Hurt feelings often cloud judgment, leading to unrealistic goals for the divorce grounded, not in a desire to win, but to make sure their spouse loses. We often ask clients to consider what would have to occur so that when we meet in a year, they could be happy with the outcome and their situation. A large number of clients respond with, “I want my spouse to burn in hell.” That is not realistic. No attorney can achieve that goal.
Somebody may feel they are entitled to more than an even split. They may even be right. Unfortunately, the courts don’t recognize this desire. Courts aren’t interested in why you believe you deserve more assets or money. Courts don’t care how or why the marriage is ending, and it doesn’t matter to the legal system how hurt your feelings may be.
The judges care about one thing—upholding the law.
Many people believe there is a great deal of wiggle room in the legal system or that hiring a more aggressive lawyer and fighting for years will result in a better outcome. This is usually not true. When it comes time for the judge to sign off on an agreement or rule after a trial, these decisions are typically determined by a formula. Child support is determined by a formula. Spousal support or maintenance is determined by a formula.
A good lawyer will help you understand your rights and represent your best interests so that you don’t make decisions that will negatively impact those formulas. But a good lawyer won’t promise you something that isn’t attainable or encourage you to fight your spouse to gain a split of assets that a judge would never agree to.
Contentious divorces happen when parties allow their hurt feelings or anger to get in the way of rational decision making. Some lawyers will take advantage of these destructive mindsets. Acrimony is their business plan. When a client comes to them saying they want 70 percent of the marital assets, the attorney doesn’t explain why that is an unlikely outcome. Instead, the attorney encourages their client to fight for 75 percent. The attorney knows the law and knows no judge would award that division of assets. The attorney also knows that the longer the divorce drags on the more money that attorney will collect in legal fees. Encouraging acrimony has a clear benefit for the attorney and a clear drawback for the client.
Choosing the right attorney is very important. Having the right mindset going into a divorce is equally important. Spending thousands of dollars fighting over a piece of kitchen equipment does not result in a win for anyone but the divorce lawyer. At the beginning of the divorce, we provide each of our clients with the name of a therapist so that they have someone to help them with their mindset. Throughout the divorce, we provide solid counsel to our clients so that they have an opportunity to understand the likely outcome and then reach that outcome more quickly and with less acrimony. This approach provides our clients with more assets to divide in the long run and fewer legal bills.
Michone J. Riewer is an attorney with Strategic Divorce in Lake Bluff, 847-234-4445, strategicdivorce.com.