Movies about Fighting Couples Divorcing is the Model of Divorce for Many People!
People still remember the mom in Kramer v. Kramer, standing outside the fence at her son's school, watching him play after she has lost custody. People adore legal television shows and movies that portray trials and exciting, unexpected endings, and a clear winner, a clear loser, and the good party prevailing. Life is not like that. Real divorces are not like that. It is usually much less clear who is the "good party" and who is the "bad party." Most of the time, each person is a little good and a little bad. What people don't know because the movies and the legal television shows don't show it, is that 80% of cases settle before they ever go to trial. Movies don't show people sitting down at a kitchen table, or mediating in a lawyer's office because it is boring and doesn't boost ratings or bring in big box office returns.
People Think They Need a "Pit-Bull" Lawyer to "Win" in Divorce
There are no winners in divorce, except for the lawyers who earn the big bucks wasting their clients' money filing endless, unnecessary motions, requests for discovery when the documents were already disclosed, motions for contempt, motions to compel, motions for sanctions, motions for attorneys fees. The U.S. national average for divorce is $52,000. I would expect that in large cities and urban areas, that amount is triple or quadruple for a divorce that goes all the way to trial. Pit bull lawyers not only make the other attorney unhappy, they make the judges unhappy. Imagine if your job was to sit in a chair eight hours a day and listen to some of the nastiest attorneys fighting over the division of the couple's linens, or whether one was more than 15 minutes late to pick up their little darling. Being a judge used to be a glamorous job. Now, judges I know tell me they have unlisted telephone numbers, try to avoid being seen in certain parts of town, and have denied recognition.
Most of the Decisions for the Court are now Statutory
What people don't realize when they are shopping for the meanest attorney-dog in the junkyard bar association, is that in family law, many of the issues are now set out by statute, that is, the court's latitude and discretion are severely limited. In community property states, the court totes up all the property and debts acquired during the marriage, irrespective of whose name is on the asset or liability, and divides it in half. If a couple can't agree on a parenting plan, the court has a plan set out in the court rules. One size fits all! Child support is determined by a calculation based on income, certain allowed witholdings, cost of day care and health insurance. There is very little wiggle room. Spousal support is not guaranteed and it is generally based on need of one and the other's ability to pay. But if the couple haven't been married long, forget about it! If the spouse requesting it is either working or has education that could enable work, forget about it!
Being Pragmatic is the Only Way to "Win" in Divorce
The wealthiest and smartest people who divorce are not on the pages of People magazine, The National Enquirer, or InTouch magazine. No, you won't see them anywhere because they know how to make money and they know how to keep their money. The first principle they practice is fighting in court wastes money. Instead, they hire a mediator, and they share the cost. They write up agreements that are private and not filed with the court, but signed as a contract, with contract remedies if the agreements are breached. They flip a coin after they have signed their contract for all their agreements to hire one lawyer to prepare uncontested court documents for a flat fee. They incorporate their contract agreements by reference into their decree and state that if the contract is breached, the disappointed party can also go to court on a motion for contempt. They spend less than $5,000 total for both of them and their divorce is finalized. Quietly and discretely. And they have more to divide!
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