While every divorce is different, many are quite the same. Every divorce has a reason; and rare is the divorce without animosity. Most divorces have assets and debts to divide, and most have more of one than the other. But one thing that absolutely every divorce has is a cliché.
Huffington Post blogger Randall M. Kessler recently listed his Top 10 Divorce Clichés. You can read his version here, but I’ll add my own spin.
10. “Its not about the Money”: Yes, it is (most of the time). If its not about how much he or she will “get”, its about how much he or she will have to be responsible for. Or rather, why the client shouldn’t be responsible for their spouse’s bad decision, shopping problem, etc. While those bad decisions or habits might be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage, in most cases, both spouses will have to deal with the results in finalizing the divorce.
9. “Just wait until the judge hears what he/she did“.: Most people want vindication for being the “good spouse”. People want to tell their story and hear affirmation that the divorce is the other spouse’s fault. The reality is, at least in New Jersey, the court really does not care whether one person was a bad husband or a bad wife. You don’t get rewarded for putting up with crap (excuse the slang). Nor does the offending spouse get punished. There are a few narrow exceptions of course; but if one spouse had an affair or always spent too much at the mall – by and large, it is not relevant to the divorce process and the court does not have time to hear about it.
8. “I can’t believe they are going to bring that up“.: Anger has a way of festering. The things that bothered your spouse years ago still bother him or her today. While it’s probably not relevant (see #9), that does not mean the emotional impact doesn’t exist.
7. “I want him/her to go to jail for perjury.”: Real life is not “Law & Order”. People lie, bend the truth or sometimes just perceive facts differently. Perjury is a crime. Lying under oath can be prosecuted. But proving it can be difficult and in a divorce proceeding, odds are the lie was not significant enough to impact the case or to change the outcome. No one condones lying. And if you lie to your attorney and they find out – you’ll be looking for a new attorney. But from a practical perspective, if your spouse lies in the divorce process, you need to weigh the risk/benefit factor of pursuing a criminal complaint.
6. “I’d rather pay my lawyer than pay my spouse anything”. You might feel that way at the moment, but when the bill comes, you might feel differently. Arguing a point based on principle is always a recipe for disaster. Your lawyer will tell you what you are realistically facing in terms of a support obligation. Fighting it into the ground does nothing but run up your legal bill.
5. “I don’t care how long it takes.” Yes, you do. No one wants to be embroiled in a divorce any longer than necessary. Divorce takes time. Even an uncontested default divorce can take 2-3 months. If there is anything of substance to discuss in your divorce, it is going to take time to sort out. You will get tired; you will want to put it behind you. A good lawyer will help you understand the realistic time frame. Dragging it out does not help anyone.
4. “Can’t you tell the judge what a jerk he/she is?” See #9. No, your lawyer cannot tell the judge what a jerk the other spouse is. And really – most of the time – the judge does not care.
3. “I want a “shark” for a lawyer”.
I absolutely hate this cliché. Early in my career a prospective client once asked “You sound awfully nice, are you sure you can be a bitch?” I was stunned. I did not know how to respond. I was naïve and I wanted to assure the client that yes, I could be the biggest bitch they needed me to be. But I was very troubled by the question and the mere suggestion
that I should
be a bitch.
So I called the judge for whom I had served as law clerk for advice. I will remember his advice forever. He said “Don’t ever mistake civility for weakness”. That prospective client was asking me to be unprofessional and to sway from my ethical obligation as a lawyer; and that is something I refuse to do. Your divorce is filled with your emotions. As lawyers, we are not emotionally involved. We do not need to be angry or aggressive to get a good result. A good result comes from professional and spirited advocacy using the facts as best we can. Can a lawyer turn lemons into lemonade? Sometimes, but only when he or she acts professionally in the mixing process.
2. “He (or she) is a narcissist”.: Most people use this phrase when they perceive the other spouse is only thinking about him or herself. Truth be told there are some real narcissists out there. But looking out for your own best interest does not make you a narcissist. Bottom line, in a divorce – a little bit of “narcissism” is expected on both sides.
1. “Its just stuff.” Wonderful! Glad to hear it! You’re right, it is just stuff. Of course I would never suggest that my client should sit back and get taken advantage, but I also do not want my client to get stuck on the value of the living room sofa or who should get the pots and pans. “It’s just stuff”. Focus on the big picture and get through the divorce. Then have fun picking out a new couch.
An experienced professional lawyer will help you through the divorce process in a myriad of ways. When you come to me with a cliché, I will do my best to tactfully help you navigate beyond it. For more information or to schedule a consultation, I can be reached at 609-904-3020. Find my Facebook page