True story (minor details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved)…
Janie and Joe had been separated for nearly a year. The paperwork was filed, the support amount was determined and the custody arrangements were made. That said, they were still struggling to find some sense of normalcy in their new lives.
One Sunday night toward the end of the month, the kids returned from a visit with Joe and were ecstatic to tell their mother about the great weekend they had. Janie bit her tongue while she listened patiently, then sent the girls to bed and seethed until the wee hours of the morning. The following day, she did what nearly every divorcing person does when they feel defeated: she called her lawyer.
A few days later, Joe got a letter in the mail. Actually, it was a photocopy of a letter that his attorney had received from Janie’s attorney. Joe read the text which amounted to: “Dear Counselor, As of today my client has only $24 in her checking account and she needs to purchase groceries for her children. I have been informed that your client recently purchased a 30 foot boat and am wondering if perhaps the support agreement should be recalculated.”
Joe flew into a rage and picked up the phone to call his own bulldog, who was unavailable. Next he turned to his computer and fired off an email: “Excuse me?!? The last time I checked, I was already paying her thousands of dollars per month in support. It’s not my fault she doesn’t know how to budget appropriately. And as for the boat, it’s far from 30 ft long… try 30 years old! And it’s a sailboat. I can’t afford something that’s going to be a gas guzzler. Geez, I was so excited that I found a low-cost activity for me and the kids and now she pulls this! Who does she think she is?? Tell her lawyer to pound sand. If anything, I’m paying too much support- the girls told me she’s planning a big party next weekend with a professional caterer. And I had fast food for breakfast this morning!”
Joe was feeling quite smug as he hit the send button and he felt even better when he received a copy of the letter his lawyer sent to Opposing Counsel: “Dear Counselor: Again, you have incorrectly accused my client. The boat you mentioned was not an expensive purchase and it was one made in the interest of our parties’ children. As per the support schedule, your client will receive a disbursement within a few days. I understand she has a social affair to fund.”
Janie’s reaction to the copy of the letter from Joe’s attorney was quite similar to Joe’s reaction to the initial letter from Janie’s attorney. This time instead of calling her lawyer, Janie called her girlfriend and spent an hour belching her venom into the sympathetic ear on the other end of the phone. The following week, both Janie and Joe received new envelopes from their attorneys. Instead of a snippy note about the couples’ personal drama, the envelopes each contained a bill for an additional $500. The justification for the charges:
- Phone conversation with client re: checking balance
- Review of file
- Letter to opposing counsel
- Email from client re: boat
- Review of file
- Letter to opposing counsel
…So in the end, Joe and Janie spent $1000 in attorney fees to convey petty messages between themselves. $500 spent by the woman who only had $24 in her checking account. $500 spent by the man who couldn’t afford food that wasn’t available at a drive-through. $1000 to accomplish…nothing.
Power struggles dominate divorce and when you get sucked into one, the only winner is the legal system.
Diminishing power struggles is easier said than done. It will be the topic of my third book, due out early next year.
Take a look at http://www.TheIntelligentDivorce.com
I think many of us learn that when your ex does something you don’t like, it is best not to react immediately and then to give him a chance to explain!
I think there would be something to be said for a required period of separation before any settlement negotiations – it would allow for the emotions and pain to ease a little and perhaps more objective settlement discussions.
I think you’re right about that. It’s amazing how much animosity dissipates after a period of adjustment.
This is an amazing article. I love the way it is written because it spells out how ridiculous, and how out of control the divorce legal process can become. I know firsthand. I’ve dealt wtih my ex both with bulldog attorneys and by ourselves, and I have to say the latter always works better. I know it’s so hard at times, but i would tell any divorced person to bite your tongue and “suck it up” for lack of better words. All lawyer bills stem from anger. You couldn’t have said it better!! If you’d like to guest blog this blog on mine, please get in touch with me! I would love to repost this! http://www.divorcedgirlsmiling.com.