Which Costs More – Following or Ignoring Your Attorney’s Advice?

When your lawyer says, “Don’t take his calls for a while; let things cool off, first.”  If the next thing you do is answer an angry phone call from your divorcing husband you are likely to find yourself in the middle of an expensive issue that may not have even existed until you answered the phone.

Here is a pretty common example.

Husband (Harry) and Wife (Wilma) are living separately while they go through their divorce process.  The school-age kids spend most nights at home with Wilma, and have dinner with Harry one night per week. The parents alternate who gets the kids on the weekends.  Things are working pretty smoothly.  Wilma starts dating a new guy, and one night he is leaving her house as the kids are coming home from dinner at Dad’s.  So, a brief introduction is made:

Wilma:  “This is my new friend Rex.  These are my kids.”

Rex & Kids (simultaneous mumbles): “Nice to meet you. ‘Bye.”

Over and done. Rex leaves, kids get ready for bed.  Until the following weekend, when out of nowhere, one of the kids sitting in the back seat of Harry’s car, says, “Hey, dad.  Have you ever met Rex?”

Two possible scenarios are about to unfold.  Let’s stop and walk through each one for a glimpse into the ways a divorce can go up or down in price pretty quickly at a moment like that.

Option 1 – Follow your lawyer’s advice.

Wilma is home making dinner and her phone rings.  It is Harry.  He has the kids, so she has to answer it – just in case.

Wilma (answering phone):  “Hello?”

Harry (sputtering mad):  “They are hanging out with your new boyfriend? What the heck is that??!!”

W:  “Are the kids okay? Where are they?”

H: “The kids are fine, they are watching TV in the next room.”

W:  “Oh, okay, so long as they are safe.  Listen, my lawyer advised me not to speak with you directly about anything else right now.  Everything is too crazy.  Let’s talk in a few days, instead.”

H: “How dare you—“ …  Call ends.

Harry hangs up and immediately calls his lawyer.  He rants and rages about what a terrible mother Wilma is. The lawyer listens politely while the meter runs.  At the end of this call Harry’s lawyer advises him that if he wants to pursue sole custody he will need an additional $20,000 retainer.

Harry decides not to pursue any further legal action at this time and calms down by the time he returns the kids to Wilma on Sunday.

TOTAL COST OPTION 1:  One 30 minute call between Harry and his lawyer.

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Option 2 – Ignore your lawyer’s advice.

Wilma is home making dinner and her phone rings.  It is Harry.  He has the kids, so she has to answer it – just in case.

Wilma (answering phone):  “Hello?”

Harry (sputtering mad):  “They are hanging out with your new boyfriend? What the heck is that??!!”

W:  “You are over-reacting they only met for a minute, and you cannot tell me who I let into this house anymore.”

H:  “You do whatever you want when you do not have my kids there, but it is irresponsible of you to introduce them to your new boyfriend when we are not even divorced yet.”

W:  “How dare you call me irresponsible? I am the one who is taking care of them all week long, while you are doing who-knows-what in your new bachelor pad.”

H: “You don’t understand how much I hate being away from them.  If you hate having custody so much, why don’t we just see what a judge says about them living with me, instead?”

W: “Fine! I’ll tell my lawyer!”

H: “Fine!”

They hang up & call their lawyers.  Even if one lawyer tries to stop this run-away train, the other might not.  Custody frequently begins with a request of the court that someone from the court’s family relations office meet with the kids, and each parent, and see each kid interact with each parent in each parent’s home.  (This is called a “Custody Study.”)

The lawyers write and file motions for a custody study, which they must then argue before a judge.  If the judge approves it, there is another 3 – 6 months worth of attorney billing and interaction with the family services division of your local courthouse.

At the end, even if the recommendation is to continue with joint custody, a neutral party might recommend a parenting plan that is inconvenient for all of you. But, because you have left it to relative strangers to decide, they may be the ones determining the next several years of your relationship with your children.  (Or, worse, the custody study could give one parent exclusive rights to the children.)

TOTAL COST OPTION 2:  Two lawyers working a total of about 15 hours each, on this one question.  Plus, your own time off from work and child care costs. Plus there is the possibility of a devastating outcome.

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The longer and more attentively you retain control over the emotions and discussions surrounding your own divorce, the greater your potential of keeping down the costs.

What We Love:  Clients who diligently follow good advice from their informed lawyers and themselves to a more cost-effective and calm divorce and post-divorce life.

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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