INTERVIEW with Adam Eisenhut, Esq.
[0:00:07.7] CT: Hello and welcome to the Carl Taylor Law Divorce
and Family Law Podcast, rebranded as Happily Even After. Today, we have a special guest, Mr. Adam Eisenhut, close
friend of mine. I’m willing to say, go in the record and saying, Adam, you’re
my friend, you’re also one of the best family law attorneys I’ve ever seen in
action. You’re a local guy in Flemington, your office is — you want to describe
a little bit of where you’re at and your firm?
[0:00:33.1] AE: Well since I’m one of the
best attorneys you ever met, now I need to promote this podcast. Thank you. No,
I’m a local attorney in Flemington, focused primarily almost exclusively in
family law, it’s the focus of my firm and primarily, in Hunterdon County, a little
bit in Somerset and Warren, is where my practice area really is and I’m sure
very similar to you and I don’t think we’ve had a case against each other yet,
which is why we can still say that we’re friends.
[0:00:56.0] CT: Yeah, it’s interesting. We’ve seen a lot of
friendships ruined amongst family law attorneys over cases but luckily, we
haven’t gotten there yet but maybe soon. Until then, we’ll have our board game
nights to destroy our friendships.
So Adam, I think one of the things
that people say when they come in is I tend to notice that clients go, “How
long is it going to take and how much is it going to cost?”
[0:01:15.8] AE: Yeah.
[0:01:16.4] CT: I think today, it would really be helpful to the
six people listening, your parents my parents, and our spouses to kind of go in
to how can you keep costs down? Because I think clients kind of underestimate
how much their involvement or lack of involvement or their attitude impacts
that cost. They kind of tend to believe it’s all up to us or the court system
but I think that they’re actually one of the most important elements to the
divorce, would you agree with that?
[0:01:40.9] AE: Yeah, I think you know, because I really do get
that question, I’m sure you too about how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s
going to take and I think that’s ultimately a very fair question but it’s very
difficult to answer and I always feel like I’m giving a very unsatisfying
response when I say, “We can control about 50% of it but what you, your spouse
and their attorneys do was going to dictate the cost to a certain extent.” But
you’re absolutely right, that clients can do a lot to keep the cost down and I
try to emphasize that, I know you do too in your practice.
[0:02:10.3] CT: I just had a case that ended in 30 days. Client
came to me, signed up and 30 days later, they were divorced and then of course
we have cases that go two, three years, right? It’s the same attorney so a lot
of it really comes down to – I think the emotional piece more than anything
else, even complex cases can be resolved pretty quickly if the emotional piece
But a lot of times, if you have one
of the parties who is not ready to move forward for whatever reason, or they
feel guilty or they feel angry, it can kid of hold things up because I think
one time you said to me, Adam, two good divorce attorneys could probably go
into a room and after about a day or so, after about eight hours workout all
the complex financials and everything else and have a fair agreement. So what
changes that I think is really the emotion to it, right?
So, what are some of the tips that
you would have, and I’ll add in as well, to try and keep cost down?
[0:03:02.8] AE: Well, I think a lot of cases that spiral out of
control usually have custody as an issue and that’s difficult I think for the
attorneys because we’re guided so much by what our clients, the parents are
saying. Nobody wants to be the attorney to say, “Don’t spend the time with your
kids that you think is appropriate,” or especially if a client is saying the
other parent is unfit or there’s a safety issue.
Attorneys are always, and I know I am
very reluctant to question that because we’re not there and we don’t want to
put kids in a dangerous situation. So parents, I think, are in a unique
position to resolve what could be the most difficult portion of their case
themselves. I see a lot of people come in and say, “We’ve already talked about
custody, we hash it out at the dining room table, we have a plan. Help, fill in
some gaps or answer some questions but we fundamentally have an agreement as to
what it should look like generally about what school district the kids should
be in, where the kid’s going to live primarily, something to build off of,” and
it takes what could be a very difficult and expensive issue and it makes it
very easy. I think that’s, quite honestly parents are in the best position, not
the attorneys, to make that decision. Now, I don’t think the courts either have
the same understanding of the family dynamic that the parents themselves do.
[0:04:18.5] CT: You know what surprises me as a parent, Adam?
[0:04:21.0] AE: I don’t have kids so I don’t get a vote, so
[0:04:22.5] CT: I’m always surprised that I’ve yet to see a case
where people come in and go, “I want to negotiate the other side gets more
parenting time.” If I ever get divorced, I’m going to be like, “I insist that I
get the weekends, or I don’t get the weekends.” Like, “Christie, you can take
the weekends I’m going to go and play board games at Adam’s house and so he
gets divorced, I’m going to lumber around.” I mean, I’m being somewhat
facetious, but everyone wants that extra time and sometimes it’s not genuine,
Sometimes it’s a way to keep child
support low but really, you know, because you and I are pretty much the same,
we’ve been doing this about 10 or more years, right? I’ve seen a big change, I’m
sure you have too Adam where when we first started, it was like, “Okay, if you’re
the dad, you’re going to get alternate weekends and maybe Wednesday night
dinner and that’s that.” Although the law was gender neutral, it was really not
really at that time when I first started 10 years ago, it was rare to see a
father get 50/50 parenting time. I think what a lot of the judges are now
saying is, in a more informal and formal way, is, “Hey, it’s 50/50 and tell us
why we should come off of that.”
[0:05:22.0] AE: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because I think
the fundamental case law on it, which is decades old now hasn’t changed but there has been a cultural
shift and I think you do see more involved fathers, you see fathers who are
more willing to fight for custody and I think to a certain extent –
[0:05:37.6] CT: Unlike me. This is all a joke if it should come
to pass, this is not evidentiary, I don’t think.
[0:05:45.1] AE: Fortunately, your family
probably is not listening to this podcast, so you’re safe.
[0:05:48.9] CT: Sorry, go ahead.
[0:05:49.7] AE: I think that the households where one parent has
stayed at home with the kids is more rare than it used to be just based on the
economics of today’s society where there’s a lot of just working families where
everyone is working and I think that’s pushed the change towards a more 50/50
centric idea. It’s not appropriate for every case but I think that it is much
more appropriate than it used to be.
Yeah, I think it’s interesting, you
know? Family law, it’s kind of like one of those things where you kind of
evolve with the times where, you know, I was a law clerk during the great
recession and there was this discussion of, hey, you know, to modify child
support alimony, it used to be really onerous, it would take years of permanent
substantial change in circumstances but during that time period it’s like, “Hey,
look, everyone’s out at work, it’s the great recession, maybe six months being
out of work is enough to modify child support alimony.” Now I think it’s
probably kind of lengthening again now that the economy’s a little bit stronger
at least in terms of employment numbers.
[0:06:42.7] CT: You realize you sound like you’re 110 years old.
When I was a law clerk in the great recession.
[0:06:49.9] AE: We had to go and cut down our own trees to stay
[0:06:52.3] CT: Calculate child support by
hand, both ways.
[0:06:54.9] AE: You don’t’ do that?
[0:06:56.3] CT: So I think what we’ve talked
about so far to run it down is we talked about how emotion really has a big
factor and I can get into that a little bit more. I tend to say to people, don’t
be afraid to go to talk to a therapist to go for long runs, to meditate,
whatever it is that you need to do to get through the stress because the fact
of the matter is most divorce attorneys, we’re not trained in the emotion.
We worked with it all day but we’re
not trained in any kind of clinical sense how to address it and that, if you
talk to a client for an hour and a half about you know, their feelings about a
case, that can be very therapeutic for the client but then when the get the
bill they might say, “Wait a minute, maybe it would have been cheaper to talk
to my therapist and have – way more effective, right? Talk to me long enough,
you might need therapy.
[0:07:39.3] AE: I do think that the problem, the disconnect is that
very rarely do both parties in a divorce, are they at the same place in terms
of accepting the divorce.
[0:07:49.9] CT: That’s so true.
[0:07:51.1] AE: Usually you get somebody
who has been thinking about it, possibly planning it and is finally pulled the
trigger and saying, “I want a divorce,” and they’ve processed a lot of the
emotion possibly for months and then we have the other partner who sometimes
completely blindsided. You’ve got one side who is ready to go, who has made a
decision, who wants to get it done as quickly as possible and then you’ve got
someone else who maybe just found out for the first time their marriage is
ending and all of a sudden, is asked to transition to just a pure economic
bottom line analysis of things. It’s really unrealistic I think to expect
someone to play catch up that quickly. But of course they’re sort of forced to
and if they don’t then they’re going to start incurring more cost like you were
[0:08:30.7] CT: Adam, we should probably talk about some of the
mediation and arbitration, some of the other avenues available to people. I
think every case, I don’t like to go in with the mindset of this should be a
collaborative law case or this should be straight litigation. I think to some
extent, every case is different so you kind of have to listen at the initial
consult to see some of these keywords like is it fit for mediation or is the
kind of case where maybe I’ll just draft a marital settlement agreement and
send it to the other side and we don’t even need a mediator because they’re
pretty far along.
What are some of the methods
available if you don’t mind diving into that?
[0:09:02.3] AE: Sure, I have the clerical training and I do
mediation and I believe in both of those things and so I try to push that when
I meet clients and so I sort of come to the approach, a little differently than
what you said. I kind of come to the approach of can we shoehorn it into
mediation or collaborative divorce.
You need everyone to sign off on that
and so if the other side is unwilling to do it that way then you know, you got
a litigate as every family law attorney knows, 90 something percent of cases
settle at some point even when you’re litigating. So you’re always trying to
settle the case and you’re always trying, it’s always the cheapest and most
cost effective way to do anything. But if I can get a case into mediation or
the [inaudible] process early, I generally think that it’s a cost savings and
you’re generally focused on the steps you need to take to settle the case as
opposed to jumping through the hoops for court filings and meeting court dates.
Which are important in some cases but other times not so relevant.
[0:09:56.7] CT: You know, another thing that when you start to,
let’s say mediation fails, you get to the point where you’re really concerned,
your concern is getting discovery and do you need experts and that’s really
where cases could get very expensive, you know? Do you need a forensic
accountant and they’re going to make divorce lawyers look inexpensive by
I find it difficult personally when
you have a client and says, “I think I understand the finances and I have
everything I need,” and it’s like, well maybe you do or maybe you don’t, but at
what point is it cost effective to pursue through more discovery. It’s very
tactic first, there’s a lot of tactics in divorce. Like you’re not quite sure
what’s going to work, you just kind of hope to get to the point where maybe it
will work, you know? Then you hope you don’t miss an asset, I mean, it’s very –
it’s kind of difficult you know?
[0:10:41.2] AE: You’re describing malpractice.
[0:10:44.8] CT: When a client
goes, “All right, enough is enough, I don’t want to go any further, I
understand all the assets, I don’t want to do formal discovery,” and it’s like
that’s like going to save you money and that’s great but at the same time, if
you’ve missed an asset class, that can be very expensive.
[0:10:56.4] AE: Yeah, I think there is obviously more
sophisticated litigants who are more familiar with their own finances and those
cases are easier and less expensive because the due diligence is easier to do.
When you have someone who truly says, “I don’t know what my spouse’s business
is worth, I don’t know what assets they have or I think that they’ve been
moving money around,” it becomes much harder to settle the case with at least
with the certainty that you’ve covered all your bases and at that point it’s
the client decision as to how much discovery to engage in and what makes sense
from a cost benefit analysis. Like you said, every single case is different in
[0:11:32.9] CT: What’s your philosophy on who takes to lead in a
divorce action? Because I tend to say to clients, “Look, I’m a guide. At the
end of the day, it’s your journey, you’re walking through the woods. I’ve
walked through these woods before, I kind of know where things are but
ultimately, I’m not going to force the decision because you have to live with
this marital settlement agreement or the result of litigation or wherever it
might be for the rest of your life. Whereas this is one case of many for me.” Not
that I don’t care but I think, you know, I try to get to let people have the
understanding of, to some extent, “You drive the bus but I’m here in the passenger
seat trying to help you make sure you don’t go off the rails kind of thing.”
I find it’s a little bit of a, some
clients want you to hold their hand more, some clients are happy being in
control and there’s obviously a lot in between. But how do you address those
issues in your practice?
[0:12:15.3] AE: You know, I think it depends on the client and
that doesn’t sound like a very satisfying response but –
[0:12:19.5] CT: How much will this cost? How long will it take?
Well, it depends.
[0:12:23.8] AE: I think there’s just a big difference because I
have clients who they come in and they say, “Explain to me what you think is
fair and then I will make a decision based on that.” I have other clients who
say, “I am completely relying on you, my attorney, to tell me if I should do
this or this,” and when there’s – I have a case right now where there’s some
complex legal issues where it’s one of those rare cases where it’s in a legal
grey area, which is always, it might be interesting for the attorneys but that
always means it’s expensive for the clients so I say, theoretically, a court
could say this, the law’s unclear on this point, you could litigate and get
this outcome or we could litigate and get a very different outcome and so there’s
potentially enormous costs involved and a compromise is difficult to reach.
But I generally send, say a
compromise is probably the better solution. But I can’t force them to make it,
I can just explain the costs and explain what I think is going to happen and
that’s generally what I do is I try to save risk, reward, cost benefit analysis
but there are absolutely clients who just say, “What would you do?” and I try
to give my honest answer if I was in their shoes but generally, I’m obviously
more comfortable when they’re making those decisions for themselves.
[0:13:32.7] CT: Right, you know, one of the things because your
background, I think you’ve always done pretty much nothing but family law,
[0:13:37.6] AE: I’m a one trick pony.
[0:13:39.1] CT: Whereas my career has been a little more varied
and I’ve done work for government entities or insurance companies and, you
know, when you sit an adjuster, it’s very different than sitting with somebody
going through a divorce because the adjuster says, “What are the odds of this
working, you know?” “Well, we’ve got 60% chance of winning this motion or
whatever.” “How much is it going to cost for your counsel fees?” Then they have
some kind of algorithm that decides whether you file the motion or not. It’s
very kind of detached and I like that to some extent.
I think family law could have more of
that because you see people spending sometimes thousands of dollars to fight
over like an old carpet or something that’s not worth anything. I don’t think,
you know, the kind of attorneys that we really know would encourage that
behavior. We certainly, I know you and I or at least I am, and I’m sure you try
to stop that behavior. Like, “You’re fighting over something that doesn’t make
sense, you’re wasting money.” But sometimes I think the emotional piece gets
added in to the litigation and kind of creates like a toxic stew where it’s
kind of hard to view it as dispassionately as you would like.
[0:14:37.2] AE: Yeah, and I think that is sort of the rule of
the attorney is to sort of be, if nothing else, just a filter and to – I tell
my clients, “I will take the position you want me to take, I will fight for
what you want me to fight for but when it’s just me and you talking, I’m going
to tell you if what you’re asking for is unreasonable. I’m going to tell you if
what you’re asking for is something a court’s not going to grant you or if an argument you want me to
make is not going to be cost effective.”
Unless it’s something completely
crazy or unethical, I will make those arguments if I am asked to when someone
says, “This is important to me,” I’ll do it. But I think a large part of our
role is to try to dissuade clients from doing that and I think I know you to
that. A lot of good attorneys do that and I think one of the problems is when
you have attorneys who have no interest in doing that and just want to stoke
those fires and prey upon the emotional component that you were discussing and
just generate more problems for an already distressed family.
[0:15:34.8] CT: Yeah, you
know, you draw an opposing council or even worst, if you have somebody on the
other side who is very stubborn and doesn’t have an attorney, that is one of
the variables that can really make a divorce kind of really last a lot longer
than it should and a lot of times the results aren’t really any different than
they would be settling. But the cost going into a achieving those results are
very high and obviously part of our job is to help control the situation as
best as we can, neutralize opposing council if they’re taking some of these
tactics but you know, it is very frustrating sometimes when you see a case
becoming more expensive than it should and you get the sense that maybe the
other side and/or their attorney for whatever reason are like you said, stoking
the fires and making mountains out of mole hills, so to speak.
So that is one of those reasons why
it is hard to say to a client how much it’s going to cost when they come in.
Because at that moment you generally don’t know who the opposing council is,
you don’t know the attitude of — you can size up your own client pretty
quickly. The more you do it, the more you get a sense for what they want and
who they are but you don’t know who they’re married to and a lot of decisions
come down to, “Well, what do you think we should do?” and it is like, “Well I
don’t know your husband” or “I don’t know your wife, you do. How are they going
to react to this? Is this going to be somebody that is going to move this
forward or are they going to take umbrage at this and it is going to set the
case back if we file this kind of motion or if we take this kind of tactic?”
[0:16:50.5] AE: You know, I think that is
always the balancing act because there’s absolutely positions you could take
and applications you could file with the court that might advance the short
term interests, but it might push back in ultimate settlement and so there is a
lot of strategy in terms of managing. If you know you are going to trial for
example, it is unfortunate but it happens in some cases, you are much more free
to look for their short term gains.
But otherwise, I am usually
counseling my clients saying, “Don’t
send that angry letter, don’t file that is going to embarrass the other side
unnecessarily.” Because at the end of the day, we want to sit across the table
with them and we want them to agree to something that you are going to find
favorable and if they’re just upset that doesn’t lead to a productive
conversation and so ideally, you want to just stick to the facts, move things
forward as quickly as possible.
And you know our business model I
think is the same for you is we rely on word of mouth. So I want to get someone
out of the divorce process as quickly and inexpensively as possible and you
know, hopefully they refer other people going through something similar to me
saying, “I didn’t spend a fortune and I got a fair deal.” So I don’t need a
case to be prolonged and protracted and awful. That is not good for my mental
health and it’s not how my business model works in terms of generating fees for
[0:18:11.1] CT: I think there’s – and we’ll wrap it up I guess
in a couple of minutes Adam, but there are some clients who come in and it’s
like, “Can you be a real bastard? I need a real bastard,” and they tend not to
hire me because they realize I am a bastard but not in the way they want, you
know? So some clients I think going in and this is speaking to there’s no one
listening at this point but if you were hypothetically, you know, when we talk
about the emotion and selecting an attorney and having the thought process of, “Hey
maybe I am not going to go into here and try to create damage or harm other
people,” and you mentioned before we started recording today Adam, the idea of
a knife fight, right? And the old joke about a knife fight is the winner leaves
in an ambulance and the loser leaves in a body bag, right?
So you don’t want to get these knife
fight type situations. But how do you deal — I find it very hard to deal with
those types of clients who sometimes at the end they might say, “Oh, you know
what? You’re pretty level headed and that was a good thing ultimately. I was
wrong.” But some clients really do want to go in and create chaos because I
understand, they’re just so frustrated or they are so upset or they found their
spouse is having an affair and they’re afraid. A lot of them comes to fear,
they are afraid they’ll lose all their money, or their children. I try not to
say to people that, “Maybe you should hire another lawyer.” But there is a lot
of lawyers who build themselves as, “I am the pit bull, I am the shark.” So
sometimes it is not a good fit as I spiral and just talking in a circle, I’m
[0:19:33.9] AE: I usually tell clients that they need to really
think about what their priorities are and if their priorities are having a good
relationship with their children and coming out of the divorce financially
intact, I try to keep everyone focused on that. Because, especially when there
is children, brutal unrelenting litigation between parents always bleeds over
and I think both parents relationships with their children suffer and at the
end of the day, ideally you want to have some savings left and you want to be
able to put your children through college and I think if everyone stays focused
on that, it is much easier.
So I try to redirect the situation,
whether it’s my client or the other side, when I see someone making arguments
or doing things that’s just going to waste money, I try to always keep focused
on those things, which generally works but every now and then you run into
someone who is just trying to destroy your client and you need to be aggressive
and fight back. But very rarely can people afford to do that and so you always
try to go back to the cost benefit analysis and I know that’s how we both
[0:20:40.9] CT: Well Adam, thank you for coming onto the
podcast. I know it is going to be a great boom to your career so you should
probably be thanking me but.
[0:20:47.6] AE: Exactly. To our five listeners, I hope you
[0:20:51.1] CT: Take care and have a good day and Adam, what is
your firm’s website if people want to check you out?
[0:20:56.5] AE: It’s mezlawyers.com.
[0:21:00.7] CT: Okay, we’ll sign off. Take care.