Today I get to write about a subject that makes me feel a bit squeamish: divorcing an attorney.
As I’ve written about in past blog entries, divorce can be different based upon the profession(s) of those involved. For instance, in a divorce involving law enforcement there are often heightened legal issues involving pensions, custody, and the impact of any domestic violence claims.
Like law enforcement professionals, lawyers have an elevated divorce rate. This is likely from the long-hours on the job and the fact that the job is somewhat stressful. As a divorce lawyer, I get to see first-hand that having a lawyer as a client is both a blessing and a curse. We like to pride ourselves on logic but there is an emotional component to divorce law. It can be difficult for me to represent lawyers because they often work in other practice areas than divorce law and do not fully comprehend just how bizarre divorce law in New Jersey can be.
So, if you’re married to an attorney and you are considering divorce you may be concerned that your spouse will have special knowledge of the system or its players over you. However, by hiring an experienced local divorce and family law firm you should quickly be up to speed. Below is an outline of some ways that your divorce from an attorney may be different from other divorces:
Many lawyers are self-employed. Any time a party to a divorce is not a W-2 income earner it adds greater complexity to the case—where the case proceeds to litigation or is able to be amicably resolved.
How are a lawyer’s business contacts and good will valued? Should the spouse receive moneys to offset any “equity” in the law firm? What if the law firm has other equity partners, how may that impact the law firm itself? It is difficult to value a law firm because so much of it is dependent upon the personality of an attorney or a group of attorneys. For instance, a solo attorney may have a thriving business but how much is it really worth if the clients of the firm would not work with another attorney buying the practice?
Another complicating factor to divorcing an attorney is that small businesses such as law firms (and statistically most lawyers in New Jersey work in small or solo law practices), may be reinvesting profit back into a business or otherwise offsetting expenses so that their income may appear deflated. How much income should be imputed for alimony or child support in such instances?
Alimony and Child Support
As noted above, there are many complicating factors in valuing a legal business and that may also create issues for imputing income for alimony and child support if you are divorcing a lawyer.
In many firms bonuses may make up a larger part of the compensation structure. In smaller firms there may be a risk that a handshake and a wink exists with partners that no bonuses will be paid until after a partner’s divorce is finalized. There may be the need for discovery on these issues and even the hiring of an expert such as a forensic accountant.
Custody and Parenting Time
Because lawyers work long hours you may have a stronger claim for custody and/or parenting time versus if you were married to someone in a different profession. If your wife is a lawyer, for instance, she may work 80 hours a week versus your 40, so you may be able to insist upon being named as the parent of primary residence in the divorce.
For these reasons, a divorce from an attorney may be more complicated regarding custody and parenting time than the average divorce.
I mention prenups/premarital agreements because it is likely that more lawyers will have sought a prenup than the general population. If there is a prenup then this is another issue that will impact or potentially impact on your divorce.
Knowledge of the System/The Lawyer Personality
Let’s be honest, lawyers can have difficult personalities. I know this because I myself am a lawyer. It’s difficult to live in my own head let alone for others to interact with me. And as much as I love the legal profession and most of my colleagues, there are certainly many unpleasant characters that I get to interact with on almost any given day.
Lawyers tend to be Type-A personalities and may veer into being “control freaks.” This makes a divorce potentially messy as so much is out of your control. Many clients getting divorced from a lawyer are concerned that their spouse may have special treatment because of their profession (and some cases will be moved out of the county for this reason, particularly if you are married to a municipal court judge, superior court judge, or other “connected” local lawyer).
That said, if you retain the right attorney then you will have your own expert in your corner, somebody that is not emotionally invested in the matter beyond your best interests. Moreover, if your spouse is not a divorce lawyer then they will likely have only a vague idea of how the family law courts work. They may even be more willing to settle because they hear the horror stories of how expensive contested divorce cases can be.
And that is perhaps the key takeaway—most cases ultimately settle outside the court system. Very few divorce cases go all the way to trial. Although motions on specific issues are more common, if a judge feels they cannot make a fair decision then they will be required to recuse themselves for the case.
You should not feel intimidated merely because you are divorcing a lawyer. Nobody is above the law and ultimately divorcing a lawyer will have the same court rules, laws, and statutes as divorcing anyone else. By hiring an experienced divorce lawyer you can help level the playing ground and move forward with your divorce and onto your future.