Podcast Episode 6 – How to Control Costs in a New Jersey Divorce

EPISODE 06

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 is addressed.

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 yeah.

[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, right?

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 warm.

[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 saying.

[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 comparison.

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 that perspective.

[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, right?

[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 myself so.

[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 sorry.

[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 practice.

[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 enjoyed this.

[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.

[END]

Divorce Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a Podcast Transcript of our episode on the subject of Frequently Asked Questions. You can also listen to it by clicking here.

I know when I majored in English during college and I thought about a career perhaps in journalism. We heard about who, what, when, where, why, how. Those were the important questions that essentially served to cover everything.

In divorce, it’s simplified. You already know who; your spouse, you already know where; the jurisdiction where you reside, that’s usually pretty simple. Sometimes it’s not, but usually it is. My clients, they provide the why, they know why they’re there. The questions for me as a divorce attorney, with my practice located here in Hunterdon County and serving central New Jersey, is a lot of when, how and what. 

The what questions are pretty simple. What will this cost? What would it cost for my divorce attorney? What would it cost in terms of what I have to pay to my spouse? What will this cost in terms of how much time I have to give up with my children? The what questions dominate – these are the dominant questions in a divorce. Then the other major question I always hear is “when?” Invariably, this is the number one question. How long is this going to take? How long until I’m divorced? 

Of course being a lawyer, I say, “Well, depends.” Then I say, “Normally, a divorce in New Jersey can take anywhere from a couple months up to a couple years.” I’d say for my practice, most cases last four to eight months on average.

The real general rule of thumb that I tell clients, or prospective clients is once you come to a settlement and you’ve got a drafted marital settlement agreement, you take that period plus about a month for the court to get you scheduled to finalize your divorce and that’s how long it takes to get divorced. How long it takes you and your spouse with or without the assistance of counsel to come to written agreement, plus about a month. 

So, four to eight months on average to get a divorce, but it’s so personal and so fact-sensitive, all you can really do is attempt to move it forward quickly and efficiently. Our firm tries to be efficient. We aim to move the matter forward as quickly as possible, given the factors. There’s obviously factors outside of our control. The court system itself has timelines in place and scheduling, but mostly, it’s how long to take for you and your spouse with or without the assistance of attorneys to come to an agreement. 

In terms of cost, again—me being a lawyer, it’s somewhat variable. Most divorce attorneys in New Jersey, almost all charge by the hour for certain ethical guidelines in place that make it hard for us to charge otherwise. We can’t do a contingency fee that you couldn’t bend and a personal injury case or something like that. It’s hourly cost. Then how many hours takes to get a divorce. I usually ask for a $5,000 retainer for most contested divorces and closer to $2,500 or $3,500 for uncontested. Then you bill against that retainer amount every month. If there’s money left over at the end, you’re refunded. If the matter hasn’t resolved at the time that the money has run through or almost run through, I have a discussion with my clients. 

The important thing is as I tell clients unfortunately, we’re not building a deck, or doing something that we can map out how long it’s going to take and we’re going to have a finished product, a lot of it is going to come down to how long it takes people to come to terms of settlement. The more that they can do to work out those terms before they come to us or between themselves, that’s really only beneficial to them. The more you get into the discovery, or complex matters it really can take a lot of time. 

Unfortunately, as efficient as we are it can also take a good deal of money to get through the divorce process, depending upon the case, the emotions of those involved, the personalities of those involved and the attorneys involved. Regarding general issues in a divorce, if you have children, it’s going to be what kind of parenting time can you agree upon? Who’s going to have custody? Will it be joined 50/50 custody? 

We have some variation where one parent is the parent of primary residence and the other is alternate. Courts more and more are moving towards 50/50 parenting time and asking you to put the burden on you to explain why it shouldn’t be 50/50, if you’re seeking more than 50/50 parenting time. 

Child support is calculated based upon a number of factors; most importantly, the number of overnights each parent has with the child or children. The income of the parents, alimony also comes down to the differential in your income, along with how long you’ve been married and there’s a number of factors that go into play to determine whether or not there’s an alimony obligation. 

Another major issue they’ll be confronted in divorce is equitable distribution; everything from how you divide your cars, your house, your stock options, your pensions, down to how do you divide your debts, your credit card debts, everything that you’ve commingled, or earned, or get encumbered by during your marriage, you’ll have to now split in some fashion. Usually, it’s a 50/50 split, but not always. That’s something your divorce attorney will walk you through and determine what kinds of rights and responsibilities you have regarding not just alimony and child support, but also an equitable distribution. 

Regarding what types of questions you should be prepared to be asked a divorce initial consultation, we’ll review basic things, like when you go to a doctor’s appointment, they ask for your address, your phone number, or just basic information and then we’ll get into more specific information to the divorce; your income history, your education, your employment, your spouse’s employment, any issues with your children, any issues with your health, any possible custody issues, any history of domestic violence, how much your property may be worth, your assets, your bank accounts, investment accounts, college costs, health insurance and life insurance issues. If you have a business, how do you value the business? You have profit sharing, how do you confront profit sharing and pensions? 

The divorce consult generally takes about one and a half to two hours to get through depending upon the complexity of the case. We charge a flat rate of $250.00. During that divorce consult, we’ll figure out whether we’re a good fit for you, you’ll decide whether you’re a good fit for our firm. From there, we’ll drop a retainer agreement and start a formal attorney-client relationship, if that’s something both parties wish to proceed with. 

Our firm is located in Raritan Township, Hunterdon County. Again, we serve all of Central New Jersey, especially Hunterdon County and Somerset County. If you’d like to check us out on the internet, our website is mynjdivorcelawyer.com. If you’d like to schedule a divorce consult, you can do so at that web address using our scheduling feature. If you’d like to call to setup a initial consult, you can call 908-237-3096. During the divorce consult, we can go through not just these questions, but all the questions pertaining to your divorce more specifically. 

I hope this frequently-asked-questions feature is helpful. Thanks for listening. Take care. 

Podcast 5 – Addressing Emotion in a Divorce

EPISODE 05 

Click here to listen to the Podcast itself http://mynjdivorcelawyer.libsyn.com/episode-5-addressing-emotion-in-a-divorceor read below for a transcript of the material.

[0:00:08.5] CT: How did it come to this and what can you do about it? How did a relationship that started out with fancy dinners and romance turn into a “we need to have a talk” or a “maybe we need to separate” or a discovery on a cellphone that there is an affair, or a now someone is packing up and leaving?  

How do you get beyond that point when you’ve tried marriage therapy or couple’s counseling, when you’ve gone to individual therapy, perhaps? What do you do when you’ve sort of lost that control, where a marriage is broken irreparably and irretrievably, what do you do to move it forward when you have to get divorced?  

This is Carl Taylor and this is the Happily Even After Podcast. I’m a local attorney in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Our firm serves Central New Jersey and we have a great deal of information on our website, www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com. The purpose of this podcast is to sort of delve deeper into some of these issues. Now, very few divorce lawyers are trained in any professional setting to deal with psychology or the emotion of a divorce and yet it inescapably becomes a part of our practice. It’s very, very difficult–probably impossible to separate emotion from a divorce and it’s sort of the opposite of most cases.  

In most cases, in most areas of the law, it’s 70-80% “the Law” and 20-30% emotion.  It’s sort of flipped on its head in divorce law. What you’re dealing with is an area where it’s almost 20-30% actual legal issues and 70-80% emotional issues and of course, that varies by case.  

There are some cases that are relatively amicable and they end fairly quickly. They’ve reached a point where the parties perhaps no longer can work out the relationship but they’re comfortable with each other, they’ve processed it, they’re in a good spot and those cases, kind of come and go through a divorce practice relatively quickly. They’re not the cases a divorce lawyer generally remembers 10, 15, 20 years later. It’s usually the high conflict cases or the cases with a lot of emotion. 

I think to some extent that’s because it’s hard for, at least it’s hard for me as a divorce lawyer, to know how to address the emotion and I’ve given a lot of thought to it and of course, I can relate to it because we all have family dynamics, we all deal with emotion. None of us are robots so even though I understand the law, I think one of the things that I need to do or I try to do and probably most divorce lawyers feel the same way is read up on the emotional piece and talk to experts in marriage counseling or therapists or read books about how do you help somebody grieve, because that’s part of it, it’s not what we’re getting paid to do but it’s part of it.  

But we really can’t separate the emotion from the divorce and we can’t be robotic either. So what I want to touch on in this podcast and in future podcasts, I’d like to have some of these experts on to talk about emotion with them in a more clinical manner than I can. But I guess I just want to talk about some ground rules or ideas for anyone contemplating a divorce, anyone who is fearful that their children are being alienated by a spouse or an ex or if you’re separated or even after a divorce. Just because the divorce is finalized, doesn’t mean all the emotions go into a tidy little box and don’t come out ever again.  

A lot of divorces are more like a Pandora’s box, if anything, because at any moment those emotions can be triggered or released and I definitely don’t want to ever do a disservice to my clients by letting people think it’s going to be easy, because it’s not. On our website, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve added a section on various parts of the law where we have all of our articles and links to articles where we’ve been published offsite and links to relevant podcasts. But we also have the section, one of the eight, it’s only addresses the issue of emotion in a divorce.  We’ll have interviews with someone like Glenn Murphy who is a licensed counselor and marriage therapist in Somerset County, about how do you address the emotion of divorce with your children? How do you help your children through a divorce?  

I mean, that’s a very real concern. We care about our children and obviously a divorce will impact your children, one way or the other. Even in the best-case scenario, there’s going to be some impact and how do you protect them through that? So, I think today it’s more of a base line in this podcast, talking about emotion. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about it, we want to keep it in. But there’s going to be emotion as part of your divorce, that’s only natural and your divorce lawyer’s not going to be trained. Someone like me is not – I’m not trained, necessarily, in any clinical manner. 

So what I can do is, in certain cases, recommend that somebody go to a therapist, but not everybody’s comfortable doing that. Some people probably take it personally. It’s not–it’s just something I think is a good idea because a divorce as they say is worse than a death, it doesn’t mean you have to go to therapy forever, it doesn’t mean you need to be medicated. But talking to someone, clergy, therapist, reading books, reading some of the materials we have access to on our website, whatever it is that you do to help yourself through the lows in life that inevitably will strike.  

Some people take up running as a healthy way to get through it. I know for me, I really enjoy going for long hikes to clear my head. When I’m really going through a tough problem that I want to solve, I might go out and hike 10, 15 miles on a Saturday and take those four, five, six hours to myself, away from everybody in nature and think. It’s going to be different for everybody. Go wail on your guitar, go talk to a family member, talk to your parents, whatever it might be but make sure you have a support network and understand that even an attorney like me who is talking about emotion in a divorce, I’m not going to be trained.  

Some attorneys probably are trained or dual trained, but most attorneys, even in family law, we’re not trained in how to necessarily address the emotion and we’re used to people being very emotional. I think a lot of times, I can only speak for myself, it can be frustrating when you see a case take a turn for the worse because of emotion, one way or the other and it’s tough if you think someone’s playing games because, you know, divorce is not a game. It’s serious business and at the same time, I think sometimes you have to let it out. Sometimes I’ve been through mediations where it didn’t seem helpful but, you know, a few days later or a couple of weeks later. The case settles unexpectedly and it’s almost like a blood-letting, you let the negative emotion out.  

You know, the reason why most people are getting divorced ultimately is because of a lack of communication, a lack of boundaries, and a lack of trust. So now you are going through a really difficult situation with somebody that you’ve had a hard time communicating with, with somebody that you don’t necessarily trust. So how do you get through this difficult process and you have the stranger, most times the stranger that is your lawyer and a lot of clients are skeptical of their lawyers. I have clients who wonder if I am in it to run up a bill, for instance, and I think in almost any high conflict divorce, there’s going to be a moment where as an attorney, you look at your client and the client is thinking, “Do I really trust this person?” I think that is natural.  

So learning how to communicate effectively with your lawyer or having your lawyer hopefully teach you how to communicate with them and how to take the wheel of your divorce to some extent because there is no single factor in your divorce that is going to have a bigger impact on it than you and yeah, you are paying me as your lawyer a lot of money per hour for my knowledge and expertise in this area of the law. But to get to the point where you have a settlement and you are clear on your goals and you’re clear in what you need to get out of this divorce to move forward, a lot of that is up to you.  

It is not entirely up to you because there is another party, your spouse, and then there’s the court and they’re going to have the court that’s going to have another agenda and its own views. The biggest agenda of all generally being moving an overstuffed docket as quickly as possible efficiently through. But there is no way to come out of this with everything that you want unless you’re well informed about what your rights and responsibilities are and most people don’t want to think about the second half of that equation, but it is true. In a divorce you may have certain rights but you’re also going to have responsibilities and if you come in for a consult with me I am going to tell you about your rights and also your responsibilities.  

You may have to pay alimony, you may have to pay child support and you may not like it. You may not have a great custody case or maybe you do. But you need to understand the law and you need to understand what is attainable and the cost and time and money to pursue every avenue of your divorce to its conclusion. When I was growing up, I know I saw my parents who have been married for a very long time and have a very good marriage. But I saw them go through an out of nowhere civil type litigation where a township error led to their being damage to their house and then the township didn’t want to pay for it and I saw my parents who were very down to earth, blue collar kind of people go through this and I was a young kid and, you know, finances were tight already and they got even tighter.  

It didn’t seem like they were getting the proper communication from their attorney, who knows? But it seemed like they were in the dark about the process and what was going to happen and I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer to do the opposite of that. I wanted to go out and really inform people about the process and divorce law is a great area for that because I work with real people. I have the ability to really take people through a difficult process and be their guide and hopefully point them to materials and sort of almost teach them the process and the procedure and the law and those rights and responsibilities, and it is not always smooth and it is not always perfect and every case is different and has different personalities.  

But what I come to over and over again is that if you have that knowledge that’s great. That is one part of the puzzle, but you also have to have knowledge of yourself, knowledge of your soon to be ex, knowledge of the style of your attorney and to their attorney and really just an overarching knowledge of the emotion of divorce. So I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but in the coming weeks on our website, on social media, in our podcast here I really want to delve in more and more into what is the emotional mix that has to be addressed in a divorce and it might be in your case, you feel a lot of guilt because you had an affair and you got caught. Maybe you just want to give up all of your alimony rights and give up your kid’s child support rights and take less custody and parenting time because you feel guilty.  

Or maybe that was your spouse who did all of that stuff and you just want to punish them and they’re a great mom but they went out and had an affair. So now you want to make sure that you punish them by taking away her time with her kids, with your kids. There’s going to be all kinds of — I can’t get into the specifics because I am talking to a wide audience but there’s going to be feelings of abandonment, doubt. People who are not sure if they wanted to get divorced because they are afraid that they’re never going to find anybody else, so they stick through a bad marriage.  

There’s going to be people who feel anger, frustration. There is going to be people who have legitimate psychological issues, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder and on and on that impact the divorce. There’s going to be feelings of apathy, right? The opposite of love as they say isn’t hate it’s apathy. There’s going to be people who are depressed because their marriage is ending and they don’t want to fill out the forms.  

How do you get to the point where you need to do to answer discovery and pick your head up to address this issues and there’s going to be people who don’t want to put the money into the divorce that it needs to get it resolved in the sort of catch 22. These are all largely emotional issues and until you can, like I said earlier, blood let some of these issues you really can’t get to meat of the case what I call the 20-30% that is the actual law. You know the law that addresses each component of your divorce case.  

So today was just to give a general overview of emotion in divorce and you can look for more information on mynjdivorcelawyer.com. If you’d like to schedule a consult, my number is 908-237-3096 and I hope everyone’s enjoying a good January thus far in 2019 and I look forward to addressing, in coming weeks, the issue of emotion in divorce and to have some experts who can help us delve into this topic and understand it better.  

So thanks again for listening and have a great day. Bye.  

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