Recently a referral of mine called me after we had spoken about me possibly doing an uncontested divorce for he and his wife. He wanted to see if his wife would work with him through my office, and when he spoke to her about it she said she would think it over. A week later she had secretly lawyered-up and out of the blue, served him with a petition for divorce. The petition carried with it the classic adversarial, ask-more-than-you really-expect-to-get-so-you-have-room-to-bargain claims in it, along with the requisite twist on the fact patterns of the marriage that made her look like the innocent victim and him look like the one who needed to pay in order to equalize the various water colored injustices detailed by the attorney that he had supposedly put her through during the course of the marriage. He now had thirty days to respond to the petition (or be at risk of being held in default) and even less time to respond to an order to show cause addressing a claim for immediate temporary spousal support and attorney fees. Now, with divorce lawyers in Santa Rosa, CA. involved, what could have been a process of mutual collaboration to put together an agreement to settle their marriage at Go Divorce Clinic for a $1600.00 flat fee) had turned into an expensive stand-off that now, costing $6,000, with a heightened fear, mistrust and bitterness between the couple.
The Cost of Legal Posturing
Is it always wise to immediately petition for divorce before the Parties ever get a chance to even discuss the possibility of settling their estate themselves? In this case, no demands or claims were made by the husband prior to her acquiring her counsel. In fact, the husband just wanted to come to the table with his wife and a skilled neutral facilitator to look over the marital estate and discuss how it might be divided among themselves. Perhaps the wife felt she needed to be aware of her rights in the matter first. Fair enough, I think that is wise. But she could just as easily have acquired some limited scope legal advice before sitting down at the table with her husband. Filing a petition for divorce before legal counsel even knows the position of the other party can appear as an inflammatory gesture to the spouse getting served without any real expectation of a divorce petition coming. The unilateral action to petition for divorce without prior discussion between parties can be seen as an aggressive action which pressures the served party to immediately file a response just to defend themselves against the offensive maneuver of being served with the petition and summons. It all seems so unnecessarily provocative and inefficient to handle such a case this way, yet this is quite typical. When there is no evidence that either party has been, or is currently in any imminent danger of having major assets taken, that either party is being wronged, injured, exploited or taken advantage of by their spouse, why not let them sit down first and see if they can come to an agreement to work collaboratively first, before filing for divorce?
It seems to me that too many lawyers seem to have a vested interest in posturing divorcing couples against one another when in reality, a divorce can and should simply be the last project that a husband and wife do together as a couple. This collaborative perspective has served well the clients that come through my door at Go Divorce Clinic, and so our vision is that this healthier approach becomes the new way that the business of divorce is conducted. Visit our website at: www.GoDivorceClinic.com to learn more about our vision for change.