When I used to represent people in their divorce, the first question I would ask them when they came to me for a consultation was, “Does your spouse have an attorney, and if so, who is it?”
Your adversary can make all the difference in how a divorce plays out and whether it’s short, long, cheap, or expensive.
This article explores the pros and cons of having attorneys on each side who know each other. At the end of the day, I would suggest trying to hire attorneys who are not previously acquainted, but more importantly, have a similar perspective on how to handle conflict and litigation.
A husband and wife are getting divorced. The husband hires an attorney, who we’ll call Smarty Sam. Smarty is an experienced attorney who doesn’t like to waste time and his client’s money. He is reasonable and seeks fair solutions so that his clients can move on with their lives.
The wife gets a referral for an attorney, Righteous Rich, from a friend and consults with him. Smarty and Righteous know each other and have worked together on many divorces over the years. Beyond respecting each other, they have similar perspectives on how to deal with common issues that arise in a divorce, such as parenting time and division of assets.
The attorneys have a few meetings and set reasonable expectations with their clients. A few months later, everyone agrees on settlement terms and finalizes the divorce.
That’s as good as it gets.
Let’s work with the same scenario, except that the attorneys don’t know each other and have different perspectives on how to practice divorce law.
Smarty Sam thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and Righteous Rich likes to bill as much as he can to his clients so he makes the most money on every file. How does he do that, you ask? Well, let’s say there is an issue of financial support that comes up. The husband has moved out of the marital home and is living in a separate apartment. The wife is in the home with their two children. The husband makes the money and pays the bills, but the wife needs more money to get by and pay expenses during the divorce.
These attorneys will file motions with the court and bill their clients thousands of dollars before the court orders what it feels is proper support. These attorneys don’t really have their clients' best interests in mind, but rather, are operating under their own agenda.
As long as they are getting paid, it’s par for the course.
In this example, let’s assume that both attorneys know each other and get along well, but there is one factor that is different. These attorneys know how to “work” a file and play off each other to get the most billing out of their respective clients before agreeing to any settlement of the divorce.
Sound shady? It is, but it happens.
That’s why it’s important to align yourself with an attorney who you not only respect, but also get along with, because you want that person to approach your divorce the same way you would. If you hire someone and you don’t like how they are directing your divorce, you have the right to question—and even fire—them if you are unhappy.
So, as a client, what do you do? Do your research when choosing a divorce attorney. Ask questions in the consultation, and have a discussion (if possible) with your spouse about who they plan to hire, if anyone at all. While you probably don’t agree on a whole lot—which is why you’re getting divorced—if you can agree to hire two attorneys who won’t burn through all the marital assets in the process, that is a conversation worth having.