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Belinda Etezad Rachman

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Divorce Lawyers and the Reptilian Brain

Posted: 09/23/09 05:46 PM ET

 No one goes into marriage thinking they will divorce one day, but if half of all marriages end in divorce, as the statistics tell us, the chance of a couple staying together are about 50/50, which may be a good bet or bad bet - depending on whether or not you like to gamble.  

There is only one sure bet about divorce, and that is this: hiring a divorce lawyer will only make things more expensive and nasty.  I have seen some rackets in my day, but none surpass the self-serving nut house that is our adversarial divorce system. It isn’t bad enough that you are losing a spouse, someone you loved once and probably depended on either financially or emotionally, but if you go the lawyer route, you are going to be fighting a war on two fronts.  You don’t recognize it at first, but after spending somewhere $10,000 or $1,000,000 on attorney fees, the smart person starts to see that the only people benefiting from your divorce are the lawyers.  Anyone who assumes their divorce attorney is their friend and is looking out for their best interest is a fool who will soon be parted with all their money.

“Who is this broad with an "Esq." after her name slamming divorce lawyers?” you may ask yourself.  If you are wondering if I am a bitter divorcee or have some other dog in this fight, let me assure you I am the voice of reason on this topic.  I have never been divorced.  In fact I have been with my husband since 1985, but I am the child of a divorce.  I taught emotionally disturbed children for many years and for eight years I was a divorce lawyer in private practice.  I came to the law with a bias for only doing what was in the best interest of children, and believe me that is not the focus of most divorce lawyers.  I saw some of the most heartbreaking results in court.  I saw a young child’s life ruined when custody was taken away from the only parent the child had ever known and given to a harsh, uncaring parent who was a stranger - all because the childless, thrice-divorced judge was in a bad mood that day.  Many, many  times I saw lawyers walk away with more of the sales proceeds of a family home than their clients got, which, of course, financially devastated the family.  Much too often, I saw false allegations of sexual abuse used as a tactic for getting a leg up in a custody battle.

If you had a job that paid you by the hour, and the longer you took to do it, the more you got paid, what would be the incentive for wrapping it up quickly?  If you didn’t know when you were going to work again, wouldn’t there be a tremendous temptation to drag it out as long as possible?  Try to find a divorce lawyer who will take a case for a fixed fee.  The nice ones are afraid to do so because of the sharks.  There are aggressive lawyers who will litigate the obvious if they can get paid for doing so.  When a lawyer is interviewing a new client and finds out one of these greedy pigs is on the other side, they know they had better get a big retainer because the other lawyer will never let the case settle as long as they can keep their client angry and willing to pay for a fight.  It is easy to manipulate an emotionally vulnerable client; a common trick is to give the client false expectations regarding what their outcome can be, so that if a reasonable offer is made, the client will turn it down because they have been led to believe they are going to get more than they could ever get in court.  An experienced lawyer has a very good idea about what the court will do in most cases (that is, if the judge follows the law, which isn’t always the case).  Instead of encouraging a couple to fight, lawyers need to calm the waters, tell their clients what the court will most likely do and help them negotiate a fair settlement.

When a divorcing couple is highly emotional and “thinking” with their reptilian brain (fight or flight, impulses coming from the survival level), it is hard for them to be rational enough to understand they will actually get more by working together and cutting the divorce lawyers out of the deal completely.  Like the maze of the Medina, where you have to hire a guide to get you in and out, our court system is so complicated, with forms that are hard to understand and complete, some people just give up and stay in unhappy marriages rather than deal with it.  Unfortunately most people equate divorce with hiring their own lawyers, and having "their day in court."  They then invest so much money in the fight, they end up with an intractable position necessitated by their investment, which makes the case even more expensive. The secret to beating the system is to agree to be honest about your property and earnings, act reasonably and work together to settle your differences. 

Peaceful divorce is an idea whose time has come. If you want a sure thing, gamble on lawyers and judges - you will lose every time.  My money is on mediation.  

 

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