Hey, 9 Divorce Stories too Ridiculous to Make Up! I'll see your stories and raise you 6 more! And calling all divorce lawyers out there -- I know that there are thousands of stories out there that would probably one-up these, too. So please comment or post them!
As a divorce lawyer, you pick up a few tidbits of wisdom that they don't teach in law school. I've changed the names and the identifying details, but these stories are true, true, true! And they don't even include the time I got the voodoo curse on me.
One of the first things you learn is that not everyone is very good at picking a spouse. It stands to reason that a successful marriage probably depends on picking a good mate. I had a client once who married a man who had been acquitted of murdering his wife with a poison spear made by attaching an Indian arrowhead to a broom handle with twine and covering it with curare. "But he was acquitted!" she protested.
Never mind that he made her teenage son call him by his entire name, including title, e.g.: "Mr. Daniel Loomis" even after they were married, and he beat her within an inch of her life. The lesson learned: Just. Step. Away from the speed dater who knows how to make homemade poison darts.
But sometimes marriages fail even when you're a reasonable person, and you are careful about picking a mate. I originally practiced in New Haven, Connecticut, which has a very large Italian-American population. As a result, locals of all stripes picked up some Italian words and incorporated them into daily vocabulary. Not only is it unavoidable, because the words are so cool and fun to use, it also helps a Hoosier gal like me build my street credibility. I think I meant to say "street cred" there. The vocabulary word you'll need for this story is agida, or "heartburn."
My boss's cousin came into my office. She was very sweet and had the most amazing Hair Helmet I'd ever seen. Jerseylicious had nothing on my new client. She tells me tearfully, "My father he spend $50,000 on this wedding. I spend $50,000 of my own money. What do I get? Agida!" The lesson learned: Sometimes, marriage really is just agida.
One of the keys to a successful divorce is how you break the news to your spouse. One night my client was leaning on the kitchen counter, shooting the breeze with his wife, and she said to him, "Do you want chicken or fish tonight for dinner? Oh, and by the way, I'm having an affair with the next-door neighbor, and so I want a divorce." Her nonchalance really threw him into a tailspin -- if she could break that kind of news to him as easily as "chicken or fish," what else did she have up her sleeve?
He became convinced she was trying to kill him to expedite her love plans with the neighbor, and that she'd accomplish this by poisoning his food, and so he installed a deadbolt on his bedroom, bought himself a mini-fridge and a hotplate, and he didn't leave his room until the mandatory waiting period to finalize the divorce expired. Learning outcome: How you break the news is important.
Once you're in the middle of your divorce, it's important that you cooperate with your lawyer. Everyone's done things they're not proud of, and it makes sense to share most of those with your lawyer before you're confronted with them in open court. When I first started practicing, I had a contested custody case. To me, my client looked like Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she certainly had me convinced of the injustice of her situation and merit of her position.
Imagine my dismay when, on cross examination, the husband's attorney starts shaking a DVD in her direction, shouting, "and isn't it true that this porn-o-graphic moooo-vee, made for commercial distribution, depicts you having sexual intercourse with a chainsaw?" My jaw dropped, my face ashen, and the room started to spin.
The judge, knowing I was just a baby lawyer (newly-minted, naive and trusting 2nd-year associate) and sensing I didn't deserve to be pummeled publicly over this, dropped his gavel onto the bench with a bang, calling, "Recess! I'll see counsel in chambers!" We settled that case. Lesson for clients: Tell your lawyer the most embarrassing thing about you before you're on cross-examination, not during. Lesson for baby lawyers: Clients are the ultimate spin doctors. Ask what their estranged spouse is likely to say about them, even if they don't agree.
Sometimes, no matter how far it appears a marriage has broken down, there's still hope for reconciliation. I was sitting in court one day, waiting for my case to be called, and I listened to a man give testimony in support of his motion to vacate his divorce judgment on the grounds that he didn't know that he was getting divorced. He testified that while his wife had filed divorce papers on him many times in the past, that they'd always reconciled. He'd received a copy of the most recent papers, but they'd continued to live together, eat dinner together, put their money in a joint bank account, and they even slept together.
I started to nod off, as all this testimony was taking awhile, but my head snapped to attention on cross-examination when the wife's lawyer, barely able to contain his indignation, blurted out, "yes, but while you were all lovey-dovey making hamburgers on the barbeque and watching TV holding hands, isn't it true that your wife SHOT you? Didn't you realize then that your marriage was OVER?" Sheepish, the man replied, "Well, she's got a hot temper all right, but I got better and a week later we went to Disney World!" The ultimate life lesson: It ain't over 'til it's over.
But sometimes it is indeed over, although some people have a difficult time accepting that. I had a client who was pretty crazy, and he'd had a hard time dealing with his divorce. We settled his case, and knowing that he was sort of a loose cannon, I went over each word in his divorce agreement very carefully in the hallway before his uncontested hearing. I told him step by step everything that would go on, and even acted out what the judge would say. I didn't want any problems once we got into the courtroom. So he takes the stand, ready for the routine questions we've already gone over, and he does a great job answering "yes" at the appropriate time to each question. Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, he says.
The judge then turns to him and says, "Well, everything seems to be in order here. Sir, do you have any questions before I enter my orders?" and my client, wild-eyed, replies, "Yes! Yes! I have questions!" The judge gives me the evil eye, and calls a recess. As soon as he's off the stand, I look at him, incredulous, and ask, "What question could you possibly have?" to which he replies at top volume, "Why is this happening to me?!?!" The lesson learned: nothing happens in a vacuum.
And people wonder why I drank Maalox directly from the bottle.
I'm a divorce mediator now, but don't worry -- the stories just keep getting better and better!