Arnold Schwarzenegger took some serious heat from the paparazzi press when he indicated on divorce papers that he did not want to pay spousal support to his soon-to-be ex-wife, Maria Shriver.
After the former California governor turned marriage "Terminator" got ripped in the tabloids, his lawyer quickly refiled the papers that omitted the request for a judge to block Shriver from receiving alimony payments.
Was the initial filing a mistake or a tactic gone wrong?
There's really no way to be sure in this celebrity divorce case.
Obviously, it didn't send the signal Schwarzenegger intended from a public relations standpoint and had to be corrected.
Still, that situation provides an important lesson for regular folks going through a divorce.
Generally, anyone who is not a divorce lawyer will take what is in divorce papers literally. They figure what's being alleged in court papers will have an affect on the case. But that's not always the case.
The initial filing is just a fingerprint clue for what to expect in court.
A good divorce lawyer knows how to decipher the boilerplate language and read between the lines. And sometimes it's not even what the divorce papers say that really matters.
Every detail of the divorce process can be an important hint.
The initial filing sets the tone.
For instance, if you get divorce papers delivered to your office by a sheriff's deputy your spouse probably isn't messing around.
She probably wants to embarrass you in front of your co-workers and then take you for all she can. It's a shot over the bow -- this one is going to get messy.
Or if I'm representing a client whose spouse isn't asking for court-ordered support and their lawyer writes a nice, conciliatory letter asking for a peaceful resolution.
That tells divorce lawyers like me that either the spouse is having an affair and wants out of the marriage quickly, or my client is already paying his future ex-wife too much.
I can even tell what a client should expect in court by the attorney his spouse hires.
Your wife might say she's going to be reasonable when you split, but I know how certain lawyers normally practice and how much they charge for a retainer.
If she hires a shark -- especially an expensive one -- I'll tell my client to expect the worst.
Other times, the initial reason for filing for divorce tells you everything you need to know. In Illinois, a no-fault divorce state, there are 12 grounds you can use to file for divorce. The most popular, of course, is "irreconcilable differences."
But if a client receives a filing on different grounds -- say adultery, mental cruelty or a combination of both -- it's clear you are in for a fight.
You can expect a good divorce lawyer to push back with nasty allegations that might be an embarrassing addition to the public record -- especially if child custody is an issue. Those fights usually get the ugliest.
In Schwarzenegger's case, checking the box indicating his desire to keep his wife from receiving spousal support might have been a routine move in divorce court.
But when your client is a huge celebrity whose last headline was for having a love child with the housekeeper you have to decide what's more important -- paying out more money in support or looking like a jerk.
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