By Jennifer M. Paine
If your wife has an attorney who is a, well, you-know-what, chances are you have thought about all of the ways you can tell that attorney to go you-know-where.
Whether it was in court, when you heard that attorney accuse you of being a “deadbeat” or an “absentee father,” or in a letter accusing you of hiding money and having to pay it back “or else,” or in an attorneys’ exchange outside the courtroom in which your attorney and hers went at it yelling at each other in a battle more reminiscent of a dog fight, these kinds of exchanges can be unnerving.
More often than not, attorneys like your wife’s intend them to be unnerving. Guys who are worried about those threats (valid or not) coming true are more likely to settle outside of court, and wives who need to feel vindicated in their divorce need (valid or not) to see their attorneys giving them a pit bull style show.
But this style of advocacy often has very little – if anything – to do with the merits of your case, like how good a father you are, how much you support your family already, and how your property should be divided fairly.
So is the style appropriate? And what can you do if, or when, it crosses the line?
Try the following.
It’s Not Personal
First, keep in mind that it is not personal. Really.
It may come across as personal when your wife’s attorney calls you this and that, but, more often than not, those are stock phrases that roll off the attorney’s tongue with ease because that is the attorney’s style.
When your case is over, the attorney will probably not remember who you are and will go on to the next case using the same phrases against the next husband. Your wife’s attorney does not know you, only what your wife has said about you, which is obviously slated in her favor.
Like it or not, when spouses divorce, the wife sees herself as Mother Teresa and her husband as a devil incarnate.
So, the next time you hear the attorney call you a “deadbeat,” remind yourself that this attorney says that about everyone and has no idea who you really are. The judge, who has likely heard this attorney say the same thing in countless cases before yours, knows likewise.
Two Wrongs Won’t Make a Right
Granted, that does not make the attorney’s remarks fair. But it also does not give you and your attorney the freedom to stoop to their level, either.
In this instance, as in many, two wrongs do not make a right. It is tempting to respond in kind with statements like your wife is a liar, a cheater, and so-forth, but trust me, your judge will tune out everything you and your attorney have to say and conclude both spouses are at fault for this divorce.
That will translate to stricter trial deadlines, referrals for counseling, additional hearings, and more, all of which costs you time and money. And if your wife makes less money than you, you could be paying her share, too.
The better approach is to present yourself as humble, upstanding, and courteous – even in the face of such pit bull style lawyering – to the judge.
Your and your divorce attorney’s style will contrast with your wife’s and her divorce lawyer’s, and that contract will actually amplify how outstanding, credible, and believable you are. In other words, you use that pit bull style to your advantage by not caving in but ignoring it.
But if (or when) that style crosses the line, you may want to sue. How can anyone, much less an attorney who is subjected to a code of ethics, get away with unsupported accusations and blatant lies, right?
Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, statements in courtrooms are absolutely protected from slander lawsuits. This means you cannot sue the attorney, or your wife for that matter, for making such statements in documents offered to the court or in oral argument to the judge.
However, that does not mean your wife and her attorney face no repercussions for their actions. In those same jurisdictions, laws usually provide that your judge can sanction your wife, her attorney or both with fines, awards of attorneys fees and even jail time for making statements that are:
1) materially false;
2) unsupported by law; or
3) not advanced as a reasonable extension of existing law.
So, when these statements get out of hand, talk with your attorney about sanctions to get them under control – and, ideally, out of your case altogether.
Divorce is tough. But divorce attorneys who argue for the sake of arguing only make it tougher, most often on your attorney fee dollar.
If you are faced with this type of attorney on the opposite side of the courtroom, remind yourself of these three things – and never stoop to their level.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.