Following up on my most recent blog post discussing pressure tactics used by one spouse against the other to force an inequitable settlement, I wanted to focus on the example where one spouse tries to "get around" the lawyers to privately discuss settlement with the other spouse. In my prior entry, I noted that a financially superior spouse will often take this tack to impose his desired terms of settlement upon the other spouse. The day after the Court enters a Judgment of Divorce ending the marriage, the financially inferior spouse wakes up and regrets the deal she just made.
While I am not generally against the notion of spouses talking to each other in an effort to resolve their matter, the involvement of lawyers is key for conveying notions of what is fair or unfair. Here are a few questions that come to mind:
1. How do you know whether the alimony and child support are fair?
2. How do you know whether the equitable distribution is fair?
3. How do you know what is an appropriate custody and parenting time arrangement?
4. How do you know what you are entitled to under the law as a spouse, parent and litigant?
I recently had a case where, no matter how many times I asked the other lawyer to convey to her client not to discuss the terms of settlement with my client, he continued to do so. What was my concern? Well, each time my client came back to me with allegedly agreed upon terms of settlement, they seemed to get worse and worse for her. I would then advise her on what I thought was fair and unfair, and made suggestions as to a response that I should make to his lawyer, rather than my client to her spouse directly. I then wouldn’t hear any response from the other lawyer, but, like clockwork, the husband would call my client and berate her for what she proposed through counsel.
At the end of the day, my client simply gave in to the husband’s financial pressure and took a deal that was against my recommendation. She was not interested in litigating the matter to learn more about his finances, what he really could and could not afford to pay (even though he admitted during a settlement conference to a far higher income than that set forth in his formal settlement position), and was not interested in hearing from the Early Settlement Panel or a mediator what she was actually entitled to, or what was reasonable. She knew that there was a very good chance that she was going to wake up the next morning and regret when she signed the settlement agreement. It was the husband’s relentless pressure and refusal to bend on any issue, though, that ultimately carried the day. Clearly, he knew she would cave if he put enough pressure on her.
What is the lesson to be learned here? While the short-term resolution of your matter might lift a great weight off of your shoulders in the short-term, it is the long-term damage that you may have caused for yourself that you will live to regret. Taking the time to work with a divorce lawyer to know and understand your rights, and what the potential long-term impact of settlement will be is not a sign of wanting to spend money on lawyers and "fight" in court. Rather, it is usually a thoughtful way of proceeding to protect yourself, your children, and your future.
Robert Epstein is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Robert practices in the firm’s Roseland, New Jersey office and can be reached at (973) 994-7526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.