It’s not unusual for me to meet with a husband after his wife tells him that she is going to proceed with a divorce. A client seeing me in these circumstances is typically hurt and angry and is also often convinced that, since the wife was the one initiating the end of their marriage, a marriage he had worked hard to hold together, he should not have to give up his hard-earned pension. He also feels certain that, after hearing his story, the judge would not require him to pay any maintenance (alimony), since he was clearly the injured party.
One of the difficult jobs I have to perform as a divorce attorney is to act as an “agent of reality” for my clients. I will explain to an unhappy man in these circumstances that, despite the fact that he believed he had been wronged by his wife, a judge would not be terribly interested in the fact that his wife was the “leaver” and not the “leavee.” Instead, a judge would most likely take a fairly clinical look at the family’s situation, disregarding who had initiated the action, and make orders based upon their financial realities, including the fact that, for example, since he earned over $200,000 per year and his wife had not worked one day since their 13 year old daughter was born, he would almost certainly be ordered to pay both child support and maintenance.
I also will point out that his wife would also be meeting with a lawyer about the couple’s situation, and that her lawyer might hear a very different story about what had gone wrong in the marriage. Ultimately, if the case were to be tried, a judge would be taking into consideration both his and his wife’s accounts of what had caused the marriage to break down.
Finally, I will explain to this kind of client that he has the ability to take control of the situation by selecting an alternative to a courtroom proceeding for resolution of his case, such as mediation or collaborative divorce. In both of these processes, the couple sits down with trained professionals to work out a resolution that is tailored to the needs of the family, not a generic, “one size fits all” solution. In these processes he would also have a chance to explain to his wife, face-to-face, in a safe, controlled environment, why he was so unhappy with her actions and what he believed would be the elements of a settlement that felt more fair and equitable to him.
While not all situations allow for this approach, it is more often than not one that I use if the situation allows.
This conversation can be the first step in what I hope is a recognition on the client’s part that a divorce can be completed in a creative way that preserves a family’s assets as well as the health and well-being of the children. Best of all, the family would maintain control of the process and not let a third party tell him or his wife how to raise their children.