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The High Conflict Person and Their Crazy-Making Ways

In family law, we often see good people at their worst.  Sometimes, though, we see a level of conflict that is disproportionate to the situation and it may seem (if you’re in the relationship) like you are being beaten down at every turn.  The High Conflict Person can make a big fight over nothing and, worse still, they seem to enjoy it. In a recent case, Spouse A filed for divorce, told Spouse B to leave the house, and both parties hired attorneys.  We would expect Spouse A to be – if not happy, exactly – satisfied when Spouse B complied and became actively engaged in the divorce proceedings.  Not so in this case.  The more that Spouse B met Spouse A’s demands, the worse they became.  The bar was constantly moving and no one, not even Spouse A’s attorney, could stabilize the situation.  The case took almost a year to resolve, but only because Spouse A created drama, made up fights, and fueled the fire of conflict at every turn. I was going to write a blog post about how High Conflict People can derail your best efforts in settlement, and then I ran across this article by Bill Eddy, the go-to guy for high conflict situations.  Bill knows all about Spouse A – read his article here. What I particularly like about Bill’s advice is that he gives us a clear definition of the HCP: An Observable High Conflict Pattern High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in...

Free Consults! (Not really.)

With everyone seemingly in a panic over the state of their finances, it’s not a surprise that we’ve received a few calls asking for a “free consult.”  I find it particularly amusing when a person calls and insists that they should receive an hour of my time “for free” because “other lawyers do it.”  I think my mother would say, “and if Johnny jumps off the bridge, will you jump too?” Several years ago, I worked for a small civil litigation firm who offered case consults at no charge; however, the screening was rigorous and very few client cases were accepted.  In those cases, the retainer was usually $50,000 or more, so the idea of spending an hour or two to evaluate the case at no charge to the client was good customer service and made financial sense.   A few years later, I went to work for a family law litigation firm and the owner was clear that we did not (and would never) offer free consultations because it would end up being all we ever did.  She was right, of course, because there is a seemingly endless river of family law problems out there in the world and we have a finite number of work hours in which to address them. So, when the question was posed to me recently by a potential client about whether I would offer her a free consult, I wanted to give a complete answer.  If she reads this, then she’ll know the philosophy behind my policy of always charging for consultations. First, there is the basic tenet of exchanging value.  I will...

Miss Picky Stickler

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a stickler for details and am very picky about how legal documents are prepared.  So go ahead, call me Miss Picky Stickler if you must.  In my previous career, I was a journalist and acquisitions editor for a major publishing house.  I actually liked grammar classes in school (yes, Virginia, they once taught such a thing) so you can pull out your best nerd jokes now. This obsession came up recently when I told a client that I “preferred” to be the intial drafter of his Decree and other documents, which was a white lie because it’s much more than a preference.  I have been appalled at the work product that I’ve seen from some law offices and can now amuse you with these cautionary tales: Putting the wrong names on the documents. Yes, we all use word processing and sometimes we use an old document to create a new one (a practice I cannot recommend), but really, there is no excuse for not having the correct client names on a document.  And when it happens at my office, I cringe and correct the error immediately. Spelling the correct client names incorrectly. Again, our clients pay us good money to do things accurately, so it is very important that at least their names (and those of their children) be spelled correctly.  Of course, I have had a couple of occasions where the parent I represented didn’t know how to spell his own child’s names nor did he know their birthdays, so it wasn’t exactly our fault that those things were inaccurate in the draft of...

How to Choose A Divorce Attorney

My cousin (who is also an attorney, but not in Arizona and not in family law) sent me a message a few days ago, on behalf of her friend who is getting divorced.  Jana’s question was, “how does Amy choose a divorce attorney and what questions should she be asking?”   By the time I was finished with the email, I realized that there are probably lots of “Amy” people in the world (both men and women) who are bewildered, confused, scared, and stressed, but still need to make a smart decision.  Here’s what I told Amy ~ First, you should decide what kind of divorce you want: do-it-yourself with legal consulting and/or drafting of documents, mediation, arbitration, Collaborative Divorce, negotiated settlement, or litigation. Those are listed in order of expense from under $2,000 to $50,000 and up.  There’s more information on our Services page that describes these options.  This is probably the most critical step in the process, because not all attorneys are suited to all types of divorce. Then, when you have decided what kind of divorce you want, you should call several therapists and NON-family law firms and ask for a referral to a family law attorney for (i.e.) mediation. If you get the same name twice, you’ll know that the person is at least somewhat respected by their peers. I don’t recommend asking friends for a referral because most people who get a divorce either think their attorney was the best or worst that ever lived with no frame of reference other than their own divorce. Now that you have an idea of what kind of divorce you want and have a list of attorneys to call, you should get...

Are You Above Average?

Are you Above Average?  You might think so, but you’re probably not when it comes to divorce. Becoming Above Average is not nearly as hard as it sounds.  When it comes to family law matters, you don’t have to have a low percent of body fat, high IQ, big bank account or a lot of letters behind your name to be Above Average.  All you need is a little bit of knowledge and the will to use it.  In this blog series, I’ve introduced you to Tim and Kathy, a fictional couple who represent the Average Divorce.  They spent more than half their net worth and two and a half years of their lives litigating their divorce.  They depleted their savings, their available credit, and their health.  Their kids went through a traumatic custody evaluation and the family business is facing bankruptcy.  They are the poster couple for the Average Divorce.  If you don’t believe me, just ask around! So how do you avoid falling into the Average Divorce trap?  How do you become Above Average?  Here are a few ideas: Know Yourself:  Investing in some therapy will help you know yourself better, learn what your weaknesses are, and understand how to  communicate with your spouse around issues of co-parenting and finances. Know Your Money:  Engaging an independent divorce financial planner can save you and your spouse hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in legal fees, lost opportunity, and taxes. Know Your Kids:  Hiring a child specialist to help you understand your children’s developmental needs is less expensive and invasive than a custody evaluation, but can provide valuable insight into what’s best for the...

Are You Average?

How much is your case expected to contribute to a firm’s cash flow?  In a previous blog, Financial Bedlam, I introduced you to Tim and Kathy, an average couple with ordinary problems, who got an ordinary divorce.  It was just “average.” It wasn’t the best divorce or the worst, not the cheapest nor most expensive, not the longest or shortest — just average.  And that “average” divorce cost them over half of their net worth.  They were “average” consumers of legal services.  They went blindly into a lawyer’s office, wearing their emotional divorce on their sleeve and with no financial strategy in mind. Tim prided himself on being a good business man, but his impatience got the better of him and he hired his attorney based on the advice of a friend of a friend.  Tim didn’t find out until later that the attorney had no actual business experience and he failed to provide her with incentives to resolve the divorce quickly.  Tim’s attorney provided a list of the recent trials she had participated in, but didn’t give Tim any information about alternative dispute resolution.  The attorney proudly walked Tim around the law firm, pointing out original works of art, beautifully decorated offices and conference rooms with “million dollar views” of the city, state of the art technology, staff lounge, and an army of legal assistants.  The question Tim might have well asked is, “How much of this overhead cost do you want from me?” Kathy was an emotional wreck when she first met with her attorney, a man reputed to be a real “junk yard dog”  who could bring Tim into line.   They didn’t discuss fees except in abstract terms, but...