I rarely use my blog forum to gloat about the outcome of a divorce case, but today I just have to.
Here is a quick summary of how I met this client and the information they gave me when they initially came to see me last year:
- Client came to see me – we conducted a divorce assessment and determined that they could only afford to pay between $300-500 of postseparation support to their spouse. Client had received a demand letter from their spouse’s attorney requesting $2,200 per month in support – way more than my client could ever reasonably afford to pay.
- Upon being retained, I attempted to negotiate with the other attorney, who immediately filed a lawsuit for postseparation support and set a hearing date. When it became apparent that the other attorney was completely unreasonable in their demands – (I could not get them to come down lower than a request of $1,/month or so in PSS) – I stopped negotiating because to do so was wasting my client’s money.
- By the date of the hearing, I convinced my client to offer $500 per month in support. Even though this was more than they could afford, we couldn’t be sure about what the judge would do, and it was also possible that the judge would order my client to pay the fees for the other attorney. Opposing counsel rejected this offer.
- The Judge made a very reasoned and reasonable ruling – denying the other attorney’s request for attorneys fees, and ordering my client to pay $600 per month in support. This was $100 more than we offered, but much less than the $2,200 that was initially requested in the demand letter my client brought me at the divorce assessment.
However, this is not the end of the story. Upon review of the draft Order from the Judge, we notice that the Judge had failed to deduct taxes from a bonus my client had received – thus artificially inflating my client’s ability to pay.
When I brought this to the attention of the other attorney, he realized that fixing this mistake could further decrease my client’s ability to pay, thus leaving his client with less support. What did he do? He analyzed the draft order for every possible mistake, tried to add in additional income to increase my client’s ability to pay, and even inserted provisions ordering my client to pay joint marital debts (which the court did not have jurisdiction to order). In his draft order, he had increased my client’s ability to pay to around $900 per month.
Ultimately, we had to submit competing orders to the Judge who did the following:
- Denied the other attorney’s request for attorneys fees;
- Denied all of the other requests made by the other attorney to try to inflate my client’s ability to pay;
- Denied the other attorney’s request to have the court order my client to pay joint marital debts;
- Agreed with me that the taxes should have been considered in determining my client’s ability to pay;
The bottom line? We offered $500 to the other attorney on the day of the hearing to settle the matter. Four months and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees later (by the other attorney and his client – my client paid me a flat fee for all work after the hearing) – The judge decreased my client’s ability to pay to $380!
That’s why I feel so strongly about the power of the divorce assessment.