Going for Broke: a cautionary tale

A dear friend of mine recently went through an ugly divorce.  Initially, she asked for advice, but as the drama unfolded, I watched from the sidelines as she spiraled down the wormhole of the legal battle. 

My friend wanted to win something at the end of her marriage.  Maybe acknowledgement from the husband for her efforts through the years.  Maybe validation from the judge that she was wronged.  Maybe she wanted to make sure she got a fair deal financially, since they teetered on bankruptcy.  Maybe she just didn’t want to roll over without a fight.  In any case, she followed her gut (not my advice) and hired the best attorney she could afford to represent her.  Needless to say, her ex-husband did the same.

As the months went by, I got reports from the front lines.  His lawyer requested a list of every single item they owned.  Her lawyer warned that alimony was unlikely even though she devoted her prime to raising the children and caring for the home.  His lawyer contested the child support amount.  And on and on.  It wasn’t looking good for my friend, but each week the latest installment included a hopeful element, keeping her hooked in the fight.  Not wanting to throw good money after bad, she contemplated stopping, but enticed by what lay just around the next corner she continued, eventually borrowing money from her family to pay the lawyer.

Nearly two years after the process began, she attended her final court proceeding.  She received about half of their meager assets and was left with about half of their liabilities.  She didn’t get alimony. She got full custody of their teenage son, but the ex-husband had agreed to that in the beginning.  She and her lawyer fought valiantly, but she didn’t “win” anything at all.   In the end, she paid her lawyer just over $14,000.  Her only consolation: her ex-husband probably paid over $20,000 for his legal representation.  Any scrap of tenderness that existed for her ex-husband dissolved into hatred in the process. 

Divorce is big business in the country.  A lawyer friend of mine who recently gave up taking divorce cases explained that each case represented $30,000-$60,000 for her firm.  Companies such as BBL Churchill now offer divorce financing so both parties can participate in the “arms race” of legal representation.  What worries me most about this escalated demand is that it simply doesn’t give people the solution they seek.  We seek validation, resolution and peace of mind.  Consider what leads to that end before stepping into the boxing ring.