How to Avoid the Divorce From Hell

Paperback, Third Edition (2016), Price: $17.95

Whether you are in the middle of a divorce, are divorced, or are thinking about getting a divorce, you need this book!

Why do good people suffer through the Divorce from Hell? Because they don’t have access to the simple, common sense advice and techniques which can help them navigate the common challenges of divorce and come out on the other side whole, complete and sane.

The Divorce from Hell isn’t inevitable. Millions of people go through amicable divorces every year. This book will show you how they do it.

If you have kids, this book will show you how to protect them through the process. If you don’t have kids, but have property to divide, this book will teach you how to make sensible decisions to maximize the amount of it you keep, and minimize the amount you pay your attorney to unnecessarily fight for you.

If you are divorcing the Jerk of the Western World, this book will help you keep your own sanity while taking the high road. If your wife has left you feeling betrayed and blind-sided, this book will help you prevent those feelings from translating into counterproductive and expensive legal maneuvers.

No matter how angry, hurt, rejected or guilt-ridden you may be at the moment, this book is filled with techniques to help you make sure those feelings don’t cause you to make bad decisions that you’ll regret for years.

Why I wrote How to Avoid the Divorce From Hell (and dance together at your daughter’s wedding)

After many years as a divorce lawyer, it became clear to me that most people have dreadful experiences in the divorce courts. Part of this is due to the fact that the system itself is lousy and largely unsuited to solving the problems of families. Part of it is due to the unrealistic expectation on the part of many litigants that the legal system can solve all their problems. It wasn’t designed to and it can’t. No wonder so many people are baffled by it.

The book isn’t about how crummy the system is. It is about how to make the best of it until something better is devised. Since that takes a long time, we will be working with the existing system for the foreseeable future. The book is about how to avoid the common mistakes that thousands of divorcing people make every day, and which propel them into conflicts they don’t intentionally choose. Most importantly, it is about how to stay out pfthe system entirely, and work out creative solutions to solve their and their families’ problems..

Most people have no clue what the courts can (or can’t) do for them. They don’t realize how really limited the judge’s power can be, and how cumbersome and unwieldy the system itself is. They look for “fairness” and “justice” in all the wrong places rather than realistically assessing their positions, accepting the fact that court is a place of last resort, making the best decisions under the circumstances, and getting on with their lives.

I believe that most people start out wanting their divorce to be amicable. They get off the track, however, because they don’t know how to respond to the system, or better yet, how to keep their cases out of it. They don’t know how to tell what is realistic, or how tell when they are spending thousands of dollars chasing rainbows the courts aren’t equipped to provide. How to Avoid the Divorce from Hell goes to great lengths to tell people about how to evaluate the options they have, how to make the best use of available tools, where to turn for help, and how to set realistic goals.

If, instead of assuming it has to be war, people believe that it is possible to have that amicable divorce, to dance together at their daughter’s wedding (or bat mitzvah, or whatever), and if they are given useful tools with which to make better decisions, their chances of achieving their goal are vastly improved. That’s what this book is about.

How to Avoid the Divorce From Hell (and dance together at your daughter’s wedding), Preface

So, you’re contemplating a divorce. You may be surfing the web, overwhelmed at the volume of material available and unsure which of it is trustworthy. Like anyone else in your position, you are frantically looking for books, instructions and other resources to help you navigate the rapids you are entering. This book is designed to do just that.

Although I have been a divorce lawyer for many years, this book is not just about law. Its purpose is to let you know that despite the fact that the divorce process is foreign and frightening, grindingly slow, intensely painful and frustrating, you have a great deal more control over your divorce than you probably realize. You are not solely at the mercy of your spouse, the lawyers and a stranger in a black robe. Just as the choices you have made throughout your life have brought you to the point where you are charting this new course, you have choices to make at the outset of the case and at hundreds of forks in the path thereafter. Those decisions will largely determine the degree to which you experience pain and frustration on one hand or growth and renewal on the other.

If you choose to engage in an adversarial procedure, consumed with hostility toward your spouse, I guarantee that hostility will be returned in spades. If, instead, you commit to steering through the process as cleanly as possible, the rewards will be manifold.

Something is not working in your life. If everything were perfect, you would not be reading this book. You are either considering making some major changes which you believe will improve the quality of your life, however difficult they may be, or those changes are being forced upon you by your spouse. I am here to tell you that the process can be constructive, cleansing and, oddly enough, positive. It is possible to come out on the other side, look at yourself in the mirror and know in your heart and in your soul that you did the best you could, that you did nothing to contribute to your own or another’s pain, and that when you made a mistake, you corrected and learned from it. We can ask nothing more from life.

Divorce, usually, but not always, involves a man and a woman. The impact of gender is unavoidable. In order to avoid the cumbersome he/she, I have chosen to use gender-based pronouns interchangeably. An example referring to how “she” reacts may just as well mean “he.” Also, since so many states now recognize other forms of domestic partnerships, the couple may be she and she, or he and he. The principles which I discuss here apply as much to domestic partners as they do to marital partners.

You may find the same subject woven through several chapters. There is a good reason for that. Many readers will use this book as a resource and consult isolated chapters rather than reading from cover to cover, and I want the discussion to be complete. In other instances, the topic is just so important that I want to reinforce it.

This book is the product of nearly thirty years as a divorce lawyer. It is designed for the ninety percent of divorcing couples who are basically sane, reasonable people who want to get through the process as whole and unscarred as possible.

Most people facing divorce are scared. The system is public, cumbersome and impersonal. You must put your faith in strangers whom you hire to protect your interests and guide you through a dizzying maze of legal concepts, some of which will not make sense to you. The very fabric of your life is ripping, from where you live to how often you see your children to whether you can pay your bills. This book is designed to give you the tools to make good decisions as you wend your way through the process.

It is not designed to give legal advice. That is for the lawyers. Neither is it a substitute for a therapist. Most importantly, it is not intended to replace your own judgment. Each person is responsible for the manner in which he processes this, and any other life experience.

Ultimately, each of us faces divorce, as any other life-transforming process, as an individual. We are the sum of our past experiences and imprinting, and the process will not be the same for any two people. You must decide what works for you and discard what doesn’t.

As you read the following pages, many of you will have no difficulty seeing your spouse. Do yourself a favor. Be honest and look again to see if you find yourself as well.

I have made a number of suggestions you can use to make good decisions. You can choose to make the process a healthy, growth-inducing passage or dig a bitter, vengeful pit in which you wallow for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

Table of Contents

Some samples...


Part I Getting Started:
Introduction to Reality Testing
1. Choices - The Divorce Everyone Wants
2. Gold Stars and Magic Wands
3. Goals, Strategy and Tactics
4. Recipe for the Divorce from Hell
Part II Resources
5. Friends, Family and Armchair
6. How to Select a Therapist
7. How to Select a Lawyer
8. Why You Want Your Spouse to have a
    Good Lawyer, Too
9. How to Tell If You Are Well
10. Attorney/Client Relations
11. Courts, Judges, and Private Judges
12. What Happens When Your Spouse
      Hires The Lawyer From Hell
13. Mediation and Collaborative Law
14. Special Masters, Referees, Court
      Experts, and Evaluators
Part III What About the Kids?
15. Kids Aren't Jelly Jars
16. Custody and Access
17. Access Games, or How to Ensure
      Your Kids Will Resent You Forever
18. Leaning on the Kids, or He Who
      Leans on Short Crutches…
19. Custody Mediation and Evaluation
20. Blended Families
Part IV Support and Maintenance
21. Support, or "Which Bilk Shall I
      Pay this Month?"
22. Support Guidelines
23. Choices - Part II
24. The Payor's New House
25. The Standard to Which I'd
      (Like to Have) Become Accustomed
26. Buy Outs and Employment
27. Vocational Evaluation, or What Do I
Part V Fear and Loathing, or Karma 101
28. The Paramour
29. Mother Teresa and Attila the Hun
30. Threats and Ultimata
31. How to Be Inducted into the Jerk Hall of
      Fame and Lose 10 Karma Points
32. Pots and Pans
33. The Paranoia Factor
34. The Dreaded Prenuptial Agreement
35. New Mates: the Ghost of Marriage
36. Mind Games and Button-pushing
37. Unfinished Business: the Endless
Part VI Solutions
38. Reasonable Solutions to Problems
      That Come up in Every Divorce
39. Taking Responsibility for Your
      Own Lawyer's Conduct
40. Keeping a Rein on Fees and Costs
41. What About the House?
42. How to Evaluate a Settlement Offer
43. Disengaging
44. More Resources
Part VII Post Mortem
45. Will You Be Able to Dance Together
      at your daughter's wedding?

Chapter: 8 Why You Want Your Spouse to Have a Good Lawyer, Too

The last thing you want when you are starting a divorce is for your spouse to hire a stupid lawyer. More often than not, when I tell my client that the attorney who is going to be representing the other side is a good lawyer, he winces. That’s because he doesn’t understand the extreme cost which he may have to pay for a stupid opponent. He assumes that if the other attorney isn’t very good, that means that we win. There are, in fact, times when this happens. I have, on several occasions, obtained an extremely good settlement simply because the other attorney hadn’t a clue what he was giving away. It doesn’t happen as often as you would think, however. The stupid attorney is easy to beat at court. However, if you really want to settle your case without going to court (and who wouldn’t?) the stupid attorney will make it much more difficult to do so. The likely result is that incompetent counsel on the other side of your case will vastly increase the fees, acrimony, and general craziness — all out of proportion to the benefit to you of some issue which he might overlook through ignorance. Let me explain. First, we need to define some terms. By “stupid attorney,” I mean someone who is incompetent, ignorant, unfamiliar with family law, or just plain “doesn’t get it.” This will distinguish the “stupid attorney” from the “Lawyer from Hell” referred to in Chapter 12. The Lawyer from Hell is someone who very much “gets it.” He is generally quite bright, intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the system and manipulates it for his own, and sometimes for his client’s benefit. The stupid attorney is generally acting from very good motives. He just doesn’t know any better and can completely screw up a case as a result.

The stupid attorney will be rigid

On some dim level, he knows that there is a great deal he doesn’t know. Therefore, he will cling quite rigidly to whatever he thinks he does know. This means that there will be absolutely no creativity in the way his client’s case is handled. Because a particular approach worked once for him in another case, he will repeat the same formula, even in the face of irrefutable evidence that it isn’t working now. If your attorney suggests a novel solution which creatively solves the problem, he will be afraid to agree for fear it is a trick or a trap. Since he doesn’t have the ability or the experience to think through all of the permutations of the admittedly creative suggestion, he will stick to the “safe,” the tried and true. Mind you, he is not doing this out of bad motives. He wants to be sure that his client is protected. He doesn’t want to take the risk, and the liability, of making a mistake by recommending something which he doesn’t fully understand. And since he knows in his heart of hearts that the other attorney is brighter than he is, he will take the safe way out and say no to the novel solution, in case he missed something. It is extremelyWHY YOU WANT YOUR SPOUSE TO HAVE A GOOD LAWYER, TOO difficult to settle a case with an attorney such as this. The elegant solution to a complex problem is totally impossible.

A stupid attorney will be unrealistic

Because she is stupid, she will be blind to the weaknesses of her own case. This means she won’t see the fact that she really can’t win on a particular issue because the facts or the law are against her. One of the hallmarks of a good lawyer is to remain objective with respect to her case so that she can spot not only the strengths but the weaknesses. If the weaknesses can’t be turned into strengths or compromised in some way, they should be conceded. One of the worst disservices an attorney can do for a client is to continue to fight on a losing issue, even in good, though misguided faith. All this does is increase the legal fees and level of animosity. Some of the worst attorneys I know are in fact very bright individuals. However, they are blind to the weaknesses of their case and as a result, we litigate everything. You don’t want an attorney like this, nor do you want your spouse to have one.

I have literally pleaded with opposing counsel to simply read a particular code section which absolutely demonstrated that his position could not possibly prevail under the law. He was a real estate attorney who decided to branch out into family law because the divorcing couple owned lots and lots of real estate. He assumed that because he knew about real estate law, he knew how to handle real estate in a divorce. Wrong. The only response I got to that letter (which in fact included a copy of the code section which said unequivocally that he was dead in the water) was a sarcastic reply demanding to know who appointed me Goddess of Family Law. Before we finally got to trial on the issue he couldn’t win, an additional $100,000 in attorneys’ fees had been consumed. Now, mind you, after trial my client ultimately came out about $150,000 ahead of what he was willing to settle on, which left him a net $50,000 to the good. However I can assure you that he would have gladly compromised it at the beginning, and in fact offered to do so, because he would have preferred to see his ex-wife have the money rather than pay it to the attorneys. The wife’s attorney couldn’t see it and his client missed out on a very good deal indeed. A stupid attorney will get emotionally involved in the case

I have said before that one of the most important attributes of a good divorce attorney is objectivity. This enables her to see the weaknesses in your case and prevents her from being blinded to reasonable settlement opportunities and creative solutions. When an attorney becomes emotionally invested in the case and decides to become a “white knight” for his client, he is at risk of becoming a co-dependent. Trust me. This does not help.

Chapter 31: How to Be Inducted Into the Jerk Hall of Fame and Lose 10 Karma Points

  • Hold the baby pictures and family videos ransom and refuse to share or copy them.
  • Fight for furniture that was long in your spouse’s family on the theory that it was “a gift to both of us,” or because you’re the one who refinished it.
  • Claim that the jewelry you gave your spouse for birthdays and anniversaries is “an investment” and should be divided between you.
  • “Forget” to give your kid the phone messages, cards, letters and (yes, it does happen) gifts from the other parent.
  • Fail to show up when you’re supposed to pick up the kids so they are left looking expectantly out the window and wondering if you forgot them.
  • Fail to return the kids from visitation.
  • Hide money or run up the credit cards in anticipation of separation.
  • Tell your kids you can’t afford to buy them anything because the other parent “has all the money.”
  • Tell your kids you can’t afford to buy them anything because, “Your Dad didn’t pay the child support.”
  • Withhold the kids if the child support is late.
  • Refuse to let the kids see the other parent because she’s “living in sin.”
  • When the kids come back from the other parent’s house, pump them about your spouse’s living arrangements, purchases, friends and social activities. Better yet, make them feel guilty if they don’t voluntarily report to you.
  • Make your kids choose between parents.
  • Send only old, torn or ill-fitting clothes when your kids go to the other parent. Or, better yet, don’t return the clothes at the end of visitation. Or, return the kids dirty, sick and hungry. Or don’t let the kids take their favorite toy to the other parent’s house… you get my drift.
  • Drag your children into court so they can see for themselves what a jerk the other parent is.
  • Insist the kids should be with you every Halloween because it is your birthday.
  • Don’t let your kids go to Mom’s on Mother’s Day because, “They have a new mom now.”
  • Argue with the other parent about anything at the kids’ soccer game.
  • Make sure your new spouse is involved with the kids’ activities (coach, team mother, etc.) to the exclusion of the other parent.
  • Discuss the problems you are having with your ex at back to school night, with the teacher, or with the other children’s parents.
  • When the kids are with you, plan activities (dinner, movies, games, etc.) for the same time as the scheduled phone call from the other parent.
  • Forget to tell the other parent about the school activities you received the notices for.
  • Tell your kids “secrets” they have to keep from the other parent.
  • Offer the kids some rare treat if they will tell the judge or the custody evaluator that they’d rather live with you.