“What should I bring to our first meeting?” the caller said.

I said, “Bring yourself and what’s inside your head.”

At the initial conference, I usually go through a list of questions to obtain data about the parties and their children, date of marriage, date and circumstances of separation, financial information and objectives.  I also answer questions, which are usually about the process and legal fees.  The whole thing takes about an hour.

In case you want to bring some papers with you, attorney Judith H. Blumeno has compiled the following list:

  • Marriage certificate
  • Tax returns
  • Pay stubs
  • Car loans
  • Mortgage information
  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Bank account statements
  • Statements for credit card accounts
  • Deeds

We can complete the first meeting without these documents.   So don’t feel like you have to find all or any of them before you make the appointment!

Spare me the shadow lawyer.  That’s the friend of my client who works in a big securities firm downtown and has lunch with him every week.  They discuss his divorce that I am handling.

The shadow lawyer has all the answers and nothing I do is right.  He is the Monday morning quarterback who has never set foot in a courthouse.  He goads my client who then insists I take actions that don’t help his case.

This lawyer is not on the field of play.  He does not know divorce law.  He is not trying the case and he is not facing the judge.  Talk is cheap and it is easy to give advice on someone else’s case when they are doing the work and you are having lunch.  I am dealing with the shadow lawyer indirectly through my client.  This is a very poor way to run a lawsuit.

The case is over.  My client has a good result.  He does not appreciate or even know that he has dodged a bullet.  It could have been much worse.  I present my final bill.  The shadow lawyer decides that I have overcharged on an easy case and he could have achieved much more for less.  I wonder to myself, if the shadow lawyer is so good, why didn’t my client hire him instead of me?

I like authors like John LeCarre who let you figure out what happened instead of telling you what happened.  It is even more delicious when it takes a while to figure it out.  My twelve year old had to tell me what the clue was about Robin in the Dark Knight Batman movie.  I missed it entirely.

I like to think judges are the same as I am.  They don’t want to be told what to think in a pleading or an argument.  They want to form their own opinions.  So when I write a pleading, I try to lead, but not push, the judge to the conclusion I want.

I read that Hemingway was sparse with adjectives.  Yesterday I reviewed a divorce pleading that said our client married her spouse in perfectly good fath.  I deleted “perfectly”.  What is the difference between marrying in good faith and perfectly good faith?

Sometimes there is a reason for an adjective in the law.  Indefinite alimony can be granted in Maryland when the spouses have “unconscionably” disparate incomes.  I understand that means there has to be a big difference, not just a little difference.

Some adjectives are harder to grasp.  Cases can be reversed on appeal when the trial judge is “clearly” erroneous.  Why can’t the judge be reversed just for making an error?  If the error is not clear, does that mean the appeals court can’t tell if an error has been made or not?

So I say write with as few adjectives as possible and let the judge decide on his or her own whether something is patently false, obviously wrong, or woefully inadequate.

Guest Article by Myburgh Law P.C.

During an uncontested New York divorce, many couples feel the understandable desire to speed things along as quickly as possible. It’s common to fall into the trap of thinking that, because the dissolution of the marriage is quick and uncontested, they will not need the services of a lawyer. While it is true that an uncontested marital dissolution will enable both parties to go their separate ways much more quickly, there are both long term and short term reasons why hiring a qualified New York attorney is important even in an uncontested divorce.

As part of the process, both parties will have to come to a marital settlement agreement, also known as a stipulation of settlement. If there are children involved, a parenting plan has to be agreed upon as well. Thus, a mutual agreement must be reached on terms such as child custody, where the child will reside, child support, spousal support, division of debt and division of assets. Marital settlement agreements and parenting plans can quickly become confusing to someone who does not have training in family law. A lawyer with experience in family law will ensure that their client understands the terms they are agreeing to and will work to make sure that their client’s wishes are fairly represented in the final agreement.

While some people may feel that they are able to represent their own needs in an uncontested situation, it is easy to underestimate the emotional toll that the dissolution of the marriage can have. Increased levels of stress and frustration often occur during the negotiation process. While these reactions are to be expected, they sometimes prevent individuals from making decisions which are best for the long term. A momentary rash desire to just have the process be over can result in life-long consequences when it comes to assets such as retirement savings, pensions, investments, houses, and 401ks. An attorney can look after these interests for their client without the added emotional turmoil often felt by the client.

Additionally, not all uncontested divorces remain that way through the entire legal process. Unfortunately, some parties will begin negotiations and realize that they simply did not agree on as much as they previously believed they did. Child custody arrangements are often a major point of contention between the parties, as is debt division. If the negotiations do take a turn towards contested territory, it’s good to have an attorney present to help one navigate through the much trickier legal issues surrounding this type of marital dissolution.

However, the proceedings may go just as smoothly as expected. Yet if one partner has a lawyer present, the one without legal representation may feel exposed or resentful without proper counsel. In such situations, both parties having an attorney to represent them promotes an atmosphere of equality and cooperation that is necessary for a successful negotiation.

Ultimately, a divorce is a life-altering event whether it is contested or uncontested. While the dissolving of a marriage will rarely be entirely pleasant, having the proper representation can be the deciding factor in how smoothly the process will go. Having a comparatively quick, hassle-free dissolution of marriage is very possible, and choosing to use the services of an attorney familiar with all aspects of family law is the best way to reach that goal.

As usual, the young associate attorneys were lined up at Jensen’s door with their questions as soon as he came to work in the morning.  At 64, Jensen was the law firm’s senior divorce attorney.  He kept his door open and he liked helping the less experienced lawyers learn the ropes.

“Opposing counsel sent 159 document requests,” said Paul, first in line, “and the client wants to know why I only sent 20.  Should I send another request so that I have one more than the other side?”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Jensen fiddling with the chain of his pocket watch.  “We’re practicing law here, not counting document requests.  If you used our standard requests, you have covered everything.  They are written in a concise and elegant way to ask for all documents that are necessary in a divorce case.  I’m sure that opposing counsel’s list is superfluous, duplicative, and overlapping.  Many of your responses will be that no such documents exist.”

“Isn’t opposing counsel being unethical then?” Paul asked.

“Not at all,” said Jensen.  “The discovery rules don’t put a limit on document requests like they do on interrogatories.  So lawyers are free to ask for as many as they can think of and clients, who don’t know any better, are impressed.  And once you’ve copied somebody’s 159 requests into your computer, it’s easy to do it in the next case simply by pushing a button.”

“So why don’t we do that?” Paul asked.

“Because our job is not to see who can have the most document requests, but to get the documents that we need for the case, and help our clients.  And your job is not to make more document requests, but to educate our client.”

As quantum physicists prepare to announce evidence of the Higgs Bosun (“the God particle”) tomorrow on the fourth of July, my thoughts turn to other great discoveries like gravity and the theory of relativity.

It turns out, as I read in an Intellectual Property Lawyer’s Blog recently, that you can patent an invention, which is an intentional act, but not a discovery, which is accidental.  Therefore, Newton couldn’t patent gravity and Einstein couldn’t patent relativity.  Thank goodness or we might have to pay them license fees.

Just as Einstein discovered that time is not fixed, but elastic and relative to where the observer stands, so too is lawyer time.

Lawyer time expands.  Ask any judge who grants a lawyer’s request to argue for “just five more minutes.”  When a lawyer says, “I’ll call you back in five minutes,” he means a lawyer’s five minutes, which is thirty minutes or an hour or two.  If a lawyer tells you’ll get to court immediately or on an emergency basis or expeditiously, he is usually talking about three months.

Lawyer time contracts.  If you’ve been married for thirty years and you are getting divorced, the lawyer has to compress all that into a five day trial.  And figure your spouse gets half of the five days.  At the end of the trial the lawyer gets about a half an hour to sum it up and the judge gives a decision in about five minutes.

Welcome to the strange world of lawyer time.

Subpoena Ad Testificandum or Subpoena Duces Tecum?

Horace Reed joined the 5:00 am club this morning.   He did his 100 pushups in fast sets of 25 each and then one more perfect one for good measure.

“I bet opposing counsel didn’t do that this morning!” he thought to himself as he drank his morning coffee.

Depositions were set for 10:00 and Horace was ready to give testimony.  He met his client in the lobby of opposing counsel’s building.  “Any tips for my deposition?’ the client asked.

Horace smiled and said, “No we weren’t served with a subpoena ad testificandum.  It was a subpoena duces tecum.”

“Speak English, please.  I don’t understand lawyer talk.  What are those things?”

The Difference Between Subpoena Ad Testificandum and Subpoena Duces Tecum

As they entered the elevator and pushed the buttons, Horace said, “A subpoena ad testificandum is a paper that requires a person to appear and give testimony at a certain time and place, commanding him or her to put aside all pretense and excuses.”

“And the other one? ”

“A subpoena duces tecum is a paper that requires a person to give testimony and bring certain papers with him that matter to the case.  In fact, usually the purpose is just to get the documents and when they are produced the deposition is canceled.”

“Why wasn’t this deposition canceled then?”

“I guess they didn’t think they got all the papers they wanted from you,” Horace said as the elevator doors opened and they stepped into opposing counsel’s suite.

Glenn Phillips of Birmingham, Alabama, is the founder of Forte, Inc., a software consulting business, who went through a contentious divorce, as reported by Deborah L. Cohen of Reuters.

In addition to legal fees, support and property division, he estimates his divorce cost him more than $200,000 in lost business.  He said he was regularly pulled away from work for meetings with lawyers, producing documents in discovery, and settlement negotiations, which took up more than a year.

“It was painful, it was costly,” said Phillips, “I wasn’t there to lead and direct.”  Phillips was able to keep his business and turn things around eventually but divorce can have hidden and indirect costs for small business owners.

Tareq Salahi has filed for divorce from Michaele Salahi, White House gate crasher and one of the Real Housewives of DC.

Tareq accuses Michaele of desertion and adultery with Journey guitarist Neal Schon.

In the Complaint, Tareq claims Schon sent Michaele a picture of a part of his body via email.

There is no lawyer’s name on the Complaint, but it appears to be drafted by someone who knows divorce law.  There is no mention of a prenuptial agreement.

This excerpt from an article by Jane Eaton Hamilton struck me as a particularly poignant description of the losses felt by people going through divorce:

“We had lost our wives and husbands. We had lost our best friends. We had lost sex. We had lost our children. We had lost our animals. We had lost our homes. We had lost our furniture. We had lost our gardens. Our incomes had severely plummeted. There were new therapists to pay, and lawyers to pay, and moving costs to pay. Some of us had to replace even the spices in our cupboards and the toilet brushes behind the bowls. We moved without screwdrivers, without our art, without our shampoo.”