Have you ever heard the expression "blind man's zoo?" It refers to a story in which a number of blind men surrounded an elephant and were attempting to describe it. One with a hand on the trunk, said the animal was like a palm tree. The man touching the tail, by contrast, said the animal was like a piece of rope. Still another, touching the elephant's side, said it was like a wall
Those of us who are sighted can chuckle at this story; we can see that each of the men was right in a limited way, but that the truth each told was incomplete, born of their specific experience. We might imagine that we'd never make a similar mistake, but the truth is, when it comes to divorce, our sight is often as clouded as that of the men surrounding the elephant.
When your marriage is ending, you have very intense experiences and perceptions, and so does your spouse. Those experiences may be wildly divergent, and yet both of your accounts of them may be absolutely true—just incomplete. If you are unwilling to accept that your story isn't the only story of your divorce, your divorce could be much more stressful, and expensive, than it needs to be.
Over and over, we hear clients say, "I want my day in court." It's a phrase we're all familiar with, but what does it mean in the context of a divorce? Many people honestly believe if they only have the opportunity to tell the judge their side of the story in a divorce trial, the clouds will part, the judge will suddenly and wholeheartedly rule in their favor, and their spouse will be punished for each and every transgression. (This almost never happens.)
There are a couple of problems with this scenario. First of all, like the blind men in the story above, your story is not the complete one. Second of all, your spouse, who has a different narrative, probably feels the same way—and the judge can't possibly agree with both of you. Third, despite what courtroom dramas may show, no judge ever gets the full picture of a marriage. Even if your divorce goes to a trial, the picture that is placed before the judge will still be incomplete.
Your friends may be egging you on toward a trial, not wanting you to accept a settlement that is less than you deserve. Their hearts are in the right place, but they don't have any skin in this game. Playing hardball to teach your spouse a lesson could cost you thousands of dollars in legal fees and may not yield a better result. A recent case in our office involved a client who rejected a settlement offer, insisted on litigating the divorce, and ended up with the same outcome proposed in a settlement—minus the legal fees it cost to get there.
Does this mean you should just acquiesce and take whatever settlement your spouse offers? Not necessarily. But you should understand what's truly in your best interests, so that you can know if litigation is really necessary.
When we're under stress and emotions run high, which happens in divorce, it skews our ability to see clearly. This is true of everyone. So when you're divorcing, you need an objective, knowledgeable person who can keep you on track, but also has your best interests at heart. That's your attorney.
This is probably your first, and hopefully only, divorce. But your attorney has seen hundreds of divorces. Having been before the local judges many times, they know the variables the court will analyze in deciding a contested issue. That attorney's prior experience is a big part of the attorney fees you are paying.
Let's say the issue is spousal maintenance, and you think your spouse should be paying you a certain amount for a certain period. They're willing to pay only a smaller amount for a shorter period. You could insist on letting the judge decide. But your lawyer, having experience with the law, divorce cases in general, and likely with your judge in particular, can let you know if the settlement offer is reasonable in light of what a judge would probably award. They can also advise you whether it's worth the attorney fees you'd have to pay in order to roll the dice on that issue.
Your attorney has an ethical obligation to advise you to do what's best for you. If that isn't enough, remember that the longer your case continues and the more contentious it gets, the more money you will pay your attorney to represent your interests. If they're advising you to settle rather than litigate, they're doing it for your sake, not theirs. If you've hired a divorce attorney you can trust, you can rely on the advice, and the perspective, you're paying for.
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