Divorce Vultures

August 28, 2013 10:42 pm Published by Comments Off on Divorce Vultures

A former student recently sent the following email to me.  This is an example of why I am on a mission to carry the message that there is a better way to go through the process of divorce.

“I have a mediation question for you. My friend is getting divorced here in Palm Beach County and she is represented by a well known divorce atty. Last week she had a 15 hour (10am to 1am) marathon mediation during which they settled the financial aspects of the case.  At 6pm her attorney informed her that he had a prior obligation but that an associate from his firm who was familiar with her case would be there as well as her forensic accountant. Well, the agreement was signed and my friend is freaking out because she thinks she got a very bad deal.

Any thoughts re: the validity of the Agreement given the length of the mediation and the fact that her attorney left the mediation? Please get back to me as soon as possible with any thoughts….”

Hmm…. I think that the first thing your friend needs to do is ask herself how much deeper she wants to dig the hole.  As a general rule, without the presence of fraud or coercion, a signed agreement is difficult to change – unless both sides want to change it.

Has she discussed the situation with her current attorney and/or gotten a second opinion?

When money is involved, there is almost always a range. Does the settlement she agreed to put her within the range? If she was properly prepared for mediation, by her attorney, she would have entered into mediation knowing what the range would be.

I consider this event, which we can assume cost the couple somewhere in the $22,500 range a professional disgrace. (Do the math, 2 lawyers, 2 accountants, 1 mediator, all getting $300 – or more – an hour – for 15 hours.) To me its illogical and unethical. But, it’s the way it’s often done when attorneys are running the show.

I don’t give legal advice, but I do give life advice: NEVER, EVER sign ANYTHING at 1am, except your bar tab.

If you are going to have an attorney-driven divorce, choose wisely. In my mind, any attorney who would skip out on his/her emotionally and physically exhausted client and allow the client to sign an agreement at 1am is a dolt, or too burnt out to care.  (You notice that the attorney did not return later – when the obligation was over.)  To me, this is unacceptable since one word in the agreement can change it’s meaning and be life altering.

In this case, as you describe it, the mediator’s actions were questionable.  The correct thing to do was adjourn and come back to the mediation table when the clients could think clearly. No matter what the circumstances, after 15 hours no one should be making critical decisions. The mediator had an ethical obligation to stop once the parties were no longer able to exercise self-determination.

OK, I will get off the soap-box. Not all attorneys are bad. Some really get it and really want their clients to go on and re-build their lives. Sometimes, in spite of the best efforts of the professionals involved, buyers/sellers remorse pops up as soon as the agreement is signed.  So my question is – did your friend get bamboozled or is she simply suffering from buyer’s remorse?

Best, Elinor

Comments are closed here.