Divorce court can bring the absolute worst out of people. Formerly polite spouses transform into vicious and petty enemies. No matter how intense the situation gets, the lawyers have to be there to work through the hold thing. At least they're getting paid for all this nonsense! Content has been edited for clarity.
"My client who, in her mid forties, had never worked a day in her life. She'd gone from her father's home to her husband's and expected a man to take care of her the rest of her life. The husband worked, but he wasn't making a ton. The idea that she would need to transition into the workforce was so unfair! In our settlement negotiations when discussing spousal support, I asked her if a certain amount would be enough.
Her response, screaming in the judge's conference room and slamming her hand on the table, 'No it's not enough! It's never GOING TO BE ENOUGH!'
Judge's staff and opposing counsel walked in to make sure she hadn't knocked me against the wall. The case had been ongoing for over a year at this point, and she still hadn't been able to consider that she would be self-sufficient. It was the hardest case I've ever had because I just couldn't relate to my client in any way."
"I once mediated the case of Neckbeard v. Tiger Mom. It must have started out as the perfect dream for Neckbeard. He landed a hot foreign wife and brought her to this country, but once that green card came through, things changed. They had a daughter together and the case was mostly about her. Tiger Mom had zero respect for this guy, and try as I might to maintain my empathy, I've never felt a greater urge to stuff another human into a locker.
Two of his demands really stand out. He asked for the following injunction: 'Tiger Mom shall be enjoined from discussing Neckbeard's weight in a derogatory manner, specifically she may not refer to him as fatty, tubby, pudgy, or Baymax.'
Normally I wouldn't take an offer like that to the other side. I'd normally help a guy come up with something more sensible, but everyone, including his lawyer just could not take this guy seriously, so I wrote that out verbatim and trotted over to Tiger Mom's room. Of course, she thought it was hilarious. She said, 'My daughter calls him Baymax because he looks like Baymax (the Disney cartoon character). I can't fix that, he'll have to fix that.'
There comes a point at the end of the day when everything is pretty much settled and people are dividing up the items in the house. Of course, Neckbeard has a meltdown at this point and it's over a Nintendo Switch for the daughter. Tiger Mom made the very sensible proposal that the daughter take the switch with her to each parent's house as she goes back and forth. Neckbeard freaks out and demands the switch stay with him at all times because, 'There's no way Tiger Mom can take proper care of it.'
Mind you, the attorneys are billing enough to pay for three switches an hour at this point. I don't know what happened to the guy, but I do know calling him Baymax could land one lady in contempt of court after the most hilarious enforcement trial of all time, and he owns what's probably the most expensive Nintendo Switch in the world."
"I represented a woman whose husband had attacked her with a broomstick, but instead of a broom at the end, there was a metal scrub brush. When the hearing starts, the husband's attorney is looking a little miffed that I'm pushing for alimony, and at this point I have an assistant bring in the broken weapon used to attack my client. The wooden handle stood propped next to my desk, and the scrub brush lay on it. I called husband as my first witness.
Husband's attorney jumps up and objects that this is improper, and that I have to call my client first. I tell the chancellor I'll respond when he cites a rule (there is no such rule in this court). The chancellor smiled, turned to husband's attorney and asks him which rule he's referring to. He withdraws his objection, and then says his client is pleading the fifth. I respond that this is fine, but that his client still needs to take the stand so he can invoke that on each individual question he doesn't want to answer, so the court knows where to take a negative inference against him. The chancellor sides with me, and husband takes the stand.
So after my warm up questions, I ask husband what happened on the night of the assault. He contends that on that night, the wife had driven donuts in the yard the husband had been working on, and that she then got out of the car and started swearing at him. This is where my expert lawyer skills came in handy
Me: 'That made you angry didn't it?'
Him: 'It was disrespectful.'
Me: 'That...made...you...angry, didn't it?'
Him: 'It would have made anyone angry.'
I repeat my question slow enough that it sounds like I'm talking to a foreign toddler.
Him: 'It sure did!'
Unfortunately, his last comment came with a lot of foul language.
Chancellor: 'If you swear again in this courtroom, I'll have you arrested!'
Me: 'You said she was disrespectful and her actions would have made anyone angry, right?'
Me: 'You didn't just take that lying down, did you?'
Him: 'Of course not, I hit her!'
Me: 'You didn't hit her with your hands, did you?'
Him: 'No I hit her with that stick you got over there!'
He actually pointed at it.
Me: 'You hit her more than once didn't you?'
Him: 'I hit her until she got the point. Probably three or four times!'
His lawyer is literally facepalming at this point.
Him: 'Is this where I'm supposed to say I don't want to answer cause my criminal case?'
Needless to say, my client got her alimony."
"My dad did a couple divorce cases in his early career and had a few fun ones. I do remember one case where the mom was arguing for full custody with no visitation, under the allegation that the dad violated the child or something, but when they spoke with the child and got the doctors reports, it was textbook coaching. She told her kid what to say to make it sound like dad was hurting them, when nothing inappropriate was going on. Needless to say, that's what pushed the judge in favor of granting dad primary custody. Judge really chewed both of them out because the whole time, they were both just doing whatever they could to get at the other, but the judge really didn't take too kindly to dragging the kid into their squabble.
Another one he told me about was when he was defending this poor battered woman divorcing her abusive husband. Unsurprisingly, the judge was siding with her more on the division of stuff. After all was said and done, the dude went up to my dad and basically told him he was going to track him and his family down and kill them. He ended up in jail on unrelated stuff eventually, but my dad was so spooked at the time, he made sure my mom knew what he looked like and told her if she ever saw him in public, she must avoid him and call 911. I found out about this story because my dad was creeping on the guy online, because he apparently had just gotten out of jail. He doubted that after 20 odd years the guy even remembered him.
My favorite of my dad's lawyer stories involved the husband and wife are arguing over the furniture in their house. There was a HUGE blow up over this living chair. Wife was arguing that the chair should go to her because it matched the sofa and she was getting that. Husband argued that the chair should go to him because 'his butt fit the chair'. My dad always called it the 'butt fits the chair' defense. It ended up with judge getting fed up and auctioning the chair off. The judge asked the wife how much she would be willing to pay him for the chair. She said 10 bucks. He then asked the husband, 'Are you willing to pay her more than 10 for the chair?'
Husband then just grumbles, 'Fine she can have the stupid chair.'
Dad was aghast. Neither one of these people even cared about the chair, it wasn't worth more than 10 bucks to either of them, but they just wanted to fight over it. Which is why my dad said he never wants to go back to doing divorce cases, because most of the ones he's seen are usually about a bitter couple just wanting to have one more fight before parting ways."
"One of my clients was a now-deceased man, who was married 9 years ago to a woman. These are what I call 'late in life marriages', where a woman with nothing marries a retired man with a house, retirement income, and time to vacation. This man brought a fully paid-for house into the marriage. He took out a mortgage to presumably afford vacations and the new wife's expenses. The bank required both names on the mortgage, so he deeded it to them as joint tenants.
Two years later, she leaves him for another man. She was never heard from again. A couple months ago, he finds out he’s going to die. He immediately files for a divorce, but it was never finalized. He created a deed to his children, but it was not valid because it would need her signature. He also tried to create a will, which describes in detail how terrible she was and disinherits her from any assets completely. That doesn’t matter, because the state allows a wife to avoid the will and still take 1/2 of marital property.
He died before anything could be done. She now owns the only remaining assets of the house and a marital car. Even though the son moved into the house and took care of his dying father for two years, no heirs will receive anything. She will receive a hefty house and insanely expensive car."
"I worked for a client during a mediation. Her first offer of how to break down the assets left her with over 90% of the marital assets. The husband hadn't even cheated on her. She thought it was perfectly reasonable, and we had to convince her that if that was what she wanted, then the other side would just take it to trial and at worst walk away with 55%.
I had another mediation that was completely agreed upon. Well over a million dollars were at stake. Both sides agreed to the disposition of the marital assets. But then, after almost six hours of negotiating, the wife realized that one bank account with less than $10,000 was going to the husband instead of her. And the whole agreement broke down over that. She was willing to pay way more than ten grand to go to trial and possibly get less, because she thought it was unfair for the husband to get the money."
"I worked on a divorce that didn’t settle at mediation and went to trial. The parties owned a business together, which was started during the marriage. This was their sole source of income and they worked the business together. Obviously the biggest issue was who was going to keep the business (it wasn’t worth much to sell and split the profit). On a temporary basis, the General Magistrate ordered the husband (my client) to keep running the business and to pay the wife temporary alimony. At trial, we were in front of the judge this time instead of the General magistrate. This judge is older, bad memory, and was fairly new to family law. She ends up giving the wife the business AND ordering my client to pay the wife alimony! How is someone to pay alimony if you just took away their only source of income for the last 10 years? I filed a motion for rehearing, but the judge denied it. My client didn’t have the money for an appeal, so unfortunately there wasn’t much that he could do.
Cherry on top? The husband was awarded his home that he inherited from his grandmother. The wife had been living in there during the divorce proceedings. The judge gave her 30 days to move out. She stayed until the last possible day. When the client went back to the home the wife had completely destroyed the inside. She took a sharp tool and scratched a 'x' on the surface of all the furniture and the walls. It was completely immature. In fact, this whole case was completely immature.
My client ended up leaving the country at one point. Not sure if he’s back in the US now."
"The husband had a good career. The husband cheated on wife. The wife (my client) was justifiably upset. Husband moves out of marital home to the closest major city. Husband pays mortgage off on marital home over more than 20 years. Husband gives wife living expenses each month. 20+ years after separation, the wife files for divorce because she wants half of his retirement as well. They literally had not even seen each other for over 20 years. The wife was my last domestic relations client ever.
Their living apart so long worked in the husbands favor. I can't remember exactly what the husband's settlement offer was, but the judge went off the record and told her that based on what he heard so far, it was likely more than he would give her. The judge basically told her how unreasonable she was being. One thing he mentioned that I left out is that she wanted a new house because it had fallen into disrepair. Of course the judge said that was her fault.
The crazy thing is, neither was a bad person. The husband did so much for so long without a court order because he genuinely felt bad and regretted hurting her. He just knew she could never really forgive him so they could move on. She was also a good person. She was just wounded and never recovered. Over time, she grew to resent him because he was able to move on and be happy, so she felt entitled to so much. She was a kind and charitable person otherwise, but when it came to him, she wouldn't settle for less than the life she thought they'd have together, or at least him being at least as miserable as her.
The judge was very no-nonsense in the way he ran the courtroom. He eventually asked if we'd be willing to have an off-the-record settlement conference. All parties agreed. I knew what was coming, so I welcomed it. He basically told her that her husband had gone above and beyond what a court would have required of him had they divorced when they first separated. He told her what he thought would be a fair resolution and compared that to what her husband had already said he was willing to give. Basically, the husband was still being more generous than the court would have required of him. So she begrudgingly took the husband's offer. The same offer we had been telling her to take for weeks. She cried the whole time.
The judge even stopped in the middle of proceedings to allow her to reconsider. She felt like we were 'bullying' her to take the offer, but it was really more than she was legally entitled to. The entire proceeding was a mess. We kept starting and stopping for her to reconsider and compose herself. We all felt bad for her because she was genuinely upset, but she was just wrong. Eventually she took the agreement and never complained later. I think it was the first time anyone confronted her with the fact that her husband wasn't a horrible guy, and she needed to forgive and move on so that she could enjoy the rest of her life."
"I represented the husband, and the wife was extremely, extremely bitter against him. Her first affidavits in the custody action were like 50 pages of angry ranting about his various failures as a husband and father. He was not the greatest husband or father, but he certainly wasn't the type of violent deadbeat who deserved to never see his kids again, which is exactly what the wife was going for.
The property division and custody fight dragged on for about four years before I got on the file, and the husband hadn't seen his kids for about three of them. The wife made application after application for parental evaluations and supervised visitation and restrictions on the husband's new girlfriend from being around the kids. Simultaneously, the property division was extremely contentious as well. These were solidly middle class folks. The only reason Wife could afford to drag it out so long was because she had a ton of her own exempt money that she was perfectly willing to burn on making sure Husband was worse off as he could possibly be. Eventually we got the property divided, the divorce finalized, and the first visit that the husband had with his kids in a couple years. Surely everyone was tired of fighting by this point? Haha, no.
Wife immediately filed to move with the kids to another jurisdiction, where she had more family support. Husband was plain out of money to fight at this point. He was pretty defeated. We were off the file, so I don't know if Wife succeeded in moving the kids, but she probably did.
In Wife's defense, one of the kids had some pretty severe emotional issues that Husband probably exacerbated. I don't necessarily think she was wrong to want some degree of supervision or restrictions on Husband's parenting of the kids. And Wife absolutely did need family support to care for that kid and hold down a job, and Husband was the type who talks more about wanting to be a good parent than he was actually willing to put in the effort. But, my god, couldn't they have reached a compromise on the parenting and property, and then spent all that money on therapists, visitation supervisors, and parenting classes? They blew it all on lawyers!"
"Here's the couple. They have a kid. The wife gets pregnant again, but the prenatal testing comes back with really bad news. The kid is going to be severely disabled, with a raft of health problems. The wife decides to keep the baby, against the husband's wishes. The baby is born, and her condition is just as bad as predicted. So he's got my sympathy up until this.
He gets a girlfriend. Files for divorce. He's thinking they'll just split everything, and here's his idea of the split. She can have one kid (the one that had four surgeries before she was a month old and requires 24-hour care, who might eventually learn to speak a few words but will never understand why she is always in pain), and he'll take the healthy kid. She can have the car, he'll take the house. He just wanted the wife and child to vanish, and he admitted this to the judge. The judge was not impressed.
The wife got custody of both kids, the house, the nicer car, and he was ordered to cover all the medical expenses for the rest of the disabled child's life. I was told he started to argue, and his lawyer told him to stop talking. Nope. Dad wanted visitation only with the healthy kid, so the judge ordered him to pay for the disabled kid's care during every minute of visitation time, so Mom could have a break. Guy starts to argue again, and his lawyer told him to shut up if he wanted to have any assets left at all."
"I used to work as a family law attorney. Never again. It's one of those fields you either love or hate; I am the latter. I had clients who fought over custody of children they did not want, only because they wanted to pay less/no child support. I had a client say that they would quit their job one day before retirement benefits vested, just so the ex-spouse wouldn't get a portion of it. Imagine giving up your own retirement just to hurt someone you once loved.
I think my most entitled client was someone who had no children, a well-paying job, and lived quite comfortably, perhaps even lavishly. This client made domestic violence claims with nothing to back them up and tallied up every expense from the marriage, to show that ex-spouse had been hiding money. He claimed he had no money to live on (despite having a six-figure income), and needed spousal support. He threw fits when he did not get his way - both in court and out. This client was an absolute nightmare to work for, and if I hadn't been just an associate and had been allowed to choose my clients, I would have fired this one a million times.
Generally, this type of client doesn't actually say they don't want their kids; it just becomes exceedingly obvious from working with them. Even if they do say so, the best I could have done as an associate with no choice of my clients (they were assigned to me by my boss, the lead attorney) was try to talk them out of it in such a way as to not seem like I was completely spitting on them.
I have had to represent clients I did not like. It isn't preferable, but it is doable. Sometimes, though very rarely, it seemed in family law, a client will actually heed my advice."
"I had a client who met a girl (both in their 20s). They both had jobs and moved in together, and they soon decide to get married. Then she comes home one day and says she quit her job and wants to be a housewife. He supports her and works extra jobs to make ends meet. They end up having 4 kids, with him out of home all the time, working to support the family with 2-3 jobs. He even picked up a 4th job one winter to pay for Christmas. Finances were so bad that he couldn’t pay for $10 of food for dinner one night. She’s in control of finances completely.
Fast-forward. He finds out one day that she’s having an affair with her best friend's brother. They agree to divorce. She throws him out of the home and he moves back in with his mother while paying the rent for the wife and the kids, and paying for their living expenses. Court happens. He shows up 2-3 minutes late because the parking lot was full, and he was having a hard time finding park. The judge says, 'Since you can’t make it on time, I’m awarding full custody and 50% of your income for child support.'
Finances are drawn out, and turns out she’s left him in $10,000 of credit card debt, with cards she made in his name. Credit card companies said their hands were tied, as the couple was married during these purchases, so they can't rule it as fraud.
The ex-wife agrees to let ex-husband have every other weekend of custody. Then one day she says, 'I’m moving to Tennessee (over 2000 miles away) with the man I cheated on you with, and I’m taking the kids.'
Ex-husband tries to fight it, but she has full custody, so off they moved. She comes back 2 years later remarried, and the kids were young enough that they know her second husband as their real dad. Ex-husband is still paying child support 10+ years later, because new husband doesn’t want to adopt the kids (due to child support payments being so high).
One of the worst examples comes from my own family. When I was like 16, my mom kicks my dad out of the marital bedroom and forces him to move his living quarters to share with my brother. This goes on for a couple months, her using him for to hook up with whenever she felt like it, but treating him like any other tenant. Because she thought he would never leave her, she started spending her money recklessly. He ends up giving her 30 days notice that he’s moving out. She freaks out and brings him to divorce court.
The judge has him pay for insurance for the kids, child support, and splitting any school costs for the 3 remaining children in the home. Unfortunately, full custody was awarded to my mother, that proceeded to cause years of financial abuse on everyone involved. Dad decided to seek lawyer help and gets the child support taken off, because he proved that he was providing more than 50% of child costs when mother was barely providing housing and food. My mother is now broke (because of bad financial decisions), single (except when she can find a sugar daddy), and living with one of my siblings. My dad has 4+ cars and travels every 3-5 months with his new wife."