"My husband is a lawyer and I want a divorce." Such a request, often unspoken, comes with fear and anxiety. It is normal to feel that way, even in the hardest marriages and the ones where divorce is long overdue.
"He is a bully", "He is a narcissist." You are scared because your husband may be a narcissist or worse. You may be afraid your lawyer husband will be able to take advantage of you, and use tricks up his sleeve to try to hurt you in the divorce process.
"I feel paralyzed. I don't know what to do." Most of what you fear comes from the unknown. Because you are not a lawyer and you are not familiar with the legal profession, and especially if you are a stay at home mom going through a divorce and feel completely disconnected with the family's finances, you may have conjured up a lot of horrible scenarios in your head.
"Can you help?" Most of the lawyers in our family law firm are also married and have children of their own. We understand the legal profession from a very close and unique perspective because we are part of it. We can also put a lot of your worries to rest and you have the luxury of knowing that our divorce attorneys have represented attorneys in their own divorce cases and represented spouses married to lawyers. We have seen both sides and have experience with the type of issues you may face.
Let's get started by discussing the issues that come with divorcing your husband who is a lawyer. For the men out there whose wives are lawyers, the same issues may apply to you. Do not take this article as only being for wives and mothers only. If you are the husband and father and married to a lawyer who you believe will be unreasonable and difficult through the divorce process, keep reading.
Nothing contained in this article is legal advice. This article only generally speaks to this topic under California family law and no other. Please consult with a family law lawyer in your State.
My husband is a lawyer and I want a divorce. How do I control my fear?
Fear is not the same as concern. Fear is not the same as anxiety. When divorcing a husband who is a lawyer or a husband of any profession, anxiety and concern is normal. It is part of the divorce process and I don't know any spouse who goes into a divorce joyful and content.
However, fear strikes a completely different part of your psychology. An article by Dr. Gregory Berns in the New York Times says it well:
Fear prompts retreat. It is the antipode to progress. Just when we need new ideas most, everyone is seized up in fear, trying to prevent losing what we have left.
Fear immobilizes decision-making. It does not allow you to think logically or proactively. Even when you know your decisions are bad ones, fear can cripple your ability to make the right choices.
When divorcing a husband who is a lawyer, why does the fear exist?
It is because you feel intimidated. It is because you probably felt scared and intimidated during your marriage by someone who you considered or perhaps still consider your intellectual superior.
That fear is what drives you to think your husband who is a lawyer must have something planned or premeditated to take advantage of you. It actually makes little logical sense but it is nevertheless how your lawyer husband has managed to do a good job controlling you.
When divorcing a husband who is a lawyer, how do you manage and potentially eliminate your fear?
- You have a paid advocate to help you get through this.
- What's the point of spending time finding a good divorce lawyer in California if you going to let your fear get the better of you?
- I don't care how big and bad you think your lawyer husband is. He has no control over the family court system any more than any other husband or wife going through a divorce.
- He knows nothing more about the law or procedure than a good and experienced divorce lawyer does.
- Unless he is a practicing family law attorney, I highly doubt he knows the local judges who handle the family law cases. Even if he does, so what? An experienced, local divorce lawyer knows the style of those same judges.
Stop fearing that which cannot hurt you just because you have a husband who also is a lawyer.
Have you considered how much your lawyer husband has to lose during the divorce?
Your husband's status as a lawyer may give him more to lose than you may think.
Does he enjoy practicing law? Does he value his professional license?
If the answer to either of those questions are yes, he has a lot to lose by playing dumb and dangerous games throughout the divorce case.
If he willfully misrepresents facts under oath, he has committed perjury which is a felony in the State of California. That could cause him to lose his license to practice law or, at a minimum, could cause him private or public reprimand.
Do you really think he wants to take that risk?
In addition, since lawyers are officers of the court, your lawyer husband has a lot to lose by his reputation getting tarnished if he does not cooperate throughout the divorce process.
If he tries to make it "ugly" for you or whatever other unintelligent bullying threats he has made toward you, he is putting his own reputation at stake.
Word spreads around fairly quickly in most legal communities and unless your lawyer husband cherishes the thought of getting an adverse judgment against him, an attorney fee award against him, or be chided by the family law court for his unreasonable conduct, he probably will not get over aggressive with you if you handle the case properly from the outset.
Does your lawyer husband really want to waste his own time and take his attention away from his law practice?
Do you think you're the only one who is stressed out? You are not.
Unless your lawyer husband is not particularly bright or a serious narcissist, he may not want to take too much time and attention away from his law practice. Whether he works for a law firm or he is in private practice, he is probably dedicating a lot of time to what he does for a living.
California divorce cases are very time-consuming. That is why many spouses first ask how long will the divorce take? Their concern is time commitment. Whether he's representing himself or has a divorce attorney representing him, chances are pretty good that taking aggressive stances on everything, trying to cause delays or increasing the cost of divorce litigation through unreasonable conduct in violation of Family Code 271 will actually cost him a lot of time and money.
That is not a good strategy for someone who is trying to build a law practice or trying to make money.
But does any of this impact your divorce against your lawyer husband if…
There is one truth however to all of the things we have mentioned so far. You cannot roll over and play dead for him. If you intend to give up your legal rights, do whatever he wants, follow whatever he says or let your fear grip you so that you do not hire the best lawyer for your divorce and child custody case and listen to his or her advice, then your lawyer husband may very well get away with all of the things we have mentioned above.
That would be terrible for you and your children and we certainly hope you do not allow something like that to happen.
Assuming that we are all on the same page and assuming you want the best for yourself and your children, let's now look at the second factor when divorcing your lawyer husband.
My husband is a lawyer and I want a divorce. But I am not in a good place emotionally.
Emotions can run hot or cold during divorce.
Nobody will ask you to be completely unemotional at any point in your divorce case. To do that, you have to stop being human.
But there's a difference between normal emotional and unhealthy emotion that starts making your decisions for you. The moment unhealthy emotions take a grip on your decision-making process, you have made a sharp left turn and you're heading off the divorce cliff. It's not good for you. It's not good for your kids. It's very bad for your wallet and your sanity.
What do we mean by unhealthy emotions? The list can be long depending on the issues in a divorce case and the history of the conflict between you and your husband, but let's go through the most common ones.
When unhealthy emotions take hold and make you lash out…
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. This scenario goes something like this.
- "If my husband play games with the finances, I'm going to take the kids away from him."
- "If my husband is going to be difficult, I'm going to be difficult too."
It doesn't do you any good. All you are doing is taking your credibility and destroying it in the eyes of the family law judge. What's more, you have stopped thinking. You are not an animal trying to "fight." You are trying to get a result consistent with California law and hopefully within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.
The moment you start fighting his fire with your fire, you may neutralize your ability to get good results in court. Experienced and skilled divorce lawyers will usually tell you that there are battles to fight and those you shouldn't.
Let me give you some examples.
If you decide you are going to alienate the children, make false allegations of abuse or neglect against him or otherwise try to take the kids away, you allow him to bring your conduct to the family court's attention and make you look like the unreasonable and bad person.
Not only will this give him the power to damage your credibility in front of the court, but it could have serious consequences for both your child custody case and your support case. You see, in California, false allegations, alienation, or parental misconduct can easily resultmodification of child custody.
In addition, that change in custody can also impact your child support. There is a direct relationship between the amount of time each parent spends with the child and the calculation of guideline child support ordered in California. While this is unfortunate and an area family law that needs to eventually evolve, it is the law today and as of the date I write this article for you.
In addition, you expose yourself to attorneys fees. Now you may think, "but I'm not working" or "he makes a lot more money than I do" and you have concluded that there is no way he can get attorneys fees against you.
If you actively engage in misconduct and let your emotions get the better of you, the court has the discretion to award attorneys fees against you and take it out of your community property share of the assets.
That house that has a lot of equity in it and may be sold, his law practice being valued and from which you may get a share, even your spousal support, it can all be used to order attorneys fees against you.
On top of all this, you give your lawyer husband a valuable weapon of advocacy…and giving a husband who is a lawyer an advantage during a bitter battle over custody or finances is just not smart.
If you take unreasonable positions with the children, or become a difficult and unreasonable in other aspects of the divorce as a way of fighting back against him, you actually minimize his misconduct.
Rather than allow your divorce lawyer to effectively argue that your lawyer husband's conduct should be sanctioned or that you should receive an attorney fee award against him, the judge is left with two people who are unreasonable and making decisions about two people who are unreasonable often times ends up in a wash, where neither one of them get what they want and both of them feel like they "lost" the case.
Manage those unhealthy emotions during your divorce…
A talented divorce lawyer will help you manage divorce's complex emotions. Your divorce lawyer is not your therapist and will not tell you how you should cope with the issues. For that, you need a psychologist or a counselor. However, your divorce lawyer should advise you when your decisions are very bad ones and, unless you change the course, can send you down a dangerous road.
My husband is a lawyer and I want a divorce. How does the financial part of it work?
Every California divorce except for those that divorces that involve summary dissolutions involve a mandatory disclosure process and a non-mandatory but very important discovery process.
California family law's disclosure process
In California, the husband and wife each have a duty to independently disclose to the other all of the assets, debts, income and expenses. There are forms for this.
These are only two of several forms in the disclosures process but they are arguably the two most important.
These disclosures come in a preliminary format as well as a final one. A preliminary declaration of disclosure is one that is done at the outset of the case. The California Family Code requires that a petitioner serve his or her disclosures within 60 days after filing the divorce petition. The Code also requires a respondent to serve his or her disclosure within 60 days of filing the response.
The purpose of these disclosures is to even the playing field when it comes to knowledge all the assets, debts, income and expenses. The spouses execute and exchange these under oath and there are mandatory attachments that go with them including any deeds, bank statements as well as other financial account statements, retirement benefit statements and so forth.
When divorcing a lawyer husband, these disclosures will help you understand what he claims are the assets, debts, income and expenses. If you have been a stay-at-home mom and do not have a complete picture of all these, these disclosures help you with that.
At the same time, you must disclose everything you know to your lawyer husband.
You must respect the California divorce disclosure process.
It means you have to take it seriously and if your lawyer husband fails to do so, you have to compel him to do it right. Disclosures are one of the most important parts of any divorce case. If your husband refuses to make proper disclosures, you must, through your own attorney, put him on notice of the defects and mandate that he make proper, accurate and complete disclosures.
This includes situations where he does not disclose assets, fails to disclose the value of assets or otherwise provides evasive or incomplete information.
While it is possible your lawyer husband may not know the value of an asset (for example his legal practice), that does not justify him playing ignorant throughout the divorce case. At some point the law practice has to be valued through a formal business valuation. Depending on your husband's area of law as well as income generated from it, this valuation process may be simple or relatively complex.
Fortunately, experienced California family law attorneys like those at our law firm work with talented forensic accountants to conduct this evaluation.
California family law's discovery process
While disclosures are mandatory by law, discovery is not.
Discovery is a formal request for information from your lawyer husband. This includes a request for him to produce documents, form interrogatories which are questions on preprinted forms, special interrogatories which are specifically drafted questions by your lawyer, request for admissions which are requests by you to him to admit certain facts that are true, as well as his deposition which is a face-to-face procedure where your lawyer husband is placed under oath and required to answer questions.
Depositions are conducted outside of court.
These are not all the discovery procedures available in a California family law case but they are the most common.
The discovery process may be discretionary by California law but it is in our opinion mandatory and must be done in most cases. If you intend to handcuff your divorce attorney by not allowing him or her to conduct the necessary discovery, be prepared to potentially pay the consequences by entering into a divorce settlement that may not be in your best interest.
Your divorce lawyer cannot make you do anything. At the end of the day, the choices are yours. If you decide to forego the discovery process and settle before you have all the necessary information, you may or may not be entering into a settlement that is not wise.
Respecting the discovery process means letting it go through so that your divorce lawyer can conduct his or her due diligence in your case.
My husband is a lawyer and I want a divorce…but do I really have to go to court?
You want your divorce case to settle. You are not alone. You would prefer that the case does not go to court. You are again not alone. But, something else you have in common with every other wife who goes through a divorce case is the decision you have to make, at some point. If the case does not settle, whether or not you like it, your case will go to court.
When divorcing a husband who is a lawyer, if you expect him to be unreasonable, then you must also expect that he will not do the right thing when given the opportunity. That means he will be unreasonable in settlement negotiations which may include the child custody issues as well as support and division of assets.
What are you going to do in such a situation? Surrender? Give him whatever he wants? These are the things you have to think about. And if your answer to the last two questions are yes, you may be setting yourself up for a lot of heartache in the divorce case.
Courage is a necessary part of any divorce. You must have the courage to protect your legal rights as well as protect your children's best interest. If the lawyer husband you're divorcing believes that you will be easy to pressure and you will break under that pressure, your negotiation leverage maybe gone and, worse yet, you may end up with results with which you will not be happy.
Court does not have to be where you start but it may be where you end. Let me give you one of the most common examples.
- You know that your lawyer husband works long hours and there is no way he can care for the children 50% of the time.
- Yet, he still insists on having equal parenting time of the children even though he was not close to an equal parent during the marriage and he does not have the ability or time to be one since you two separated.
- He is relentless on this issue and he will not accept anything less than equal parenting time.
- In addition, he is threatening and harassing you that if you do not give it to him, he will ask for primary custody.
- Your divorce lawyer tells you that the reason he wants the parenting time, even though he will not be the one spending time with the children and the children will likely be dropped off at his parent's house or some other person other than him, is to lower his child support.
- You know this is true.
What do you do in such situation?
- You give him what he wants?
- Do you do so knowing that the children are being taken away from you and not even being properly parented during his time?
- Do you accept significantly less child support as a result of all this?
- Does any of this sound remotely in your children's best interests or yours?
The answer to the last question is of course no. But if you do not have the courage and the follow-through to take the custody and child support issue to family court and be willing to put on the hearing so that the judge can make the right ruling, with what are you left?
You may very well be stuck with a settlement inconsistent with the facts and the law. Why? Because your lawyer husband didn't believe you could overcome your fear of confronting him and he never made a reasonable offer to allow you to avoid court.
No good divorce lawyer wants to see such a result for his or her client. We certainly would not want it for you. However, we do not live your life nor can we make your decisions, anymore than any other divorce lawyer you hire.
Courage is a word I have used more than once because that is what it will take when divorcing a lawyer husband if he is or has been a bully and you believe he will take unreasonable positions and try to force you into an unfair settlement.
Final thoughts on divorcing a husband who is a lawyer
No matter what your situation, you will not go through it alone. Retaining a knowledgeable and experienced divorce lawyer will go a long way in helping ease the transition from marriage to separation and from separation to divorcing your lawyer husband.
We want the best for you and that best starts from the first phone call to us. Our family law firm has offices in Orange County and Los Angeles. We handle divorce cases in each of the seven Southern California counties.