Warning: Getting Emotional Can Cost You Money

As a family law attorney, I often help people when they’re really not at their best. Especially in cases of divorce and child custody, clients are very upset, stressed about the future and unable to think clearly about their options. They frequently take actions based on their emotions that end up prolonging their case and costing them more money. They sweat the little stuff rather than look at the big picture.

Here’s an example: Years ago I represented a woman in a divorce case. She and her husband had been married 22 years and there were serious issues at stake about child custody and support. Instead of focusing on these issues, she and her husband (represented by another attorney) got caught up in personal property disputes. They were fighting over the furniture in the house and even arguing over who should get the treadmill!

There was only one way to settle this dispute without getting a full appraisal of the property. The husband’s attorney and I met at the residence, each of us armed with a yellow notepad. We held an “auction” between the two parties, asking each to bid on each item in the house. When one side or the other bid more on an item, it was placed in his or her column. When it was all added up, the husband’s expenses were more than the wife’s, so he owed her half the difference. More importantly, the process took almost eight hours, which at the attorneys’ rates, cost the two parties an additional $5,000.

A business transaction

Why do people get stuck on the small stuff? Whenever you’re involved in litigation, there’s an emotional component. If one person thinks another is trying to take advantage of them, they will often respond not with reason but out of spite. As noted, this kind of back-and-forth dispute only adds hours to attorney fees, costing both parties money. 

The lesson to clients: With the exception of child custody and support (child and spousal) issues, look at everything else in the proceedings as a business transaction, pure and simple. Leave your emotions out of it. If you’re caught up in a bitter divorce case, I know this is hard to hear but it’s definitely in your best interest.

Focus on the real concerns

Here’s another example: A client learns his wife is having an affair with a mutual friend of theirs. He comes to see me in a highly emotional state, demanding a divorce on the grounds of marital infidelity. After hearing him out, I offer a brief expression of sympathy and then turn our attention to the matter at hand. Since California is a “no-fault” state, he doesn’t need to establish his wife is at fault. He can get divorced for any reason. 

By taking the emotional component out of the situation, we’re able to focus on his real concerns. What will be the terms of his parenting plan (child custody)?  How much will he have to pay in child support? What about spousal support? Has he considered counseling rather than getting a divorce? I divert the emotions and focus instead on helping him move forward in his life.

The more the client stays stuck in emotion, the more expensive his case will be. It’s as simple as that.

Are you in need of legal counseling? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from bankruptcy, family law and estate planning to traffic violations and landlord/tenant disputes.  

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