Tonight on Making It Last, I get to discuss the nasty part of my job– litigation.  Unlike in Collaborative cases or my mediated divorces, the cases that go to court are truly unpleasant.  These are the 20% that could not resolve things amicably.  Their anger often leaves me quite baffled as to how these people ever even fell in love and thought it would be a good idea to raise children together.  By the time these parties are heading to the courthouse steps, there is a complete lack trust and they are usually very emotional.  These are the most challenging clients, and sadly when they can’t rein in their emotions, many will wind up spending much more than necessary by racking up legal fees fighting one court battle after another.

I can understand that people would want to fight about custody– if one person wants sole custody, or they can’t agree on a time-sharing schedule, these are real concerns that any parent would want to address regardless of the sticker price, but the other issues really need to be viewed as a business transaction.  Essentially what you have is a partnership that is dissolving, and as a result we have in most states pretty established guidelines for determing child support, alimony and property division.  Sadly, there are some people who simply can’t reach an agreement on these issues, and so they may well need to defer to a judge to make the ultimate decision on these matters– but they have to understand that this comes at a hefty price, both from a financial and emotional perspective.

Most good family law attorneys in the DC Area charge between $275-$575per hour, and we require a retainer to be placed in trust for the work to be performed.  Itemized statements are sent out on a regular basis accounting for the work done, and sadly this can add up quickly– you pay not just for court appearances, but for every email, call, letter, document drafted, research, deposition, and discovery.  The national average is over $20,000 per party to litigate a matter, and in DC we are well above that national average with some cases generating over $300,000 in legal fees.  This is why it is always important to have a reality check and run a cost-benefit analysis.

Throughout the years, I have learned a lot about humanity by observing well over 1,000 marriages fall apart in the DC Area.  Thanks to some of these horrible cases, I really have learned the importance of not letting your emotions get the best of you.  That said, I’ve also come to understand that we all make mistakes, and it is better to forgive and move on that to let the anger eat away at your heart.  Every day I try to get people to avoid the dark side, and although I may not always succeed, most of my clients are able to see the light and forge ahead to a brighter place. It is easy to be tempted by the dark side, so I applaud you all that have chosen not to go there.  It is a choice– and how you choose to end a marriage is a defining moment not just for you, but your entire family, so please choose wisely.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.