What Causes Alimony Cases to Drag on in Court?
Interviewer: Regarding alimony, I am sure you do not just throw out a number. I am sure there is a whole strategy, with reasoning and back up. You then present that to the other side so they are less likely to argue. It is more likely to go through because it has reasoning and a basis?
Tanya: Here is a phenomenon that I have unfortunately experienced in the court system, and I think that is why alimony reform is really important.
There are often cases when you are dealing with a person who does not work, when one spouse does not work for an extended period of time and there has been a long marriage. Very typically, that person maintains a position where they want to be supported at the highest amount and for the longest length of time they can be supported. This is a common scenario. There are also cases where there must be substantial long-term alimony due to need.
The paying spouse may have excellent arguments as to why the other party should not get alimony for as long as she wants; and why she should not get as much as she wants. Despite valid arguments, however, until the judge makes a final decision or until the person runs out of money to litigate, they will do everything they can to maximize what they are going to get.
This causes long expensive cases. In fact, the cases that usually do not settle are these types of cases. Unfortunately, the parties can expend most of their money on litigating their divorce.
Interviewer: Yes, I see it can be a huge bone of contention in a certain case.
Tanya: That is right. I have had cases where the wife does not work. However, she says, “Okay, I will go back to work; no problem. I will take a reasonable amount of alimony.” So the husband has no problem paying alimony. The end. It is over.
When a person acts reasonably and does not try to maximize the money being taken from the other side, you settle the case. But when you do not, you do not. It goes on for a very long time.
Interviewer: What are your best strategies to get a reasonable settlement so a person does not get drained and the entire situation does not turn into a nightmare?
Tanya: The only strategy I have is to show the other side what the deficiencies are in their case. I often have conferences with the judges, where both lawyers talk to the judge directly.
Many of the judges will take the time to discuss the case with the lawyers. This is before the final trial. You can get a gauge as to what that judge is going to do. Some judges are very conservative and they recommend a lot of alimony. Other judges are much less conservative. They have a higher expectation that people work; and therefore, you will get less alimony. I try to get right to the source. That is my strategy.
Interviewer: Do you have to work a lot on your client, and on their expectations? Does that help?
Tanya: Yes, of course. You never know what a judge is going to do at the end of the day. You just do not. Until they actually hear the evidence, you really do not know what the answer is going to be. You can have five different judges in the same courthouse and get five different opinions.
That is the situation with family court. It is not black and white. It is gray. They have what is called judicial discretion, which is very wide. I try to be very direct with my clients. If I feel that they are taking an unreasonable position, I try to give them the basis for more reasonable expectations, such as case law, the statutory factors and my experience.
By the time the case goes to trial and is heard by the Court, the parties have expended a lot of legal fees. This must be factored in as the money could possibly have been shared by the parties.
I do this so they will settle their case; so that they do not waste their money; and so they can resolve it. I do not just let them go on paying for adversarial litigation if they have an unreasonable expectation. I evaluate the parties’ finances, discovery and evidence and give the client my best educated opinion.