Why Are You Hiring a Pitbull?

by Dana Boyle on January 19, 2012

I recently had a potential client come in and talk to me and comment how she really liked me, how I came highly recommended by another collaborative divorce attorney who could not take her case, how she loved my website, my brand, and after talking to me for forty minutes or so, left saying how her husband was going to like me too and be comfortable and relaxed to work with me, and that she thought they could work through their divorce amicably if they each had lawyers like me, who can look at the tough issues without making the divorce a zero sum game.

She thought her husband would be willing to take this route.  She wanted a collaborative divorce.  She wanted him to hire his own collaborative divorce lawyer, and then sit down around a table and work out their split issue by issue without a judge deciding their fate and without ugliness punctuating their final days together as husband and wife.

She left my office with hope.  She was excited.  He’d cheated on her a full year earlier and it took her that full year to mourn, get past it and decide she couldn’t be married to him anymore.  She didn’t want to hurt him or drag it out or make him pay for what he’d done.  She just wanted to be free from him, because what he did to their marriage destroyed what she felt for him.

That was a Friday.  She called me the following Monday to tell me that she “had to hire a pitbull” because her husband told her if she was going to leave him, he was going to make her pay for it, and he hired the attorney with the most cut-throat divorce reputation in town that he could find.  She didn’t think that’s what I do.  (Though I do handle traditional divorces as well…but I prefer being involved in collaborative and/or amicable and cooperative divorces, and there are many I see.)  If he had a gun, she was going to arm herself too.

Rather than “convince” her that I could handle a pitbull, I wished her the very best and stood firmly in my brand and my intention for divorcing couples.  I wondered if I really wanted a divorce matter where the husband was out to cause pain and hire the most expensive, ugliest lawyer he could find to inflict that pain.  I’ve done it before.  I know I’ll do it again and again.  There are many reasons why it’s not a better outcome for anyone involved in my experience.

This post isn’t about placing judgment on lawyers who practice that way.  There is a time and place for it, and there are situations that absolutely call for it, unfortunately.  The lawyers I know personally who do pride themselves in being attack dogs like that image and promote it.  I’m glad they exist.  I’m glad there are people out there who like to roll up their sleeves and deal with people who can’t set aside the hatred and anger and the need for control they feel toward the one person on earth they were supposed to love til death did them part.   We need people who run into those battles.  They are a special breed.

What makes me sad is when someone truly wants an amicable divorce but their spouse refuses to even try to do it the “nice” way.  In those cases, I find my clients don’t hate their spouse.  In fact, they often still love their spouse and value them as a person.  They are often divorcing because while they know they will always love them and have a special place in their heart for them, they have come to the realization that no matter what they do, the other person isn’t going to validate – much less meet their needs, give them peace, allow them to be who they are, treat them kindly, get help for their addiction or mental illness, stop cheating, or stop being abusive to them or the children, or any myriad of other issues that can eventually kill a marriage.  Unfortunately, sometimes their spouse doesn’t see it that way, and just wants to inflict as much pain as possible to punish them for leaving.

If you are getting divorced and your spouse approaches you about collaborative divorce or any other form of amicable, cooperative divorce or mediation, and you immediately think you must go hire the biggest, baddest ballbuster in town, ask yourself why you feel the need to armor up.  What are you afraid of?

Your spouse is reaching out with an olive branch and you’re grabbing your guns.

Know that collaborative divorce lawyers handle the tough issues.

Just because you agree to sit down and talk around a table with your lawyer and theirs doesn’t mean we somehow lose the tough stuff and leave out the important components of divorce.  We will still have to work out how you will co-parent your children, how your retirement and assets will be divided, whether or not there is maintenance or child support to be paid by someone, who gets the house, cars, dog and where you’ll live in the meantime.  But it gets to be worked out.  Not decided by a third party.

Think about the upsides to collaborative divorce, not just the kinder nature of the process or the perceived “softness” of the lawyers.  Think, instead of the creativity, commitment and skill that has to go into two lawyers sitting down with their clients without the help of a judge and completely and with all the legal expertise of any other lawyer, working through your divorce and getting down to the real issues, NOT just glossing over things and fighting over pennies and nickels, but digging in to the really important issues and making sure you’re heard so that not only will your lawyer push for what you want, they will help the other side understand why you want it instead of arguing to a judge why your spouse is a miserable and worthless piece of crap that doesn’t deserve anything in the divorce.

In that scenario, you know you’re going to get the same back!

Think about whether you truly want your spouse or yourself to be portrayed as selfish, abusive, violent, unstable, irresponsible, undeserving, or any other judgment that often comes up in a court of law when you hire fighting dogs.  Think about your intention in hiring that kind of lawyer.

What are you afraid of?

Also, if you have kids, make sure you think about what litigation will do to them.  They may not have to be in court. But they will have to talk to a lawyer of their own appointed by the court if you two can’t agree, and then they will absorb the toxicity between their parents.

Hiring a big gun may be for you.  Nobody can make that decision for you, but  I can pretty much guarantee that whatever it is you’re afraid of WILL come to light if that’s your choice and the path you choose, especially if you choose to get ugly and litigate issues.

The beauty of collaborative divorce is that while those fears and the issues behind them may come out around the table, behind closed doors, between four people, nobody puts them on the court record that is open to the public.  You and your spouse get to settle your divorce privately, like a family matter should be handled with the help of two professionals who understand the dynamics of divorce and the law.  You may negotiate things in a certain way due to the fears and issues each of you bring to the table, but nobody else has to know about them and nobody else gets to decide for you.

If a judge has to decide a disputed issue between you and your spouse, I’ve heard more than one judge say, “I’m pretty sure neither one of you is going to be happy.”  That’s why settlement is encouraged.  It really does go back to Solomon splitting the baby.

The beauty of collaborative divorce is that you and your spouse get to decide how the baby is split and which babies get split at all.  You get to be at cause over what is happening in your marriage and in your life, and how things will work out going forward.  You might even be friends when it’s over.  You might do what many of my clients have done and get drinks or lunch after your final and only hearing – when the judge accepts your agreement.

Before you call that fighting dog, and before you decide a collaborative divorce lawyer can’t fight for you, think about what kind of “fight” you want to set yourself up for and what the greatest kindness is for all involved.



This article is not suggesting that one lawyer is better than another.  This is a choice you must make for your own self and your particular divorce situation.  For more information on collaborative divorce, visit www.collabdivorce.com.

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