Separation Agreement or Court: What You Should Know (Part 2)

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Gavel and wedding rings on a table with papers | New Direction Family Law

Ex-It Strategy
Podcast Episode 19


Elizabeth Stephenson, Sarah Hink, Jen Bordeaux


Elizabeth: Hi everyone. It’s Elizabeth Stephenson. 

Sarah: And Sarah Hink of New Direction Family Law. We’re here today on a podcast, Ex-It Strategy. We’re gonna talk about a lot of stuff. Two or three episodes ago, we talked about separation agreements in the world of not going to court: exchanging documents, coming to an agreement, maybe a mediator helps you out, but ultimately you sign it, and that is taking care of all of your assets and children.

Elizabeth: You never see the inside of the courtroom.

Sarah: Never see the inside of a courtroom. You have an attorney file of doors for you a year later and you don’t ever have to go, just have to sign some stuff. 

Elizabeth: Right. What can be easier? 

Sarah: Yeah. That’s great. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful process. What’s not a beautiful process for sure is what happens when that fails.

Elizabeth: A train wreck. That’s what happens.

Sarah: That’s what people ask me if we’re in that phase of passing offers back and forth, they are nowhere close to each other. The other side maybe is not participating in good faith, withholding information, or there might be more extreme circumstances when they’re not providing support, and they refuse to provide support when they should under the law, custody,  domestic, violence or something like that. 

Elizabeth: Those things you can’t tell them in mediation, but the other things like the property and the child support stuff, if you can’t settle that at mediation and the other side is not cooperating with you. My, what I say to clients is you have two choices. You can do nothing, right? That’s a choice. It really is. Or you will let me file a complaint and start a lawsuit so that we can get some things moving. Because the good thing about filing a complaint is that there are then things that have to happen, right? The other party just can’t sit back and say, screw you. I’m not giving you anything. The judge can make them do that. And so that’s the good part about that. And it doesn’t mean you can’t settle even though you start a lawsuit. 

Sarah: Exactly. And sometimes that’s what it takes. You have to file the other person. Maybe they’ve been living in this delusional world where if they don’t participate, this isn’t gonna, and—

Elizabeth: Or they’re just a-holes and they don’t want to.

Sarah: Or they’re assholes, delusional assholes, one or both. But once you file in court, and it is scary because everyone has this, pre-made, conceived idea of what courts like, and you go to court and you’re filing and all of a sudden it’s… extreme and there’s judge and you’re in front of the judge all the time having these big trials. And it’s just like what is on TV.

Elizabeth: I think people think it’s everything solved in 15 minutes, like Law and Order or LA back in the day.

Sarah: Judge Judy. 

Elizabeth: Yeah. And that’s not at all what happens. Sometimes people need, and I’ve had a lot of clients like this, people just need to tell their story. That it’s not their best option to go to court. But at the end of the day, that’s their choice. And sometimes it’s getting on the stand and having to say it out loud is therapeutic for folks in. And then if they don’t get the result they want in that first hearing, perhaps then they can be more reasonable and maybe open up and do something. So there are positives to starting the lawsuit.

Sarah: And one of the positives is you’re actually going to have someone make a decision, and you’re going to get the answer to your questions. 

Elizabeth: It may not be the one you like.

Sarah: Yeah, but if you are the stay at home mom and your husband left you and he makes 150 thousand dollars a year, just cutting off the support. And you’re like, how the hell am I going to pay the bill? And he’s not communicating to your attorney or he is, and he’s just saying, fuck you. Then you’re going to get a court date as soon as we file for separation for spousal support. If we’re doing it in Wake County, at least you’re going to get an automatic court date for PSS, what we call post separation support. And you’re going to have your opportunity to get in front of a judge and say, look, he makes 150,000 and I make nothing. He needs to give me some money. And you’ll get an order. 

Elizabeth: And when you say we get a court date, the problem becomes, and I say this to clients too, is like the longer you wait to file, the further pushed out you get. Cause right now we’re set. If I filed a complaint today, I would get temporary hearings maybe in September, October, and you might be at the bottom of the list and I’m going to be pushed out. And they’ll say, Ms. Stevenson, I can’t hear you today. Why don’t you come back in February?

Sarah: Yeah, so we get a court date real quick. We get the paperwork back with a court date on it, and it can be like two months away. Or sometimes it’s six months. I had one when it was six months right away. 

Elizabeth: You have to plan for that and how you’re going to get one, pay your attorney, how you can pay your bills until that happens. Because we can ask for attorney’s fees and custody and child support or spousal support, but it’s never guaranteed that the other party is going to pay your bills. Ultimately you have to be responsible for those. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s just reality. 

Sarah: Right. And I’m gonna take it back to a prior episode and advice I give everyone—a lot of times it’s too late, but have a prenup. Because you can put in the prenuptial agreement that the supporting spouse has to pay a certain amount, or at least pay the mortgage or your bills pending six months or a year after separation. And then you have a contract to automatically enforce. So then just think about that for the next marriage. And then, you listen to Kate earlier on the podcast, we have her on, she talked about how, if, 50% of divorces or 50% of marriages end in divorce, and that percentage goes up with each marriage after that. So just protect yourself. 

Elizabeth: It’s just like an insurance policy, you’re not going to, everybody’s going to die, but not everyone could get divorced. (both laughing) It was a bad analogy. 

Sarah: You’re going to die. You’re going to get divorced. So plan accordingly. (still laughing) Yes. But the process for court. So just generally, what can people expect? 

Elizabeth: Once you file a complaint, you can expect that it’s gonna become a full-time job for you, because you are now obligated to turn over six months worth of pay stubs, all your bank accounts, checking accounts, savings, IRAs, 401ks, retirement, credit cards, everything. And the other side has to do the same thing. You go, that’s not so hard, but it is hard, it’s time consuming. 

Sarah: So, if we already tried that during the separation agreement when we were negotiating, and they didn’t comply, what’s different now? If they refuse to cooperate while we’re in court…

Elizabeth: Well, especially in Wake County and most other counties, there isn’t a family court system that specifies what you must disclose initially. So, if you fail to disclose, we can file a motion on your behalf to compel them. The court can then order and compel you to provide those documents and even require you to pay her attorney’s fees for the additional effort.

Sarah: Exactly. There are consequences and ways to enforce those local rules, which are court orders that you must follow.

Elizabeth: Right. After gathering all that information, we proceed to the first temporary hearings. These hearings can cover temporary custody, child support, spousal support, and they may be scheduled on the same or different days.

Sarah: These are relatively short hearings, usually limited to an hour. It’s remarkable to think that someone will decide the fate of your children in just one hour. In that time, you and I, along with my client, get 30 minutes each to present our cases, essentially summing up our entire lives with our children and explaining why they should be with us. The other side also gets their 30 minutes. Then the judge decides who moves forward to the next phase.

Elizabeth: Absolutely. They genuinely care, but they’re working with limited information and have to make quick decisions. Often, they opt for a 50-50 split as a starting point. However, I should mention that if you file for custody, you’re required to attend child custody mediation, where attorneys are not present.

Sarah: Many people reach a temporary settlement during mediation. So, there’s always hope that they can come to an agreement. And if you do have an attorney, you don’t have to sign on the spot. The agreement will be drafted and given to you later, allowing your attorney to review it.

Also, I understand that in that moment, without an attorney, you may be easily swayed or manipulated by your spouse who has manipulated you before. So, don’t be scared to make a decision during mediation and feel bound by it. You’re not bound until you sign it. But once it’s signed by both parties and the judge, it becomes a court order.

Elizabeth: That’s right. I think New Direction Family Law does an excellent job of preparing people for court because it’s not something people deal with every day. It can be intimidating, overwhelming, and stressful. So, we need to ensure our clients are well-prepared.

Sarah: It’s stressful. So how do we prepare folks? 

Elizabeth: When they get ready to go to court, you have to have them in for some trial prep. And you’re going to run through the questions. I’ll run through the questions that I’m going to ask you. And not necessarily those specific questions, but more so focused on what we want to come say.

We want to present the facts, the incidents, and any relevant emotions such as custody or domestic violence. These are important things we want to make sure we communicate to the judge, as it will align with your testimony. So it won’t be specific questions if you’ve already covered it.

I won’t ask you the same question, but it’s important to feel comfortable telling your story. It’s a matter of credibility since it often becomes a “he said, she said” situation. The judge will be right there, observing you the whole time.

People lie.

Sarah: All the time. So our job is to find evidence that exposes their lies and catch them perjuring themselves on the stand. However, they don’t automatically get thrown in jail. I’ve never seen that happen, never. My clients often ask me, “Are they going to jail?” And I reply, “No, they won’t go to jail.”

Elizabeth:  One of the best pieces of advice I believe we give is to simply answer the question. Sometimes clients have a lot to say, and that’s why it’s highly dependent on the client. Some clients have nothing to say, and I tell them they should open up and share more. I ask them why they’re not answering me and encourage them to express themselves. I also inform my clients about the questions I’m allowed to ask them, which are different from what opposing counsel can ask. There’s a different standard depending on who is asking.

Sarah: So we ask who, what, when, why, and where. I can’t provide the answers or guide them. Part of their trial preparation is reviewing their notes, journals, emails, and any relevant information. They need to know their dates because it establishes credibility. For example, they might say, “I remember specifically because it was the day my mom called about a farm.” However their thought process works, it helps establish credibility with the judge. The judge will then believe one person more than the other, as there will be different stories.

Elizabeth: Yes, exactly. It’s like the game of telephone. You tell one person, and as it goes around, it changes completely. And you might think, “Didn’t the judge hear what I said? Maybe they were on their cell phone and didn’t pay attention.”

Sarah: I don’t think there are ever recordings. Is there a time when you decide not to put a client on the stand?

Elizabeth: Yes, there is. But in this case, it’s not a criminal trial. You have the choice, and you can tightly control them.

Sarah: I always tell them, “Let’s try our best to settle, so you don’t have to testify.” I’m very honest with them and say, “You won’t do a good job. I might have a meltdown and say some crazy things.” And they agree, saying, “Yeah, I understand.” So we consider our options.

Elizabeth: They might cry. It’s an emotional time, but we have to be cautious.

Sarah: Sometimes clients tend to say things that aren’t helpful to their case at all. And I don’t think that they have the ability to control that. And that’s what I try to avoid. 

Elizabeth: I agree. And that’s why we say don’t go to court. 

Jenn: I know there have been blow-ups in court before. Speaking of honesty, believe me, we’ve probably heard it before or heard worse. I’m not an attorney, but you’ve heard about disclosing things or people lying on the stand.

Elizabeth: It can completely backfire. I’m very clear with clients about that. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You try to rehabilitate them, but it’s a challenging situation.

Sarah: Yeah, when you have the opportunity to talk to your client again on the stand, you do your best to smooth things over. But if you have unfavorable facts on your side, it’s better to be honest and address those issues proactively.

Elizabeth: That’s the best advice I can give. Be open to mediation and try to settle as much as possible. Sometimes it’s just not feasible. And even during mediation, you have to be honest with us from the start, or we won’t be able to help you.

Sarah: Exactly. We can’t help if you’re not honest. If you’re going to testify, make sure to meet with us beforehand. Some clients don’t take it seriously, but it’s important. We’ll practice with you and ensure you don’t feel cornered. I often see clients getting backed into a corner and saying things that aren’t true. They believe the other attorney wants to hear it, but some people are easily manipulated.

Elizabeth: That’s right. And that’s something we discuss during hearing preparation. They’ll ask leading questions, trying to steer you in a certain direction. It’s human nature to keep going along with it. But remember, you can always answer “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.” If it’s something specific, we need to see the evidence. You don’t have to automatically say “yes, that’s true.” We guide our clients in handling those situations.

Sarah: Absolutely. We advise our clients never to make up answers. It’s okay to admit you don’t remember or need more information. We can raise valid objections if necessary. For example, if they refer to a text message, we’d ask to see it. Our clients don’t have to blindly agree.

Now, let’s talk about the different types of court cases you may encounter, such as child custody hearings, child support hearings, or cases related to income and healthcare.

Elizabeth: Child custody cases can be highly emotional, as can child support. Generally, child support cases are relatively straightforward. Most people have a W2 paycheck.

Sarah: Yes, it’s usually easy to calculate. You just fill in the blanks and do the math. However, people still argue over minor details, like whether a bonus should be included or using the 2019 tax return instead of recent salary history. There’s always something to debate. If there’s a self-owned business or income exceeding $330,000, it can be more complex. In such cases, it’s about determining the children’s standard of living and considering expenses like nannies. The more income involved, the more complicated it becomes.

Elizabeth: When it comes to child support, some people mistakenly believe they’ll have a chance to vent and express their frustrations about their ex during the hearing. But the reality is, the judge won’t listen to all of that. Child support hearings focus on numbers and finding the appropriate amount.

Sarah: Exactly. It’s about the money and, similarly, in cases of equal distribution, it’s about what exists and why you should have it. It’s usually settled unless there’s a business involved.

Elizabeth: That’s true, although I’ve recently talked to people who went through property distribution and alimony processes that didn’t go well. They reached out. So if you don’t attend the six marriage counseling that we agree on in this prenup, it didn’t go too well. That’s not an incentive. 

Elizabeth: No, that’s good. I’m still leaving your ass (laughing)

Sarah: In this case, and in everyone’s case, they’re thinking about things ahead of time. What is important to me is that if one person feels like this marriage is not going to work, then I’m going to make sure that’s something we do down the road if we get to that point. I think it’s great too, and you can craft your prenup to say whatever you want to say. It’s for you personally. There’s a little blurb in there about the pets you don’t think of. They’re like, “We love our dogs. We want to make sure that this is taken care of.”

Elizabeth: That is great. The mediation two weeks ago was settled. So the last offer was over and they came back. She wants the dog half the time. It blew up eight hours later. It blew over the dog, but we figured it out. We were creative, figured it out. No, my client tells me the damn dog cost me $20,000.

Sarah: Oh, definitely all sorts of things. All weird objects and okay. People go through their house and they’re like, “All these items, there are 20,000 items in the home.” But it’ll list things they want: the couch, the pineapple knife, the random stuff, the salad spinner. And they list it all out. These are all things that are very important to them. They want to make sure the other person only gets half and they value it. But guess what? If we go to court, that ain’t happening. You don’t get to sit up there and go through a fair market value of the salad spinner. No, but what they do is appoint a referee, usually another family law attorney, to take the time and you get to pay them for it. They go and look at these items, decide the fair market value, and decide who’s going to get what.

Elizabeth: Typically, the referee costs more than the items?

Sarah: Yeah, so just think that through. If you live in this angry mindset, you’re going to want to do that. Don’t get the salad spinner. I want the salad spinner. If you just let it go and go buy a new salad spinner, just do that. But some people can’t do that. I try to tell them it’s a hard process, but we try to move folks to that way to be able to let that go. And then it helps the process. Yeah, once it’s over, you can move on. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? And they’re like, “No salad spinner.” But court is stressful. It’s costly because attorneys are doing more work on your case and you’re paying them hourly. The attorney, the legal assistant who’s putting the exhibits notebooks together, and the paralegal. So you’re paying three or four people for that hour in court, discovery on your case. It’s not just the drafting of the documents to send to the other side. It’s when they turn over 800 pages that we have to look through, all of them. And that takes time, right? Or you do a deposition. The deposition may last three hours, but it takes six hours to prepare for this ride to go through all the documents.

Sarah: I had a full day trial scheduled and I had to prepare for it. We get to court and it’s continued, so I gotta re-prepare because I can’t remember everything. And remember it eight months down the road when your next hearing is likely set if it’s going to happen in between there. So it’s not even the same pile sometimes.

Elizabeth: I know. I’m sorry I can’t remember all these numbers. So let’s say, walk me through it. Let’s say it’s a four-hour trial. What’s going to happen in that? What can a client expect if they win?

Sarah: On the day of the trial, before the trial, we prepare together and gather our exhibits. I like my clients to see the exhibits beforehand that they’re going to testify about. So we’ve done that work. And then at night, let’s imagine this is Wake County. It’s similar, but the structure is slightly different. We have a calendar call in the morning.

During the calendar call, the judge goes through a list of cases. In Wake County, it’s usually organized by the day. So on Monday, they go through every case and allocate certain hours for each case. They determine how many hours your case will be heard for. And that’s the case. They might get to your case, but by that time, they’ve already allocated the available hours for the day. So you might get rolled over to a second judge if there’s another judge available to hear your case. However, sometimes that’s not the case, and you’re good to go. But if your case won’t be continued, the judge might inform you to be present at two o’clock, which is when your case will start.

Elizabeth: So don’t assume that when you receive the notice of the hearing, stating that it’s at nine o’clock, your case will start at nine. Be prepared to have someone look after your children. Don’t bring them to the courthouse, thinking you can say, “Oh, I love an adventure, but I have to pick them up at three from school.” No, make all the necessary arrangements. We’ll provide more information during the hearing preparation, but keep in mind that it’s a full day. So be prepared for that. When you walk into the courtroom, let’s say your case is in the lab, since they’ve started doing lab stuff again. What happens then?

Sarah: When you walk in, you’ll need to remove any knives, guns, or bottles of liquor from your belongings. Chris, a fellow attorney who has been on here before, once forgot that he had a bottle of bourbon in his backpack. He had traveled that weekend or something with his bag. And he had this bourbon in it from his birthday. Yeah. And the security guard is like, “You can’t bring that glass bottle in here.” So Chris had to decide whether to dump the bourbon or leave it outside and go put it back in the car. So remember, leave your bourbon in the car when you go through security. Then you’ll proceed to the courtroom, and in advance, we’ll inform you of the floor and courtroom number.

Elizabeth: People always ask me if there will be others in the courtroom. Typically not, but sometimes there might be. I always tell them, “Girl, they have enough going on. They won’t care about your stuff.” Listening to you. However, I’ve had clients who ask me to recommend a good day to watch another hearing that’s similar to theirs. I think it’s great when my clients want to invest that much in their future. I invest a lot in their future by doing everything we do, so I love it when clients are like that. I encourage them to go watch. Some clients even ask me when opposing counsel will have a hearing so they can observe and learn from the questions asked. It’s a smart approach and very helpful.

Jenn: Stepping into the courtroom, regardless of the terms, can be overwhelming if you’re not accustomed to it. It’s an intimidating experience. Knowing where you’re going, where to park, and what to do when you have to show up in court can relieve some of that pressure. Familiarizing yourself with the courtroom, its size, and observing how others behave can be beneficial.

Sarah: I think that’s a great thing to do. Even when I go to a new restaurant where you’re supposed to order at the counter or something like that, it’s common for everyone. You question yourself, “Am I supposed to clear my own table? Where does it go?” Suddenly, you forget basic human behavior. This happens everywhere, especially with COVID restrictions. There are arrows and signs everywhere, and I find myself asking, “Which side? Which arrow? I don’t understand.” Even now that the mask mandate has been lifted, you walk into a place and wonder if you should wear a mask or not. It’s the first time for anything, and especially for court, you’re going to be nervous as hell, and I understand that. If you’re one of my clients who isn’t nervous, we usually won’t discuss that.

Elizabeth: Especially with COVID there’s arrows everywhere and there’s signs everywhere. And I’m like, which side? Which arrow? I don’t understand.

Jenn: With the mask mandate lifted, you walk into a place wondering if you should wear a mask. Are you wearing a mask? Do you want me to worry about it? Should I worry about it? Do I want to wear a mask?

Sarah: It’s the first time for anything, especially for court, and you’re going to be nervous as hell. I get that. If you’re one of my clients who isn’t nervous, we usually won’t talk about that.

Elizabeth: But yeah, just really be mindful and don’t bring your shit with you. You’re right beside us. Sometimes we may have an associate or a paralegal with us, but most of the time it’s just you and me.

Sarah: My buddy. I give them a notepad and I’m like, “Don’t talk to me in my ear when I’m listening to other people.” Because I have a hard time focusing on what they’re saying and what you’re saying. So I give them a notepad and say, “Please just write it down.”

Elizabeth: And don’t roll your eyes when the opposing counsel is questioning a witness on the stand.

Sarah: I was like…

Jenn: What is her…

Sarah: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Tell your best friend not to do it either behind me, because the judge is looking at them and will notice if they laugh.

Sarah: Oh my God, my clients don’t do this. I think they know better. But I know sometimes it’s nerves. Some people, that’s their way. It depends on what they’re laughing at. If it’s funny and the judge is laughing, then you can laugh. Just watch the judge and know that they’re watching you. You might not be the one talking, but they’re looking at you, right?

Elizabeth: They are, because that’s their job. Assessing credibility is their job. They’ll call you out, sir. “Oh, stop that. Stop rolling your eyes. Stop making that face.” Don’t look right? Exactly.

Elizabeth: Yeah, so when you testify, it really is like TV. You go up on the stand, you’re sworn in, and then what happens?

Sarah: If you’re my witness, I’m going to start off by asking you a question. I’ll give you the opportunity to tell the story we want the judge to know and present all the relevant facts. If there are exhibits, I’ll ask you to look at them. “What is this exhibit? How do you know what it is? Is there a time or date on it?” Then I ask the judge to admit it as evidence so we can discuss it.

Sarah: And then the other attorney gets to cross-examine you. They can be more aggressive and ask more pointed questions. They may try to lead you in a particular direction. I always caution people, “Don’t ask the attorney…” Oh my gosh.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. You just have to behave yourself for an hour or two. And when you go outside, you can scream and yell all you want.

Sarah: Yeah, and take your time. If you don’t understand what the attorney asked you, say, “I’m sorry, but can you repeat that?” Just stay cool and calm, but make your point. If they want you to say yes or no, say, “Actually, this is what the answer is.”

Elizabeth: And understand that we are time-limited. When you hire Sarah, Chris, me, and Kelly as your attorneys, we determine the best facts to present. You may want us to ask certain questions or present specific evidence, but you have to trust that we know what we’re doing. That’s why you hire us.

Sarah: Also, some people are naturally gifted at going on tangents. I like the way you put it.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s a nice way to put it.

Sarah: And it’s really hard to make them change. I agree. It frustrates me, to be honest, but I don’t know what to do. I tell them honestly beforehand, “Listen, if I do this weird motion, it means you need to wrap it up and let me talk again.” So that’s why it’s important for us to get to know you and why we’re so close with our clients in preparation. It’s a big deal, and we don’t get do-overs, unless something goes wrong. So you just have to focus, work with us, and invest in your case. It’s not just me and Elizabeth going up there and presenting your case for you.

Elizabeth: Yeah, you’re the star, not us. We’re just the directors, really. Is that good? And wear appropriate clothing. I tell people to dress conservatively. I still get clients who show up in super short skirts. I’m like, “Alright, at least it’s long-sleeved.” So yeah, just be conservative. You don’t have to wear a suit, but a collar shirt and khakis for guys or a nice dress. That works.

Elizabeth: So the judges generally inform you what’s going to happen if it’s a short hearing. They’ll tell you from the bench. And if it’s a longer trial, they may say, “We’ll take this under consideration, order due in two weeks.” So you may or may not have an answer. Just be prepared for that at the end. It’s important for post-hearing questions.

Sarah: Oh yeah, that’s true. All the judges are different, and we have a lot of new judges where Elizabeth and I mostly practice. So it’s harder for us to predict how they are. But you just go with the flow because it’s their courtroom, and you better be nice to that judge, right? Don’t interrupt the judge ever. I don’t interrupt the judge.

Elizabeth: Yeah, when you walk into that courtroom, the only person who has control is the judge. Not me, not you. So you better be as nice as you can possibly be. Nice and honest.

Sarah: Be nice, be honest, be polite, be direct. I’ve seen the judges’ eyes roll so many times. They’re not supposed to roll their eyes, but if they’re rolling them at my client—

Elizabeth: You want to be assigned to a court judge. A lot of times they don’t like you from the get-go.

Sarah: Sometimes judges stay on the bench in our domestic district court for 10 years or more. Sometimes they stay for only one year. Yeah, you never know. Lately, it’s been like one or two years. So it’s a crapshoot. They’re human beings, and you gotta remember that.

I think clients get so upset sometimes when the judge doesn’t hear them or they think the judge is biased. They go on a deep internet dive and find connections like, “Oh, they know my ex’s cousin’s brother’s teacher.” They think that person should be removed from the bench. But I’m not going to file a complaint against the judge for them.

Elizabeth: And we have to remember that these folks are going through the worst time in their lives. They’ve just been through the most stressful time in their lives. So in a normal situation, they probably wouldn’t react that way. But maybe they will, but that’s not what they would normally do.

Sarah: Everyone listening who thinks their ex is an asshole, sometimes we represent them. That’s true. That’s true. We represent the asshole sometimes. So if they’re an asshole to you, well, they’re an asshole to their attorney too. And when things happen on the other side, and my client says, “Oh, that attorney, they’re such a jerk,” I’m like, “Listen, you don’t know if it’s the attorney or if it’s your husband or wife that’s controlling the situation.”

Elizabeth: I tell them, they’re just doing their job. They’re just doing their job. Is this something your husband or wife would do? Yeah, totally. It’s probably not the attorney. Sometimes they gravitate together. Attorneys attract…

Sarah: I remember Kate mentioned in an episode a couple of episodes ago, when this came out, she mentioned how she represents or does not represent abusers. She coaches abusers. And she said honestly, abusers don’t gravitate towards her because of how she is. And a lot of times, I think the same about us. Because in most cases, my client is not typically the aggressor or manipulator. I can’t say that a hundred percent, but… and I guess I’m tooting my own horn here, but I’m amazing. And I only attract amazing people.

Elizabeth: But I think that’s part of what makes us different. We don’t help everyone who walks through the door.

Sarah: No, and they’re not going to like our advice if it’s like, “You need to grow the fuck up.” So if you’re an asshole, we probably won’t take your case and you’re not going to like me, because I’m going to say things to you that you don’t want to hear, and I’m not going to bend to your will, exactly.

Elizabeth: We’ll help people who want to be helped. 

Sarah: Yes. And it’s me that is showing my face in court representing you. And I, if you want me to be a certain way and do certain things that are against how I practice, then I cannot represent you. 

Elizabeth: Not our culture, not every day, but yeah. I don’t know if we scare our clients enough. (laughing) 

Jenn: No, I don’t think that all, I think it’s just real. I think people call when they obviously want to know about fees, right. But I think it has just highlighted how much goes into trial preparation. There are several variables that are beyond our control, like getting continued and having to do later prep and different lengths of hearings, different documentations that are needed, opposing counsels and what civil procedure they might throw and all that kind of stuff. I think it just really highlights how complex court really is, even though they really just see the less prep and let’s show up at court and get through this day.

Whereas all of the stuff that’s going on, the background of serving subpoenas, gaining those documents, all of the minute paperwork that has to be filed at the courthouse to make sure that your case is on point between all of that. That’s all going on behind the scenes, but all part of litigation and required for you to have a sound case.

Sarah: Yeah. And there’s plenty of cheap attorneys out there, but you show up in court and it’s time for the hearing, you’re going to tell a big difference. 

Elizabeth: Right. And that’s another thing, there are all sorts of things we would advise you to do, but you may not have the $3,000 to do a deposition and discovery, so sometimes our hands are tied as to what we can do and how we can. We work the best we can with what you have.

Jenn: Yeah and having the legal team and the wherewithal within the firm, and being cognitive and talking to the client about that. Not, oh we’re just going to go do this. We want you to be part of your case and know what’s going on. We don’t want you to just show up and say, “Hey, here’s the check. Just do it.” No, you need to be responsible for your part in this. 

Elizabeth: It’s your life!

Sarah: Yeah, answer my emails and phone calls. 

Jenn: Court is also serious. It’s intimidating because it’s serious and there are major decisions made there. 

Elizabeth: We can only do so much. We send you a reminder, you meet with us, we send you a reminder, and it’s your responsibility to show up. 

Sarah: And we stress a lot about your case. We are doing our best to look good in front of the judge and make sure your case is going to be the winning case. And we take on that burden and that stress, and we work our ass off to make sure that we’re doing the best we can. 

Elizabeth: Sometimes you just have to be firm. 

Sarah: Yeah. I’m definitely firm with my clients on terms. 

Jenn: Yeah. Everybody plays their part. 

Elizabeth: And I just want to say that, we don’t advocate for divorce. It happens and separations happen. And our job is to make it as pleasant and as financially rewarding for you.

Jenn: And we hope you can find that new direction, because divorce is a finite piece of your life, as it will end. You will have a long after divorce, and there’s a lot of pieces to that. And we don’t advocate for divorce, but we advocate for you. 

Elizabeth: That’s right. 

Sarah: There’s so many people who are like, divorce is not an option. And they always say that like, when they get married, I’m like…it is. 

Elizabeth: No. No, I agree with that. I agree with that. 

Sarah: I’m trying to think of like recently where I saw that, like someone said it and I was like, no, yeah, divorce is.

Jenn: Yeah, no, I don’t necessarily agree with that because two people, I don’t care if something bad has happened or you’ve just come to the realization that this is not working anymore. It’s not that you’re not willing to try, but it’s just that, okay, we were different people then, because people do change and you change. And you just get to that point, then it is what it is. DAP it up. Like we had a good run. Lets go.  

Sarah: Yeah. Like there are really mean divorces and not like the murders. You can get out safe, you can get out and be okay. It’s an option for you.

Elizabeth: And again, we’re just the attorney, the client’s the boss. And if they change it, they would go back with the asshole. 

Sarah: Oh yeah. Every time I hear my client wants to reconcile—

Jenn: But the majority of those clients keep their retainer on file. They are there. A lot of times back in, not too far from that, so separation or chords. What did you call it Elizabeth? 

Elizabeth: You be the judge. 

Sarah: You’d be the judge. There are situations when they may not want to go to court and I would advise my client to go to court.

Elizabeth: There are certain times when you must go to court and I can’t. I like to litigate, I will say it. It’s interesting. Challenging. 

Sarah: Yeah, I do too. I love to go to court, but we, as good attorneys, have to realize it’s not about us. We’re not here to talk about my relationships or my litigation desires.

Elizabeth: Ain’t that some shit.

Sarah: It’s about you. Ain’t that some shit.

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