How “Aggressive” Should Your Attorney Be in Your Divorce?

You might think that anyone who hires an attorney when getting a divorce is out to drain the other party, and is commissioning that attorney to be an attack dog in getting what they want, but you would be wrong. Many if not most people who work with divorce attorneys in completing their divorce are looking to get the process done swiftly and fairly but without unnecessary drama or acrimony. And yet there are those who seek out an attorney in a divorce who will be “aggressive” in “going after” their spouse. In Marriage Story terms, they want Laura Dern or Ray Liotta, not Alan Alda.

Which raises the question, how important and/or helpful is an attorney who acts aggressively in helping their clients achieve their goals in moving towards the next chapter of their lives?

Ask What Motivates Your Desire for Aggressive Divorce Tactics

One way to think about this issue is to ask what it is that makes you think you need an “aggressive” attorney? If the answer is that you believe your spouse is acting in ways that you believe are or will be impairing your rights with respect to property, support, and custody in your case (and that belief is based on a reasoned, educated understanding of the law), then it is certainly important to have a tough, assertive representative on your side who has experience, who does not back down from a challenge, and who will be loyal and hard-working on your behalf. But that is not necessarily the same as aggression – more on that below.

But if your answer is that you want an aggressive lawyer to make your ex’s life hell by using the legal process to inflict revenge, however well-deserved, for emotional reasons based on events in the marriage, then an aggressive lawyer will likely not be of help to you in obtaining the financial or emotional results you desire.

Divorce Attorney Aggression in Court Often Has the Result of Reciprocal Aggression (And Negative Repercussions for You)

You might think, if I get a really aggressive divorce lawyer on my side who intimidates and scares the heck out of my spouse, then he or she will just cower and give in to my demands without having to go to court, and we’ll get this done quickly and in my favor, right? Perhaps, but not likely.

What’s instead likely to happen is that the other spouse will do one of three things: 1) if they haven’t already, they will go out and get their own lawyer; 2) the lawyer they already have will adopt aggressive tactics aimed at you in response to your lawyer’s tactics, or 3) if they feel their own lawyer is not aggressive enough to go toe-to-toe with yours, they will go out and replace their current lawyer with one who is (e.g. replacing Alan Alda with Ray Liotta in Marriage Story).

In none of those circumstances is it likely that your legal costs go down (and quite the opposite is typically the case), that you get to a resolution of your divorce more quickly (getting your divorce may take exponentially longer, as in years as opposed to months), or that you necessarily obtain the substantive results you are seeking.

Understand That a Judge Is the Ultimate Decisionmaker in Your Case

One thing to keep in mind in a divorce case is that it is not a street fight, an argument on social media, or even a business deal. It is a legal proceeding where, if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, a state judge will apply the laws of the state to determine the results. Assuming your spouse has a reasonably competent divorce attorney on their side who understands the law and is committed to the case, simply applying aggressive pressure in hopes of forcing a result not supported by the law (a body of law which is extremely extensive in California) is probably not your best strategy.

Also understand that, in California, one party can seek to have the other party pay their attorneys fees where there is a disparity between the parties in financial resources and/or where the other party uses overly aggressive or improper tactics. Meaning you could end up: 1) paying your “aggressive” lawyer a lot of fees; 2) not get the result you wanted; and 3) have to pay for your spouse’s high attorney’s fees, incurred as a result of your attorney’s actions, as well.

The Distinction Between Assertiveness and Aggression in Divorces

Going back to the first point, you absolutely do want a lawyer who will understand what you are seeking in your divorce, work with you to set reasonable and attainable goals, understand the law, understand the best and most cost-effective strategy to help you obtain your goals, and work on your behalf to achieve those goals, even in the face of adversity. That’s called assertiveness, competence, and integrity. And those qualities will serve you and your interests far better than aggression for its own sake, both during your divorce and in the years to come.

Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.