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New To The Group - Lawyers Trying To Drop Me Over Legal Fees My Husband Hasn't Paid

Posted by on Jan. 6, 2015 at 8:14 AM
  • 14 Replies

Hi everyone. New to the group - going through a painful, nasty divorce for about 5 months so far and feeling completely overwhelmed. I have been lucky to have had the support of friends who have gone or are currently going through their own divorces, but feeling like their stories make mine seem so much more absurd by comparison.

My husband and I have been together for 8 years, married for 4. He was physically and verbally abusive throughout our marriage, as well as incredibly controlling. When my DS (3) was born, I put my career on hold to stay home and raise him, which made leaving my husband so much harder/scarier. My parents have been on-again, off-again supportive. After several years of complete misery (and living essentially separate lives), finding love notes from my husband's assistant (my son actually handed me one that must have fallen out of my husband's pocket, which is how I found out), the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for me was reconnecting with some old friends from high school during a trip home to see family. While everyone was out, those who had met my husband (but recently disappeared) told me that they had been staying away because they couldn't tolerate how he treated me. Others talked about our old dreams and ambitions, and I came to realize that I had become someone who the me I was before my husband would not be proud of the person I had become. I retained one attorney quietly, planning to leave when he was served with papers. My husband found out, drained all of our finances, and moved out after an incident where I had to call police to the house for help.

My husband is an alcoholic and now drug addict - who found a pediatric psychiatrist to write him a prescription for Adderall (which he had been abusing recreationally) over the phone the day he moved out. He's also convinced that psychiatrist to write him a prescription for Xanax. I filed for supervised visitation, and his attorney retaliated by filing motions accusing me of severe drug and alcohol abuse (I voluntarily took and passed hair and urine tox screens to prove my innocence) and claiming that I am bipolar and mentally unstable because I make "bad decisions, including requiring supervised visitation." 

My attorney, who has proven himself useless about everything except billing, scheduled an evidentiary hearing for supervised visitation and support (for 2 months, my husband paid all bills on the house late - to the point where my power was almost shut off. Paid no child support, and I was given about $300 a month for groceries and gas). The judge, at the hearing, refused to hear evidence, relying just on the motions and stating that there were allegations on both sides (except I proved my innocence through tests and had mountains of evidence, including texts soliciting drugs, threats/statements from my husband about his own drug/alcohol abuse, and even PI footage and statements that he was drinking 6 - 12 beers a night while claiming 100% sobriety under oath and drinking and driving), and granted my husband 50/50 timesharing. No back support was ordered. My husband was ordered to pay past-due legal fees, but wasn't ordered to pay any future ones because my attorney didn't file the motion correctly, and the judge said that we would have to file again.

Since then (October), nothing has been accomplished. My husband has exercised about 15% visitation, relying on me to watch my son during all business hours and while he travels for work and pleasure (he didn't see my son for the second half of December at all). My parents have loaned me $70,000 towards legal fees because my attorneys continue to bill at outrageous rates. Most recently, my father had to pay $17,000 on December 1 because the attorneys threatened to drop me as a client and sue me for the balance, despite failing for 6 weeks to file a new motion for legal fees (remember, I haven't worked in 3 years, and despite sending out over 150 resumes, I haven't been able to find a job).

At the end of December, I visited my parents for the holidays, getting home December 29. I communicated with the lawyers on December 22 and 29, and haven't heard from them since (I assumed because of the holidays). Yesterday, my husband informed me that my attorney had again filed to drop me as a client, citing past due legal fees (they were paid $20,000 in December and the balance on my account with them is less than what my husband was originally ordered to pay by the court - and they STILL haven't filed for additional fees, despite my repeated inquiries). Sure enough, at the end of the day yesterday, they served me with notice.

Now I have to attend a hearing next week where the judge will decide if they can drop me, leaving me with no attorney, no funds to hire a new one, and a need to start all over again with a pending divorce trial in April. I'm feeling so overwhelmed, frustrated, and ultimately scared. My husband's attorney is trying to leave me with nothing - she wants to claim that all of our marital assets are his - force me to sell the house (which I put 100% downpayment on and paid half of until about 2 years ago through my income or help from my parents), give him both cars and his boat, grant him all of his finances and assets and leave me penniless, on the street, and unable to relocate to live with family until I can get back on my feet. My house was purchased as a foreclosure - so my mortgage for a 4 bedroom home with a yard is $1200/month. In the area where I live, rents for apartments start around $1800 for a 2 bedroom, which will be a stretch to afford even if I found 2 jobs. 

Has anyone been through a situation where a lawyer dropped her mid-divorce? Any suggestions for representing myself? 

by on Jan. 6, 2015 at 8:14 AM
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by Battle Weary on Jan. 6, 2015 at 8:52 AM

That much in legal fees for only five months of divorce is incredibly expensive.  Has the attorney provided you with a statement showing the work that was done and billable hours involved?

My divorce was almost was down to the last hearing and I owed the attorney about 3K at that point.  He filed a motion to withdraw.  I put the total on a credit card and the motion magically disappeared and was never even mentioned by my attorney when I saw him three days later for the final scheduled hearing.

It is all about the money and the only leverage the attorney has is to withdraw their services before the case is complete.  It is bullshit and should be illegal, but it is not uncommon.

It sounds like your attorney has not represented you very well and it may be that you are better off representing yourself.  You obviously know more about your case than your attorney has managed to present to the judge or else you wouldn't have ended up with shared custody...although that does seem to be the way custody is being awarded lately...what state do you live in?  Some states are notorious for that...all part of the Father's Rights movement.

While it is common practice for an attorney to ask for the other party to pay for their client's attorney fees, I have never heard that being granted.  Everyone pretty much pays their own fees.  For your attorney to lead you to believe otherwise is really wrong.  I'm so sorry that this attorney has taken advantage of you.

The money that you put down on the house...kiss that goodbye.  My home was given to me in an inheritance and the judge ended up deciding that I had gifted the house to my ex.  He received one quarter of the equity in the home.  My ex also cleaned out savings and checking account and I never saw a dime of that either.  Does your stbx have a retirement account?  You are entitled to half of the amount that was added to it plus interest during the time you were married.  I did not receive my half of ex's, but that was because I had some inherited money of my own that was equivalent to his should not have been a factor, but it was.

I was/am employed, so I was not in the position of being totally without income like you are.  I know this doesn't do you any good, but for anyone reading this I would offer this advice: NEVER be a sahm.  It may sound wonderful while the marriage is good, but when it ends (and most marriages do end) you will be totally screwed.  It is so hard to find employment after being a sahm that one should never take that chance.

There is a facebook page called One Mom's Battle.  There is a woman on there who is a semi-retired attorney that (for a small fee) has offered to help women learn how to represent themselves.  From the sound of the responses, she has been able to help others.  OMB is for women who are divorcing a narcissist (yours sounds like he fits the description).  These type of battles are extremely difficult and require attorneys that "get it" and know how to deal with the types of behavior that your stbx has exhibited.  Perhaps you can do some reading there and ask questions of women who are dealing with similar issues as yours.

If you represent yourself make sure that you have lots of documentation and can clearly show your financial information.  It may be beneficial for to hire a forensic accountant instead of an attorney because at this point it is all about the money.  They are pricey, but would be able to testify for you in court.

Good luck.  It sounds like a real mess.  Is your state an "equal" or "equitable" state?

by Bronze Member on Jan. 6, 2015 at 10:06 AM
Thank you for so much helpful info!

Unfortunately, I don't even have a credit card I can use - and from every attorney I've spoken to, the amount is insane - all it has covered is one mediation, two depositions (his and mine), and a temporary support hearing. In Florida, where I am, he is required to pay because I have no income (his attorney tried to impute income to me immediately based on my last salary - which was a C-level salary I will not reach again for some time) and he has a VP salary - it's based on need vs ability to pay. I should not have taken time away from work - I'm so far behind skill-wise, but we have ZERO family nearby (our closest relative lives 1200 miles away) and I was assured by family that they would help if needed and that the best thing I could do for my son is be there for him. I don't regret a minute of it - I am happy I was able to put my son first, but I'm terrified now.

What's most frustrating about the fees is that the total now owed is LESS than what my husband was ordered by the court to pay, so it's not like they won't get paid. And had they done their job, there would be additional fees - because my husband is required to provide me with equal representation and he has spent about $50,000 on his own fees, whereas the judge only ordered him to pay $15,000 at the time, because that is what he had spent on his own representation. When I minimize communication, I'm called into their office and told I need to send regular updates and run every communication to my husband past them for approval. When I try to follow their instructions, I get $20,000 monthly statements. In November, I was forced to waive privilege by my attorneys so they could discuss the case with my parents, because it was something they offered to do so that my parents would cover yet another round of fees (my father refused at the time because the statement was so large and he was concerned about why).

They quibble with my husband's attorney over little things (like $800 worth of back and forth over a grill, for example, that my husband could have just come and gotten, which he promptly gave to my neighbor/his drinking buddy along with several weekends of boating in exchange for completely fabricated testimony), but they do nothing to deal with time sharing/my son, or the fact that my husband hasn't once paid court-ordered support on time, or that he continues to pay the mortgage a month or more late while spending thousands on plane tickets for his own recreational travel while I struggle to make ends meet.
by Battle Weary on Jan. 6, 2015 at 11:12 AM

I don't know if this would help or not...your attorneys sound like they are mostly concerned with padding their own wallets...but there is a website called "Our Family Wizard".  It is a paid service ($100 per year for each of you) that keeps track of all communication.  It also shows anytime a person logs on to check the information there, so he can never say "I didn't get that information" or whatever.  You would be able to see the log.

It is also set up so that your attorney can access it if you want them to.  I see no need for them to be aware of every communication that you have with your ex, although I do agree that you should let them handle much of the dialogue.  The bit about the grill is something that should have been part of the property settlement. Mediation in Illinois is done with a mediator and attorneys present is optional, not required.  My mediator charged $300 for one hour and ex and I split that cost.  Our attorneys were not present.

Your attorneys have determined that your parents are a cash cow and have brought them into the mix as part of your financial resources.  You need to close that door now.  The attorneys tend to drag out litigation until they see that no more funds are available.  They will take your last dime.  Now they will take your parents' last dime, too.  So rescind that permission to share information with your parents and tell your attorney that they are no longer available for financial help.

I think you are going to have to start doing a lot of research as to Florida laws on divorce and child custody.  I don't know a thing about Florida laws.  My only experience is with a woman on cafemom who lived in Florida at the time of her divorce and moved to Ohio.  She had twin boys who were toddlers.  She was required to drive half way from Ohio to Florida to give the boys to her ex EVERY MONTH in order to share custody.  She had to pay all of her own travel expenses and yet she was an unemployed sahm at the time of the agreement.  So I would make a guess that Florida laws suck and you will have to do a lot to get a fair shake.

by Bronze Member on Jan. 6, 2015 at 11:41 AM

I'm amazed that she was granted relocation - from what I've heard, it's next to impossible to get relocation with a child in Florida. But I am aware of the model timesharing plan for out of state parents. I've told my husband that I'm willing to drop the relocation petition I filed with the court if I can stay in the house - it makes no sense with as little equity as we actually have that my husband should insist that we sell it - the mortgage is more than affordable, the school district is the best in the area, and it allows my son to have at least one house with a playground and big back yard to play in (my husband moved into a 4th floor apartment in a complex that really caters to young, single professionals - right by the party/bar district and with NO amenities for children). 

Equally frustrating is knowing that my husband will abandon his son when the divorce is final or he moves in with someone new. I know because he did it with me - lying about it at the time. We dated LD before he decided he wanted to move in with me. At the time, he told me his ex was married to someone who was a good father and that his daughter lived with them and he visited regularly. I set up a room for her in the house...and it went unused for years. His daughter, it turned out, had just moved in with HIS parents, who have raised her with minimal visits with her father over the last 7 years (not by my doing), and he only saw her a few times a year, randomly, and when he wanted, since she was 2. I'm terrified that he'll damage my son the way he has damaged her (and she has a lot of abandonment issues because both of her parents left her - and now I'm being guilted because apparently she's angry with me for having abandoned her, too, even though I spoke with her just days before the divorce was filed and told her that I would love to have a relationship with her).

The whole thing is beyond overwhelming. The laws changed drastically this year or last - it used to be that the model parenting plan had one residential parent and visitation one night during the week and every other weekend. Now, my son has to be bounced back and forth every 2 - 3 days, and we don't even have regular days where I could get a job during my evenings when he's timesharing. 

I have been reading the website you sent and I am amazed at some of the anecdotes - it's like someone is writing my story. And while there were tears shed, it was a relief to see that I'm not alone in dealing with a divorce like mine. When property settlement was discussed, my husband tried to take 100% of everything that was marital (he has taken everything except the bed and one TV that he fought for), and then demanded 50% of all of the premarital assets that I had brought to the house - my couch, kitchen appliances/plates/flatware/etc, furniture, toys, clothing and furniture of my son's that my parents had purchased because he refused to contribute a cent toward my son's needs.

Until the temporary hearing, my husband had spent a grad total of 14 hours alone with my son - over 3 years. Other than paying the mortgage and home bills in the last year or so, he had contributed NOTHING toward's my son's basic needs - my parents provided food, diapers, clothing, furniture, toys, books, car seat/stroller, etc. To this day, I am expected to pack a suitcase of clean clothes for each of his visits, which he returns dirty and stuffed in the suitcase for me to wash. He tried to force me to share the car seat and still has not even purchased an umbrella stroller - insists that I give him mine. Just this morning, he told me that I would have to loan him books to read to my son because he doesn't have any at the house. He makes $240,000 a year...and he has his child support cut in half because he's got 50/50 time sharing and is supposed to be providing for half of his expenses. I am treated like a free daycare during the week - he drops my son off as early or late as he wants on the days he's supposed to have him, then comes back for him whenever he wants - some days at 3:30 in the afternoon, others at 6:30/7 pm. I am given about 20 minutes' notice as to when he plans to pick him up and he gives me 15 minutes' notice in the morning when he leaves his apartment to drop him off. I feed my son all of his meals during the week and lately have been packing snacks for him in the evening. My friends keep telling me to force my husband to "step up" and refuse to provide him these things - but I would never make my son suffer to prove a point. And as it is, there have been weekends where he has him that my son is not bathed or changed for days, returned to me in the exact clothes he was wearing when he left, but dirty (and he posts daily on Facebook, so I know the outfit was on the entire weekend).

His family treats this like some kind of game they've won. They saw my son ONCE prior to the separation (in his entire life), and now celebrated "victory" when my husband took my son to visit them for a week for Thanksgiving, posting photos of my son left inside the house while they drank and partied outside. The public commentary and photos that they all post is terribly upsetting (my SD went through a phase for awhile where she would go through my photos online, find photos of my son and I, crop me out, and then post them - as if virtually cutting me out of my son's life), and the nasty comments - my exMIL was commenting online that I had "kept her son away from his family for so many years and they were making up for lost time." Really? Their son took several trips on his own while we were married - to LA to party with friends, to Vegas, to NYC. HE never prioritized seeing them. When his daughter wanted to move in with us, I stayed with her and took care of BOTH kids while he continued to travel, party, and go out. 

Sorry for the long rant - with everything going on this week, I feel like I'm about to explode.

by Battle Weary on Jan. 6, 2015 at 12:22 PM
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Your friends are right about you needing to force stbx into stepping up...not that he will actually step up.  But you have to stop allowing yourself to be used and manipulated.  Yes, your child will "suffer" to some extent, but that suffering will also distinguish the difference in households.  I live this, so I am speaking from experience.

Decide upon an outfit to send him in.  Right down to underwear and shoes.  Tell your ex that he will need to send DS in an outfit the next time he returns him so that you can return him to him in the same.  If he doesn't comply then send him naked.  I used to send DS dressed in nice little clothes and get him back either smelling like an ashtray or in shitty, ill-fitting clothing.  Shoes were destroyed because of the cigarette smell.  And ex knew he stank because he would try to cover up the stench with god awful perfume.  The cute clothes I sent him in disappeared into a Black Hole never to be seen again.  Now ex sends him home in crappy clothes and I return him in the same.  Right down to his socks and underwear.

DO NOT SHARE car seats or strollers.  You do need to check the laws though, because in my state the custodial parent (you are not CP because of shared) is required to make sure their child has a safety device available.  You may actually be able to refuse to send DS because he has no car seat.  Call the police if necessary.

Bottom line...he will continue to take advantage of you as long as you let him.  Because your divorce is not completed you can add to the financial aspect by requiring that he split daycare costs.  You have to get a job.  Using you as his babysitter prevents you from getting work.  He knows this and is doing it purposely.  Honestly, what he does with DS on his time is totally on him.  Its up to him to find childcare and you need to refuse to babysit.  I know that it seems like a good thing....more time with your child...but stbx is limiting you.  You have to move forward and he doesn't want that to happen.  He wants you tied down.

Child custody is difficult at best and you MUST set boundaries.  Otherwise, there is no point to the divorce.  He still does what he wants and you are still getting the short end of the stick.

Odds are that the divorce will continue until you are broke.  Then you will have no choice but to settle and you will get far less than even the law suggests just to get it over with. You will think that you may as well settle for less because paying the attorneys will cost more than you will receive.  That shows you that you have a crook for an attorney.

Know the laws.  Know your rights.  Demand that your attorney work FOR YOU and not get you the status quo that you would have received even without an attorney.  You may be better off without an attorney.  You seem like an intelligent person and if you make the effort to research you can do it on your own.  Your attorney has screwed you over and gotten you less than the minimum, so what do you have to lose?  You can't do any worse than the high priced attorney.

Set up boundaries.  Follow the court order exactly.  Do no more and no less than you are legally required to do.  Do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  Being "nice" will screw you in the end.  It will establish precedents that will be hard to reverse.  Just an observation, but it sounds like he had you kowtowing to him prior to the, abused you.  It is difficult to break that pattern of abuse.  It all seems so "normal".  I suggest that you find a women's shelter or help center for abuse.  They will help you emotionally and point you towards an attorney that is used to dealing with abusers.  This only the beginning of your legal issues with stbx.  He will continue to haul you into court because he has the resources and he can.  So you need to find someone who you feel confident in the way they represent you...someone who "gets it".  Or you have to do this on your own. 

by Bronze Member on Jan. 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM

He was both physically and verbally abusive - especially when he was drunk (nightly) or hung over (he used to storm through the house each morning yelling, cursing, calling me names at the top of his lungs as he got ready for work - because he would have drunk himself into a stupor the night before). I've been advised by everyone to avoid speaking to anyone - support groups, counselors, etc - because of the allegations made against me by my husband's attorney (he claims "She told him to do it, so he's going with her strategy"). I've NEVER been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness (ironically, my husband got his ex to give up their child by calling her bipolar and a drug addict - the same play book he's trying to use against me now).

I keep waffling between trying to stifle a panic attack and thinking, "I can do this" about representing myself. I have spent countless hours studing the local laws. I know having an attorney is preferable, but my husband has already basically been given everything that he's asked for already - so I'm not sure how I could get that much worse an outcome. I'm a fit mother - I won't lose custody of my son.

by Battle Weary on Jan. 6, 2015 at 1:24 PM

You have his ex wife to testify to this same behavior.  Why would anyone tell you NOT to seek help from an Abuse center or a therapist?  These are people who could testify on your behalf that his allegations are purely bullshit. 

You could ask that he have a mental evaluation and submit to one yourself.  He can't just say shit without backing it up.  It can not boil down to "he said, she said".  Ask that you both be drug tested.  Take away the ammunition.

There are many women on this forum who have had counseling for themselves and your children.  It has not been used against them in court.

by Bronze Member on Jan. 6, 2015 at 1:53 PM

I'm not sure but I am terrified to do the wrong thing. I've even been afraid to post publicly about the divorce - even here - lest it be used against me because of my husband's threats. 

As for the drug testing - I submitted to a hair follicle test months ago, as well as urine screens. Surprise surprise - all came back negative. His attorney refused to have him submit to one, citing the expense ($99 is too expensive to clear his name, but he's hired a $5000 employability consultant to make up a salary for me so that the court can impute income to me). He also pled the 5th when questioned about drug use. Further, I found out that he had a cocaine posession conviction AND felony conviction for credit card theft - both of which I didn't know about until his deposition). I have a completely clear background.

Today has been awful - now that he knows I'm losing counsel, he's got his attorney filing motions (or so he keeps claiming in his threats) to reduce temporary support and child support, to try to force me to sell the house, etc. He threatened that if I didn't watch him on his days during the week, that he was going to enroll him in a daycare/preschool full time and that I'd be responsible for 50% of the cost. He sends a barrage of text messages and then - even when I don't reply - tells me to leave him alone at work (?!?!), but keeps texting until I do reply.

It's so bad that I've literally been shaking, trying to keep a smile on my face for my son but just terrified of what he's going to do, what he's going to get away with, and where that will leave me (homeless? jobless and stuck here? without my son???)

by Battle Weary on Jan. 6, 2015 at 4:26 PM

Part of this is true.  But it is inevitable.  Daycare and preschool costs are a given because you will have to go to work and you will have need for those services as much as he does.

Set up an email account and tell him (in writing) that he is to use that  for all non-emergency situations and ONLY in regards to your child.  You have nothing to say to him as far as the divorce is concerned.  That is what your attorneys are for.  If you have possession of  your child you do not have to even look at them.  And remember, just because he texts you it does not mean that they require a response.  If you stop engaging he will eventually slow down the unnecessary commentary.  Research the "grey rock" method of communication and DO NOT ENGAGE. Also look on this forum for "narcissist".  You will find some information that may help you.  Also research "divorcing a narcissist."  You will see things in a whole new light.

by Bronze Member on Jan. 6, 2015 at 5:50 PM
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 not sure what to tell you. once you knew the lawyers were not doing their job, you should have dumped them.

what the heck are they doing that's costing $20,000 a  month????

My first lawyer billed at a flat rate. As soon as the divorce got nasty, and he wasn't cutting the mustard, I dismissed him and hired a new lawyer. Unfortunately, I waited too long, and the window on discovery demands had closed.. so my new lawyer could not ask for documentation, etc that my first lawyer should have done, but didn't. The only bright side to that was while the dh's lawyer deposed me and interrogated me for 3 hours, under oath... I did not have to pay any fees for that (first lawyer)... but the dumbass h had to pay his at least $200 an hour, and got NOTHING as far as new information.

my second lawyer billed monthly, and I went over that bill with a fine tooth comb.

 just as they say, "Buyer, beware", you have a duty to yourself to be sure your lawyer is acting in your best interests.

good luck

    Life is divine chaos
Embrace it.  Forgive  yourself.   Breathe
           And enjoy the ride....   

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