My Aunt Judy is funny, big-hearted, free- spirited, very smart, super direct, and an overall great person. She practices divorce law in the Northeast and speaks with a thick Boston accent as she orders her “wheat bagel with butta” from Dunkin Donuts. Judy candidly shares her perspective on what she hears from her clients on many aspects of divorce.
(quick note: this interview was recorded, not written, therefore I attempted to keep Judy’s “voice” alive and well in this interview. So if it feels different, that explains it. And please read my comments at the end, especially if you have walked through a divorce or separation.)
Q: How long have you been a divorce attorney?
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in 1977 from Boston University, a M.Ed. from Boston University with a concentration in Counseling Psychology in 1980, and a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Suffolk University in 1986. I have been practicing divorce/family law for about 20 years. Divorce law can transform attorneys into social workers, so the two degrees help me to understand my clients in a more thorough way.
Q: Describe your typical client?
I think there is no typical client. I represent both male and female clients, elderly clients, mid-life clients, and young people who have been married for a very short time.
Q: Why do people typically get a divorce?
I think you first have to look at the ages and socio-economic classes. A lot of times, young people get married on a whim and after 2 to 3 years they realize that they are growing apart. The marriage is not working. They’re maturing, basically. For the marriages that are 20-ish years long, a lot of times people are married young, they’ve had their children, they’re now older, and they’ve stayed together “for the children.” Frankly, I’m not so sure that’s the best thing in the world. Kids know before the adults that mom and dad are not getting along very well and sometimes it’s very painful for children. Staying together for the children can sometimes be the worst thing a couple can do. The people who have been married for 40 years or so — a lot of them have traditional thinking that says you should stay married. It’s only in the last few years that they’ve felt like it’s ok to divorce. I once had an elderly client say to me “I’ve been married for 40 years and I cannot wait for the day that I can say I’m not married.”
Q: What do you hear from your male clients as to why they are seeking a divorce?
Almost always there’s a financial component. From what I hear, there always seems to be this agreement that the wife will stay home with the children for the first few years and when she doesn’t go back to work full time and begin to contribute financially, men start to resent the fact they they’re working full time, five days per week or more, and their spouse is not. She seems be going out a lot more, having a lot more freedom when the kids are older.
I don’t see affairs as much as the primary reason. I mean certainly I see it a lot, but it doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as maybe it was years ago. I really think a lot of it is financial. A lot of people are just drained. They’re tired of working, and not getting any help, and eventually it just surfaces.
Q: Then why doesn’t the woman just begin working again?
Most ignore the request or argue against it because they believe staying home with the children is more important. On the other hand, husbands tend to repress how angry and frustrated they feel until it blows up at the end.
Q: What do you hear from your female clients?
A lot of times the females resent the fact that the husband is never around, he’s always working too much, he’s with the guys, or he just doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore. And a lot of times she or he may be ready to do something on the weekend and the other spouse is just exhausted – either from the kids, or from working too much. They never seem to make it jive. Within the past 10-15 years, more women have been working and are contributing 50 percent to the marriage, and I think that has really helped some of the marriages stay together. And with courts now, you’re expected to contribute towards the support of your children almost on a 50/50 basis.
Q: You touched on affairs. Can you describe the typical affair scenario? The idea is that middle –aged men are having affairs with younger women. Is this true?
I do see a lot of older men, say 50’s, hooking up with younger women, say 20’s and early 30’s. I just finished up one. It’s very painful for the wife. The men blame the women for not being fun anymore or not being a partner anymore, or being more interested in the kids. Women complain that he just wants to drink and hang out with his friends. I have been seeing older women hooking up with younger men a lot more. Older woman bring some financial stability to a relationship with a younger man. I don’t see as many marriages between older women and younger men as compared to older men and younger women.
Q: How much does a divorce cost and how long does it take?
I think that is a very scary factor for people. Divorce is expensive. Prices can vary. You will probably take a long time to recuperate financially after a divorce. You’re taking a whole pie, and splitting it in two, and giving a good percentage of each of those halves to the lawyers. More specifically, I think for a marriage of 20 years or more, where assets have been accumulated and the incomes together do not exceed $200,000, the average cost is between $12,000 to $20,000. There are many variables that affect cost, like litigants who can’t or won’t agree on anything or over-zealous attorneys.
Q: Are divorces messy and dramatic or calm and civil?
When people are first confronted with the notion that the other wants a divorce, or they have learned about an affair, or something has been the trigger, those are very painful. And it takes a long time for people to go through the grieving stages that happen. You go through all the stages of grieving when you go through a divorce. However, if people have already processed through those stages, then their divorces are more peaceful.
Q: Have you ever felt conflicted about assisting someone in the dissolution of their marriage?
One of the first questions I ask in an interview is “are you sure there is no possibility of reconciliation?” and “have you seen a marriage counselor?” or “Is there any way you can save this marriage?” And with a lot of my in-takes the answers are different. A lot of times the wife would prefer to keep the marriage together, but not the husband, or vice-versa. I feel comfortable that when I start this process, people are ready to go forward. I’ve had people back out right before they are about to walk before a judge to get their divorce, and decide “we’re not ready to do this.” Even after a year’s time on the court track. It happens.
Q: What, in your view, makes a successful marriage?
I think people need to be friends, first and foremost. Both parties need to contribute to the child-rearing, and both parties need to contribute financially. If one doesn’t respect the other, because they haven’t contributed to one of those other things, the marriage is eventually going to have a problem.
Q: Advice for someone considering getting married. Advice for someone considering a divorce.
I think it’s very important that, before you marry, there is full disclosure as to what you both have beforehand. I am a big proponent of prenuptial agreements in this day in age where women do work as much as men, and where women can earn more than men very easily. I think a pre-nup is much more respected than it used to be.
If you are considering a divorce, I think it’s very important that you first seek counseling so that when you enter the process you are comfortable with your decision. And you are not going to end up acting out all of your grieving and spending a lot of money on that, too. I tell my clients to collect documents and get familiar with their financial situation so that there are no surprises down the road. And a lot of times there are surprises. So I tell my clients to be “financially sophisticated.” Unfortunately I think a lot of women still leave their financial affairs for their husbands to manage and I think that’s a mistake. I think women have to demand to know what’s going on with their finances. That’s one of the biggest complaints I hear: the wives say they don’t know what they have; they don’t know their assets or liabilities. But there are also times when I hear the husband say that he gives his whole paycheck to his wife and she handles everything. I think it goes both ways.
Q: What do you like about a being a divorce attorney?
I like to help people. That was my first career as a therapist/counselor. But it’s also very hard because there’s a lot of blame to go around and it’s easy to point the finger at the lawyer because it’s too hard to blame yourself, or the other party. So I take the brunt of it. We act as counselors, priests, fantasy lovers, and fantasy spouses; we take on all kinds of roles. You have to be comfortable with that as well.
Q: Any other points I missed, or last closing comments?
Instead of thinking about how you can get back or seek revenge on the other side, always remember that everything you say and do will be seen by your children. And it will affect your children. Divorce affects children — I’m sure of that. People don’t always handle divorce well because they are so angry or they are so sad, or they are feeling so much revenge. But remember your children are watching.
Q: Finally, describe divorce in one word:
Quick note from Heather: So — wow. I didn’t really know a lot of men complain about their wives not working. I had no clue. As a stay at home parent I find this very interesting and I have asked my husband his opinion on it. The reason women cite (men not being around) is not a surprise to me. And, to that point, I thought people divorced mostly due to affairs or pornography or some kind of moral failing or just not getting along anymore. I am wondering if Judy’s perspective is region specific, or can it be applied across the U.S.? I have no idea. And I do agree that divorce can and does affect children. I know this firsthand as I experienced two divorces growing up. And finally, I am so thankful for my great marriage. It’s such a gift. However, I am well aware that not everyone who has been married has experienced a loving, healthy marriage. If you are a divorced or separated person — I LOVE you. I know many of you and I do not judge you. The only reason I am publishing this is because Judy and I have had many convos over the years and I realized that, even though I experienced divorce as a child, I really had no clue about divorce as an adult. So, I am educating myself along with you, my Dear Reader. Thanks for reading!