Buyer’s Remorse, a/k/a “The Call”
It’s like a dance. I know the rhythm and the moves. It goes like this: I suggest a settlement proposal to my client. Let’s call him Guy and let’s say I recommend we make the following proposal: Guy’s wife gets the house, Guy keeps his 401k, and Guy pays Mrs. Guy alimony of $2,000 per month for three years. I make this recommendation because it would be, in my very educated and very expensive opinion, an excellent deal for him but not so tilted in his favor that opposing counsel will reject it outright. I’m looking for her to come back with a counterproposal we can negotiate down from and still end up with a good deal for Guy.
I have to convince Guy that this is a reasonable proposal. He wants to offer no alimony. I have to push him to understand that this case is one where alimony is clearly involved, so not offering it at all makes our proposal worthless because it will seem like we are not serious about settlement. I also have to make sure he understands that our proposal will just about certainly be rejected, that it’s a starting point he needs to be prepared to move off of.
Finally, after a long meeting, I get Guy on board. We make the proposal. We get a counterproposal – house and 401k fine, but Mrs. Guy wants 7 years of alimony at $3,000 per month. Guy flips. I calm and explain. I tell him that a court actually could order that much alimony – it’s in the ballpark. I call opposing counsel and tell her she’s way off base, that a court would never order that much alimony, and that we may come up a little bit from our initial offer but I certainly am not going to recommend to my client that we split the difference between our two alimony proposals. I call Guy and tell him we should try one more round by increasing our offer a little but ultimately be prepared to split the difference, as that would still be a very reasonable deal for him. .
More rounds of negotiation ensue. I argue with opposing counsel. Guy argues with me after every round. We finally settle on alimony somewhere in the middle. Guy is relieved to have it over with and pleased that we can avoid court. The settlement agreement is written up and signed. Guy thanks me profusely.
Two days later I get The Call. Guy is talking fast and loud. He’s very upset. He’s getting screwed. He showed the agreement to his brother-in-law, a personal injury lawyer in Virginia, and brother-in-law can’t believe Guy has to pay that much alimony. He talked to his buddy at work who told him that there is no alimony in Pennsylvania. None of his friends who have been divorced pay alimony. What’s going on?
I listen. I sigh inside. I soothe. I remind Guy of the facts in his case which form the legal basis for an award of alimony in Pennsylvania (his income being way higher than hers, long marriage, no liquid assets being divided). I talk to him about weighing the cost of his legal fees to litigate this issue vs. the dollars at stake. I remind him of the roll of the dice he’s taking if we go to court – could come out better than this settlement but also could be a lot worse. I also tell him that discussing his divorce settlement with friends and relatives may be a bad idea. Every state’s law is different. Every case has different facts and circumstances. It’s just not helpful to compare your divorce with your cousin’s or your barber’s.
Guy listens. He calms down. He sighs. He remembers that we did talk about all this before. He’s okay. Not happy, but okay.