Why did my divorce cost so much?

 In Legal Malpractice

Malpractice cases hinge upon the lawyer doing something incorrectly, or failing to do something that they should have done, and a resulting damage that flowed from that negligent act. We get calls on a daily basis from clients who are mad at their lawyers, for a variety of reasons. But the most common lawyers clients call complaining about are divorce lawyers. And the typical complaint is about how much it cost, and how poor the result was.

It cost that much because it was worth it

The old answer to the question about why it cost so much is, “because it was worth it.” What’s that supposed to mean? It means that in the heat of the moment, it was worth it to the parties to do and spend what they did. But divorce is an emotionally fraught matter. And emotional clients may not act in the most economically rational way. That can include spending excessive money on legal fees to fight with the other side. Clients wonder, after the blood cools, why did I do that?

Often, the clients then look at the lawyer as having taken advantage of them. Or sometimes they argue the lawyer failed to do something that was critical to their side “winning” the fight. But many clients fail to object to bills as they come due, waiving their right to complain, or otherwise acquiesce in the lawyer’s conduct. After-the-fact complaints typically just look like buyer’s remorse.

Why family law cases don’t make good legal malpractice cases

Generally speaking, family law cases—including divorce, child custody, and the like—don’t make good legal malpractice cases. Why? Because almost always, the case can be modified in some way. Unfavorable custody orders, child support amounts, or anything that’s an ongoing thing may almost certainly be modified. If it can be changed, then there’s not a good claim for legal malpractice.

But why? The answer is, because even if the first lawyer’s actions fell below the standard of care, if a new lawyer can fix it, there’s no legal harm. There is a caveat to that, of course—the client will have to spend more legal fees to fix the problem. But professional liability policies generally do not cover claims for legal fees only. And generally the amounts in question are not large enough to outweigh the potential expenses of pursuing the claims. It’s a bad situation, to be sure. But it often doesn’t make economic sense to pursue it. Other examples of poor issues to pursue include child custody arrangements, complaints about mediation conduct, and failure to introduce evidence at trial. (The last would be subject to the litigation privilege in Georgia.)

Exceptions to the rule…

Some limited exceptions to the rule exist. If a lawyer messed up a property division, and the property is now gone, there could be some permanent damages for which the lawyer might be liable. This is likely to only arise where there are lots of real estate to divide. Or if there is a significant impairment issue with the representation, the lawyer’s conduct could be called into question. But again, it will only be worthwhile to pursue the claim if significant damages exist. And because the damages might only be in the form of legal fees, the professional liability policy likely won’t cover it.

If, after reading the above, you believe you have a viable legal malpractice claim based on a divorce or other family law matter, please feel free to contact Chandler & Moore Law for a case evaluation.

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