Some Common Misconceptions about Divorce in Nevada

July 21, 2008

So you do your homework on the divorce process, speak to a few lawyers, read a few websites, perhaps get the self-help documents. You think you understand the process. This post will let you in on a few secrets that I learned through bitter experience that are difficult to find through online research.

Myth: Divorce in Nevada is fast
Reality: It’s only fast if it is uncontested (see this post)

Myth: The family court seeks justice
Reality: The family court system is an industry. (see this and this)

Myth: The family court is fair to both parties
Reality: There is a distinct anti-male bias (see here and here)

Myth: If you have a few unresolved issues your case will end quickly
Reality: My whole case was an alimony case. It could have been settled in five minutes. Instead, it took three years. Sometimes judges don’t want to make decisions. Remember all judges are lawyers, lawyers get paid for billable hours, and judges like to help their own kind. The old adage that the case settles when you run out of money is very true (and very sad). Voltaire allegedly said “I have been broke twice in my life – once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won a lawsuit”.

Myth: Judges are independent.
Reality: Nevada judges (including family court judges) receive the majority of their campaign funds from lawyers who will appear before them in court. The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that this is not a basis for a conflict of interest!

Myth: A deal’s a deal – if I have a written agreement, the court will uphold it.
Reality: The judge can change the deal any time or even defer ruling on the validity of a written agreement

Myth: Judges must follow the law and court rules
Reality: A family court Judge has wide discretion (i.e. she can do whatever she likes) on issues like alimony (see here and here), custody/visitation, attorney fees, and temporary support orders.


Billable Hours

April 8, 2008

This pretty much sums up why you do not want to engage in litigation of any sort (Hat Tip to Law Blog):

    If you hire me, I promise that my billing system will reward me for solving your problems at the slowest possible pace, with as much duplication of effort as possible, and where I will face economic penalties for exercising any judgment that limits or focuses our work. I will, under this system, have strong incentives to embrace any opportunity to engage in discovery wars where the work is the easiest and the financial rewards are the greatest. And you can be assured that every member of my team will have a real financial inducement to exaggerate the amount of time they devote to every task.

Some more good advice on choosing an honest lawyer in a divorce can be found here. But even if your lawyer is reasonably honest, it only takes one unscrupulous lawyer to drive up fees on both sides…

 


Pre-Trial Discovery

March 24, 2008

According to Wikipedia: discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties or can compel the production of evidence by using a subpoena or through other discovery devices, such as requests for production and depositions. The US is unique among common law countries in having a discovery process.

In family court in Nevada, the judge will set a trial date and a discovery cut-off date once the parties indicate that they cannot reach a settlement (via a joint conference report). The trial may occur as far out as 6 months or more from the date of the joint conference report and discovery may end only 14-30 days before trial. Both sides then have this period to conduct discovery. The nominal purpose of discovery is to collect facts to build a case for trial.  In practice, discovery can become very expensive.  As Wikipedia states: The use of discovery has been criticized as favoring the wealthier side, in that it enables parties to drain each other’s financial resources in a war of attrition. For example, one can make information requests which are expensive and time-consuming for the other side to fulfill; produce hundreds of thousands of documents of questionable relevance to the case; file requests for protective orders to prevent the deposition of key witnesses; and so on.

The major forms of discovery are: request for production of documents (RFPs), interrogatories, and depositions. Basically, each side can ask the other side to produce any document they wish (including electronic documents), can ask up to 20 questions, and conduct sworn interviews of witnesses that are recorded and can be produced as testimony at the trial. You are required to make your best efforts to provide documents, answer questions, and attend depositions. In theory, the court can fine a party for not responding to discovery requests (without very good reasons). The Nevada courts even have a discovery commissioner to hear complaints.

I say “in theory” because things work very differently in practice. I prepared my own RFPs and interrogatories using Bender’s Forms of Discovery to save on legal fees (even lawyers don’t make up their own discovery requests – they consult this manual). After 3 months, I received no response from her attorney and the discovery commissioner’s office never returned my calls.  With only 14 days to trial, I filed a motion (on an order shortening time) before the judge requesting that the opposition be found in contempt for not responding to ANY of my discovery requests.  The judge refused to hear the motion before trial. The opposition then filed a motion (on an order shortening time) requesting that the trial be delayed because I did not respond to THEIR requests (despite the fact they had received hundreds of pages of information from me). The judge granted their motion (forcing me to cancel an overseas business trip to attend the hearing) and delayed the trial another six months. My sin was not including monthly payslips from 4-5 years ago because our HR system did not have data going back that far. The judge determined that I did not make my best efforts to get the information (despite including five years of W-2 and 1040 tax returns). So, I was admonished despite the fact they had given me NO information.  They were not penalized in any way and I was ordered to continue paying 90% of my income in temporary support for another six months until the new trial date.

BOTTOM LINE:

1. Discovery requests are easy to make by using Bender’s Forms of Discovery.

2. Discovery can be very costly (particularly depositions where you must pay for your lawyer to sit through the testimony and a court reporter).

3. The court may decide your best efforts to get information are not your best efforts and fine/penalize you as it sees fit

4. The court may allow the opposition to delay and withhold information without penalty.


Part 4. Choosing a lawyer

November 21, 2007

Much has been written about choosing a divorce lawyer (for instance here, here, and here). I am becoming something of an expert on the subject (having used/hired five or six different lawyers) and represented myself for the majority of the time in my case.
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