Q & A café at Nathans
Breaking up is (not always) hard to do… Divorce guru Sanford Ain talks about how to do
the big split the right way
Thirty years and hundreds of cases, countless
courtroom battles, clients with boldfaced
names like S. Epatha Merkerson
and Mike Tyson, not to mention several
Washington moguls, have given Sanford Ain intimate
exposure to one of the most bitter personal
struggles people can face: divorce. But, is it possible
to end a marriage as smoothly as it began?
Possibly, with the right lawyer. Town & Country
named Ain one of the ten best divorce lawyers in
America. His clients rave that the way he works
is as "dignified and respectable" as possible. In a
recent Q & A Café interview with Carol Joynt at
Nathans, Ain shared secrets about the civilized
way to seperate.
Carol Joynt: Who should get divorced?
Sanford Ain: People should get divorced if their
relationship is so unsatisfying, so stifling, that the
alternative is better, and they should take into account
the effect on their spouse and their children.
CJ: How many cases end up in court?
SA: A very small percentage of divorce cases end
up in court, and an even smaller percentage of my
firm's cases end up in court. Court is incredibly
inefficient, unbelievably expensive and the worst
place for a family to be.
CJ: If it ends up in court, does that mean the
lawyers have failed?
SA: The lawyers have failed. Sometimes it is
both lawyers, letting their own egos get in the
way, sometimes it's the clients' responsibility, and
sometimes it is a combination of both.
CJ: Should people who are getting divorced
always have a lawyer?
SA: They always should at least consult with a lawyer.
CJ: Do most people come to see you because of
SA: That's the minority of clients.
CJ: What's the majority? Falling out of love?
SA: People grow apart, fall out of love, or develop
the economic means to be able to comfortably
separate. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker
last week that said, "I'm still in love with you
but I want to try marrying some other people." [laughter].
CJ: Do you think that is just in the United States or
is it global?
SA: I think it is global issue.
CJ: Does it have to be sex to be cheating?
SA: Legally, yes.
CJ: The Internet seems to play a larger and larger role
in the idea of betrayal. Has it played a role in some of the
divorce cases you've handled?
SA: It's becoming much more significant. It's our
way of communicating with each other, whereas
before it was writing letters or meeting personally.
Now it is cell phones and the internet where
we find people, talk to people, meet people, and
exchange our thoughts. And the emails stay on the
hard drive forever.
CJ: Have you gone and found some?
SA: It's actually fairly routine for lawyers now to
look through computers. There are companies
that specialize in mirroring hard drives and seeing
what's on there.
CJ: If a married person is exchanging emails with
somebody not their spouse, not sex in chat rooms but
simply flirting online, is that cheating?
SA: It's not cheating from a legal standpoint
but they are asking for a helluva lot of trouble.
[laughter from the audience].
CJ: You represent clients in Maryland and Virginia.
What are the differences between the jurisdictions?
SA: The most significant one is in Virginia. You
stop accumulating marital property as of the day
you separate, whereas in Washington and Maryland
you continue to accumulate marital property
right through the divorce trial. Other significant
differences are that in Washington, D.C., the judges
have complete power to do whatever they want
with marital property, no matter how it is titled.
Maryland is the most restricted in terms of what
they can do. Virginia is somewhere in the middle.
CJ: Tell us about hiring private detectives. Do you use
them a lot?
SA: On a scale of one to ten, if using them a lot is
at the ten range, I'm probably in the two or three
CJ: What do you use them for?
SA: Getting someone into the psychological state
where they will want to settle. And most of the
judges don't care. There was a judge in D.C. and I
said, "What's the effect of adultery on your cases?" And he said, "It makes no difference to me." I also
happen to know that the judge was having an
affair, and that's one of the reasons it would make
no difference to him.
CJ: Is there more infidelity by men than women?
SA: It's still slightly more with men, but in the last
twenty years we've seen many more women.
CJ: Have you seen more women take the first step in
SA: Over the last 30 years, absolutely.
CJ: What's a post-nup?
SA: Post-nuptial agreements are very much like
a pre-nuptial agreement or a property settlement
agreement. It's done at a time when people are still
living together and are probably uncertain where
their marriage is headed and want to outline what
happens if they don't stay together.
CJ: What's the most stressful situation you've had in
a negotiation between two spouses?
SA: I was taking the deposition for a couple of
days from a boxer who is pretty well known, and
he lost his temper with me. I was nervous, and I
said to him, "Sir, you don't need to do that." And I
was very polite, and that sort of brought the steam
down. I have had clients walk out of settlement
negotiations, I've had them stand up and curse and
get upset and leave. I've said, "Okay, they're gone,
now let's talk."
CJ: Have you ever thrown a client out of your office?
SA: Yes. There were a couple of situations where
people were dishonest. They had lied to me.
CJ: Is there a common thread that runs through
divorce, something your clients all have in common?
SA: Probably a desire to get it behind them as
quickly as they can.
CJ: How long does it take, typically?
SA: I just did one that I think is the quickest I've
ever done. It took a week and a half.
CJ: That's not normal. What's the norm?
SA: Six months to a year.
CJ: What do you cost an hour?
CJ: And how many hours minimum are going to be
involved in a divorce where one spouse wants it and
the other doesn't?
SA: The goal is to depress the level of conflict and
to persuade the one who doesn't want it that it's
going to happen eventually and it's in everyone's
interest not to take an entire college education,
or a vacation home, and give it to lawyers. And
that generally wakes people up.
CJ: What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?
SA: Six months mutual involuntary separation
or one year voluntary separation.
CJ: But don't move out of the house?
SA: Not without talking to somebody.
CJ: Do other lawyers come to you for their divorces?
SA: A huge percentage of our firm's practice is
CJ: Is it true that a person thinking about
divorcing can go around and talk to every top
divorce lawyer in town and thus prevent their
spouse from going to those same lawyers?
SA: There's actually a case where someone
did that and one of the lawyers who was
consulted said, "I'm going to represent the
opposing spouse anyway," and they went to
court and the lawyer prevailed and was able to
stay on the case. But, does what you describe
happen? Yes, it happens every day.
CJ: What do you make of the Anna Nicole Smith
case before the Supreme Court?
SA: One of the things that Anna Nicole Smith
said is that she's absolutely positive she's going to
win in the Supreme Court, and I brought a quote
from her as to why she's so confident: "I'm good
at getting old men to do what I want."
The Q&A Café at Nathans in Georgetown is
open to everyone. For more information please
visit www.nathansgeorgetown.com. Located at
the corner of Wisconsin and M Street.