Whether you’re consciously uncoupling or in the middle of a custody battle, divorce isn’t fun. Ending a relationship, dividing assets, and deciding who gets the dog sucks for everyone involved and can be especially heartbreaking when you have a family.
So it makes sense that some divorces can lead to major drama—and divorce lawyers can vouch for that.
Here, seven lawyers share the most intense things they’ve seen during their time practicing divorce law—for better and for worse.
“I was representing the husband of a Chicago couple in their early 50s who had been married for more than 20 years. The wife filed for divorce because her husband traveled often for work and she felt they had grown apart. During the discovery period for the divorce, a bunch of expenses from Omaha, Nebraska, kept showing up in the husband’s bank statements. My investigator looked into them and discovered that, for the past 10 years, the husband had been living with a woman in Omaha as ‘husband and wife’ (although they were not legally married) and they had a six-year-old together. He traveled for work a lot, and both wives just assumed he was working. I asked him if it stressed him out to manage both families, but he was cool as a cucumber. He ended up moving in full-time with his Omaha wife, who it seems did not know about the Chicago wife. But that didn’t last, so he moved back to Chicago and then sort of fell of the radar.” —Mitchell B. Gordon, founding partner of Bradford & Gordan, a boutique family law firm in Chicago specializing in divorce, and author of Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
“I was representing the wife of a couple in their early 40s, who had been married for about 15 years. The wife suspected that her husband was cheating and found a bunch of charges on their credit cards for trips to Vegas, Colorado, and Mexico (plane, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, spas). When she asked him whom he was traveling with, he said he was going alone. At first, she chalked it up to his being ‘eccentric.’ But the charges got increasingly huge, and he was depleting their accounts. Then there was a line item on the credit card statement from Planned Parenthood. He said he was going there to buy condoms. She filed for divorce.
“During the discovery period, I found his 20-year-old girlfriend’s Facebook page. It was public, so I could see the photos she’d posted and places where she’d ‘checked in’—all of which corresponded with the travel expenses from the husband’s credit card statements. Turns out, the affair had been going on for two years. When I questioned her about the Planned Parenthood charge, she said the husband had paid for her abortion. The one charge the mistress didn’t know about was at a Las Vegas brothel, where the husband paid $10,000 to rent out their ‘Pirates of the Caribbean Room’ for the night. The girlfriend didn’t know about the wife either, and she broke up with him—even though she was pregnant with his child and was keeping it this time (another thing I discovered on Facebook. She’d posted a picture and announced her due date). In the end, the wife got custody of the kids, with the husband paying child support (for his wife’s kids and, I later found out, for his girlfriend’s kid, too).” —Chicago family law attourney Mitchell B. Gordon
“My client found out that her husband of 15-plus years was sleeping with the nanny when she caught them in bed together while the kids were at home. My client chased the nanny out of the house and down the street. Then the husband drove the nanny to the bus stop, where she fell out of the car. The nanny turned around and sued the husband for sexual harassment and because she said he pushed her out of the car. At this time, the husband and the wife were still together. To avoid paying the nanny, they got a quickie divorce in Las Vegas: They agreed to award the wife all of their assets so he would have nothing and be ‘judgment-proof’—i.e., the nanny couldn’t sue him.
“That case went away, but then the husband and wife really broke up. And he turned around and said he wanted half of their assets—which, of course, were now all in his ex-wife’s name. That was when I was pulled in. We took the case in front of a judge, who said, basically, too bad, too sad. The husband was talking out of both sides of his mouth, telling the court it was OK to give his wife all of the assets so they wouldn’t have to pay the nanny, then trying to take the money away from her—the second case making the first a fraud. Needless to say, the wife walked away with all of it. She was a smart one.” —Lisa Helfend Meyer, founding partner of Los Angeles-based, women-owned family law firm Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyers
“On the day the divorce was finalized, we left court and the ex-husband of my client had his new girlfriend waiting for him outside the courtroom. My client, of course, wanted to know why he would bring the mistress to court—it was so disrespectful. At that point the other woman yelled, ‘But I’m carrying his child!’ at the ex-wife. I carefully pulled the mistress aside and told her, ‘You may not know this, but your boyfriend also has a child with his ex-wife, so you are going to have to deal with her for 18 years, and you are starting off on a very bad foot.’ I now tell all of my clients in no way shape or form may you bring your boyfriend or girlfriend to court.” —Amy Saunders, a family law and divorce attorney based outside of Boston
“I was representing a woman in her late 60s who was going through a contentious divorce with her husband, who was in his early 70s. He was cheating on her with a younger woman, which depressed me. I was hoping by the time men got to that age we wouldn’t be controlled by our penises anymore. Anyway, after a year and a half of paying us to torture each other, they signed the documents. Right after signing, they asked if they could have a minute alone, so I pointed them to a conference room down the hall. I didn’t think anything of it. They had grandkids, and he had a PhD in psychology while she was a counselor. I thought they were just processing things. About 15 minutes later, I walked past the conference room on the way to the bathroom when it sounded like they were moving furniture in there. I didn’t think to knock, I just opened the door. They had clearly just been having sex…she was pulling her skirt down, he was pulling his pants up. I apologized and backed right out of the room. It seemed they were sort of reclaiming each other with one last hurrah. Or maybe they were torturing each other and channeling leftover aggression.” —New York-based family lawyer James Sexton
“I was representing the husband of a Manhattan high-society couple in their 50s. Both spouses were very well off. They didn’t have kids but they had a ton of assets—real estate, jewelry, etc., which we had to divide. We settled in about six months; given all the stuff they had to divide, that was pretty fast, and they were relatively cooperative. That changed when it came time to decide what to do with their two pets. Both the wife and the husband were adamant about keeping the dog, and neither wanted the parrot. The husband, we learned, had taught the parrot to say, ‘My wife is a bitch.’ I had to present this as an argument in court to a judge: ‘This is a very good reason for her to keep the dog and him to keep the parrot.’ The judge balked that we were actually asking him to write an opinion about this. In the end, they agreed to joint ownership of the dog, who would spend three weeks at a time with each ‘parent’ and the parrot went to a relative. That was after about three months and $30,000 in lawyer fees. With that money, they could have saved a whole shelter of homeless animals!” —Val Kleyman, divorce and family lawyer in New York
“After seven years of marriage, a husband (unbeknownst to the wife) started trying to convince their nanny to have a threesome, telling her his wife would be really into it. He was a Wall Street guy and she was a physician, and the nanny had been with them since their first kid was born four years earlier. The nanny finally made a move on the wife, who told her it was inappropriate. But a few months later, they got drunk, and they had that threesome. It turned into a regular thing. The husband was totally happy—he got his cake and ate it too—until the wife said she and the nanny were in love with each other, and she was leaving him for the nanny! During the custody proceedings, the husband tried to argue the nanny was an illegal immigrant, which was ridiculous. In the end, the wife got primary custody. Three years later, the wife and nanny are still together, though they hired a new nanny.” —James Sexton, a family lawyer with offices in Rockland and Manhattan