Many individuals choose to represent themselves in a divorce or dissolution case. Oftentimes, in very simple matters, this is not a terrible decision. However, a recent case demonstrates the potential negative consequences of not having qualified counsel.
In this recent case, Husband and Wife dissolved their marriage in 2003. The parties agreed on all matters, including a provision on how to divide Husband’s pension. The pension was to be divided pursuant to an Order that was filed with the Court.
Wife’s lawyer prepared the Order, as Husband was not represented by an attorney. The problem was that the Order was inconsistent with the parties’ agreement, and Wife received a larger portion of the pension than she was entitled to.
Husband filed a motion with the Court to correct this error. Ultimately, his motion was denied because certain language was not included in the original agreement with his Wife, language that would have permitted his motion to go forward. Without this language, Husband needed to appeal his case within 30 days from the filing of the Order. There would have been little reason for him to do so, as he would not have known there was an error within the 30 day timeframe. Pension divisions often take many months before they are processed by the plan administrator.
Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, the Order used to divide retirement benefits, can be very complicated documents, filled with legalese. The original agreement needed to have language giving the Court jurisdiction to correct errors in the pension Order. Since it did not, Husband is stuck with the error, and Wife will continue to receive the additional benefits.
 Pearl v. Pearl, 2012-Ohio-4752.
Marty Hubbell is a partner in the law firm of Diehl & Hubbell, LLC (www.DiehlHubbell.com), and has been practicing domestic relations law in Warren County, Ohio since 2001. He was recently named an Ohio Super Lawyer for the third time, and has been named to the Top 40 Under 40 list. He is also a part-time Magistrate for the City of Lebanon, Ohio. He can be reached at (513) 932-2121 or MHubbell@DiehlHubbell.com
By Marty Hubbell
I get asked that at least once a month. All attorneys have heard from potential clients who want to hire a Bulldog to represent them. Why? Because they erroneously believe that such lawyers are effective advocates for their clients.
Some people are generally unreasonable and unpleasant; some of these people happen to be lawyers. It is not hard to find them, as they are usually preceded by reputation.
These Bulldog lawyers have an inability to arrive at appropriate results in a timely fashion. They don’t return phone calls, are unprepared for hearings, and are unable to competently identify key issues in a case. But they are wonderful at turning legal cases into personal vendettas, when doing so has no practical purpose. Legal fees tend to get expensive, quickly, when fighting about anything and everything.
A Bulldog lawyer does not intimidate a competent attorney. I tell my clients in advance about the other attorney’s reputation, in order to prepare them. No party to litigation truly enjoys the experience, and you have to wonder about the unnecessary emotional cost their clients pay.
Judges and juries do not appreciate Bulldog lawyers. Court time is valuable and dockets are crowded. Recent studies suggest that jurors are particularly sensitive to choosing sides in a trial based upon a Judge’s rulings and demeanor toward individual attorneys. If an attorney argues ten points of law, when only two are viable, the stain of the poor arguments can filter down to the good ones.
There is so much more to being an effective advocate than just being adversarial. Be cautious when a lawyer brags about being tough and aggressive. A competitive spirit should not be confused with a combative personality. The qualities you should demand in a lawyer are no different than those you would want from other people in your life: diligence, competence, honesty, and reasonableness.
Marty Hubbell is a partner in the law firm of Diehl & Hubbell, LLC (www.DiehlHubbell.com), and has been practicing criminal defense law in Warren County, Ohio for ten years. He has been named an Ohio Super Lawyer, and is a part-time Magistrate for the City of Lebanon, Ohio. He can be reached at (513) 932-2121 or MHubbell@DiehlHubbell.com