Setting Up Your Settlement with Tiffany Hughes, Esq

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In this episode, we are welcoming Attorney Tiffany Hughes, founding partner of the Law Office of Tiffany M. Hughes, to the We Chat Divorce Podcast.

As of one of Chicago’s elite law firms, The Law Office of Tiffany M. Hughes concentrates solely in the area of family and matrimonial law, whereby they represent individuals in all aspects of family and matrimonial law proceedings, including litigation, mediation, allocation of parental responsibility (formerly known as custody), parentage, divorce, orders of protection and other family-related matters.

Their mission is to deliver the most practical, experienced, and effective legal representation to their clients. In order to achieve that goal, our Attorney Hughes and her firm combine an unparalleled level of service along with legal skill and judgment designed to help their clients successfully manage all family law matters.

Today, we're going to be talking about setting up your settlement!

Let's Chat . . .

  • What is the difference between family law and matrimonial law?
  • Where does someone start with setting up for settlement?
  • How does someone frame their case for settlement?

And don't miss the valuable tips on how to save time, money, and stress less during your divorce... Listen in!

Resources:

www.thugheslaw.com

tiffanyhughes@thugheslaw.com

If you have questions for us or a topic you’d like us to cover, contact us at hello@mydivorcesolution.com or visit MyDivorceSolution.com

----more----

The We Chat Divorce podcast (hereinafter referred to as the “WCD”) represents the opinions of Catherine Shanahan, Karen Chellew, and their guests to the show. WCD should not be considered professional or legal advice. The content here is for informational purposes only. Views and opinions expressed on WCD are our own and do not represent that of our places of work.

WCD should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever. Listeners should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No listener should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information on WCD without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on WCD.

Unless specifically stated otherwise, Catherine Shanahan and Karen Chellew do not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned on WCD, and information from this podcast should not be referenced in any way to imply such approval or endorsement. The third-party materials or content of any third-party site referenced on WCD do not necessarily reflect the opinions, standards or policies of Catherine Shanahan or Karen Chellew.

WCD, CATHERINE SHANAHAN, AND KAREN CHELLEW EXPRESSLY DISCLAIM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OR RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR OTHER DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF ANY INDIVIDUAL'S USE OF, REFERENCE TO, RELIANCE ON, OR INABILITY TO USE, THIS PODCAST OR THE INFORMATION PRESENTED IN THIS PODCAST.

Read the transcript:

Karen Chellew:

Welcome to We Chat Divorce. Today, we are here with attorney Tiffany Hughes, the founding partner of the Law Office of Tiffany N. Hughes. Tiffany is recognized as an experienced and passionate advocate on behalf of her clients in the area of family law. She concentrates primarily in family and matrimonial law, and Tiffany, maybe you can tell us the difference between those two, including litigation, mediation, allocation of parental responsibility, formerly known as custody, parentage, divorce, and other related child matters. I should say, and other child-related matters. With representing a wide range of clients in family law, Tiffany handles matters from beginning to end, including litigation when needed, and settlement when available. Courtroom ready and effective, Tiffany keeps her clients' goals as her primary concern. So, today, we're going to be talking about setting up your settlement. Let's start out with how does someone frames their case for settlement?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Where do we start?

Karen Chellew:

Well, first of all, I would kind of like to go back with what is the difference between family law and matrimonial law? I don't know if a lot of people know that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Good. Good question. Yeah, so matrimonial law is individuals that are married, so matrimony. So that's more of your divorces. Family law incorporates parentage, which is parties that are not married but have children together, so parentage actions. You've also got guardianship, adoption, child support. So anything that's not matrimonial, relating to marriage, is going to be your "family law matters".

Karen Chellew:

Okay.

Catherine Shanahan:

That is a good question. I don't think I ever really knew the difference.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah, I think [inaudible 00:01:59]-

Catherine Shanahan:

I lump them all together.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah, me too. Yeah, that's a good differentiation and I didn't really realize that what was formerly, I always consider it custody, what is the world now that I just [crosstalk 00:02:15]-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, allocation of parental responsibility. So, they changed it to where now it's no longer referred to as custody. And that's just really, it's kind of a fancy phrase to explain the decision making, which the big four categories are education, school, religion and extra curricular. And then, parenting time, which incorporates holiday and regular parenting time. So, it's what we call the APR agreement, the allocation of parental responsibility agreement incorporates those things.

Catherine Shanahan:

You know what I love about that, I know this is not what we're supposed to be talking about. But, I love the word responsibility, because that whole custody agreement, of course I want custody, you want custody. But really, it's about what are your responsibilities and what are my responsibilities here? Because we both have them.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Right, exactly.

Catherine Shanahan:

I like that. I really do like that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, and I think it makes sense. I mean, looking at it in that frame of mind where you have these four categories and deciding and then, both parents figuring out what makes sense for them and for the kids. It just kind of streamlines it, I think. It also makes it very clear for them what has to align and what has to be agreed upon. Versus with custody, it was kind of, well custody meant, "I want custody." Well, what does that really mean? Do you want decision making? Do you want the majority of parenting time? It was kind of this broad term that a lot of people didn't understand.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, they'd call my office and say, "I want to fight for full custody." And it's like, well are you talking about decision making or parenting time? What does that mean to you? Because it was very objective. Or very subjective rather.

Catherine Shanahan:

Right. And financially speaking, most of the times when people call us when they're doing their portrait it is, "I want custody so I don't have to pay so much in child support."

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Oh yeah.

Karen Chellew:

Huge, right [crosstalk 00:04:15]. So, let's kind of take that and segue into framing your case, or your situation for settlement because that custody factor, which a lot of people see it as a financial matter, not necessarily time with their kids or even decision making. How do all things flow in and where does someone start with setting up for settlement? When you go to an attorney most of the time, the attorney out of the gate is, from a client's perspective, is setting it up for trial. So, talk a little bit about how all that works together.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's a good idea to set up a case for trial from the beginning. I think that that costs a lot of money for clients, but I think overall what you want to do is get a very, very in depth understanding of marital debts, marital assets, non-marital assets and non-martial debts.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, when I first am working with a client, I say, "Look, we need to put together a list of all of the assets and all of the debts." And getting the documents from them to start preparing what I do, which is a marital balance sheet. So, that's the first real initial step.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Now, a lot of the times, unfortunately, they don't know what assets there are. They were not in control of the finances. They don't know what accounts their husband has, or his wife has, or et cetera. So sometimes it's tricky because they don't have that information. So, a lot of times I'm a little tricky in what I do. And I say, "Well, why don't you check the mail?" And they're like, "Oh yeah, I don't check the mail. He usually gets the mail." So, she starts getting the mail and noticing that there's credit card statements that are coming in that is not a joint credit card. There's bank accounts that she's not listed on. Little things like that, that just start to help.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Depending on where they are in the process, if they're not ready to file yet, then I tell them to actually have a conversation with their spouse about this before moving on to the next step. So, setting up for settlement really occurs even before, in my opinion, before you even hire an attorney. Before you even really get started with anything because you need to know what you have. What are you looking at? What assets do you have? What debts?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Another thing is with the house. Just getting some basic understanding of, "Okay, well if I make $50,000 a year, and my husband is making $200. Even with the money that I get from settlement overall from the estate, would I even qualify for a re-fi on this house? Is keeping this house something that I can even do? Is it a viable option?"

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, thinking about all of these pieces from the beginning helps. You also have to be careful though because they're already very overwhelmed. They're already very emotional. They're scared. They don't know what the law is. They don't know what the process is. So, starting the process of settlement with them from the beginning has to be kind of a, you have to have a timeline approach. It can't be throwing everything at them and being like, "Okay, now go." Because they won't be able to do it, right?

Karen Chellew:

Right. And that's exactly why we started our company, My Divorce Solution, is to divorcees because we went through that. And helping clients establish all of that before they walk through an attorney's door, unless of course they're in harms way or some other situation that requires immediate legal help; it's invaluable to have that at your fingertips. And be able to deliver it, and not only deliver it but to confidentially talk about it and own the information.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Absolutely. I mean, you guys do amazing things. Obviously I love the both of you. But, without having your assistance, a lot of these clients, I mean, they just don't know what to do. And they don't know where to start, and they don't know how in depth and how much time that these things actually take to get in place and get it set up. So, I think overall initially, like I said, I'm really working with them on just getting a baseline understanding of what the assets and debts are. And seeing what they know about their financial situation overall.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And if I'm working with somebody that does have a lot of information, that is very well aware, and is not overwhelmed like if they're more of a type A personality. And they're very organized and they have things available, then I will say, "You know what? Why don't you go ahead and start sending me over the statements. Start sending me X and Y." And getting things prepared to then create the marital balance sheet and to look at the estate overall.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, you know what I love about you is, well first of all, I think you're just so articulate and really talented. And such a great match for so many people going through divorce. But, what I love about the combination of the two is that when we see the client come at that point where they're not sure, "Do I want to get a divorce or do I not? Or yeah, I think I'm organized." But then they end up not being so organized. It's really overwhelming when it's actually you, yourself, stepping into the shoes, going through the divorce process. No matter how together you feel you are or not.

Catherine Shanahan:

Your net value or your net worth of yourself is either really low because you never took hold of that information. Or, it's really too high. You think you know more than you actually know as it pertains to a divorce scenario. So, when they come through with us and we actually give them hands on with the documents and the information, I love to see the transfer over to you for their need and whether or not, you know what, you can settle this case probably. Or, you know what, your spouse is so non-inclusive of anything and there is no transparency, that this will be a litigated case.

Catherine Shanahan:

They go into you prepared because just, I don't know how you guys feel, but even though I have a police officer in my family, one would pull me over I get very nervous. I'm a pretty confident person, but it's just that uniform, it's just that stigma that they have, right?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

Walk into an attorney's office when you're going through a divorce is really scary. I mean, people have to bring a friend, or they bring Karen in our cases. Or, it's just even when I had to go myself. It's very intimidating. But to see them come in with that data, whether it's complete data or partial data, a work in progress, I feel like I see them so much more empowered. And then, I feel like you get to really do your job and to really set up their expectations with them because after all, that is really the part that could be the most misleading for someone when your expectations are not set out. It makes it for a much more difficult process.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, no and in addition to that, I mean, obviously if you don't know what assets and debts that you have, and what your financial future looks like, I mean that's a huge, huge stressor for them to then add on top of that unrealistic expectations of that they're going to be walking away with a million dollars when you don't even have a million dollars in your estate. You think you do, but you don't because you don't know. So, in line with what you're saying, I mean, the expectation aspect of the whole process is something that I go through with them, really during the initial call or meeting that I have. And saying, "Illinois is an equitable distribution state. I'm also licensed as an attorney in Florida and practice there. Florida is an equitable distribution state."

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, going through what that means, so it doesn't mean that it's 50/50 but it usually is. And just getting them to understand that things are going to be split. Giving them the knowledge that most attorneys don't give you. Usually you walk into an attorney's office and it's, "Hi, take a seat. Okay, all right." It's like a business transaction. There's no personalized-

Catherine Shanahan:

What do you want?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, what do you want?

Catherine Shanahan:

What do you want? What are you fighting [crosstalk 00:12:52]-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

You want the kids? You want the kids? Okay, how much of the time? I mean, it's just very sad.

Karen Chellew:

So true! It's so true.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, I know.

Karen Chellew:

In talking about, and giving clients expectations without knowing their information first, I sit there and I listen. And, "Oh, well I'm sure that I can get you X amount of month. And you'll get the house, and we'll take him to the cleaners." In the initial consult, and I'm thinking, well first of all, this is not what she wants and you're scaring her to death. And second of all, how's this going to effect the kids and the family unit post divorce? And then, as it's going along, no where near the number that the attorney said. On a lot of levels, I think it's just a sales tactic and they don't really care.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

It is [crosstalk 00:13:46]-

Karen Chellew:

It's very frustrating.

Catherine Shanahan:

And we've seen cases where, exactly what you said Tiffany, they, "Here, we'll get you a million dollars." And they don't even really have a million dollars, so how are you getting them a million dollars, right?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

But I'm sure you get a lot of cases where they've hired that attorney who's promised something above the expectations that are realistic. $10,000 later or more, that client realizes that they're being set up to settle, that they're not going to get any of that stuff, and they never expected that. So, now they move to a new attorney, which is why some attorneys get a bad rap. So, now you must get a lot of those cases where they come in and now, you're dealt with, okay, they were set up to think they're getting this. And now, I have to have the realistic talk with them.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

How do you do that shift from, "Okay, this is what you heard, this is where you were. I'm sorry you're that many thousand dollars into it, but here's what we have to do to settle this case because you do have your financial portrait." And hopefully they've come to us at some point and they get it finally. And now, we have to shift gears and shift mindset to a very emotional divorcing couple.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, well I mean, to be honest with you, I literally tell them, "I will never lie to you. You don't know me yet, but I'm somebody that you can trust and you can obviously talk to any one of my other clients that I've had over almost a decade. Unfortunately though, I'm not going to tell you things that will always make you happy. So, you need to understand that I'm going to be honest, and you may not like it, but it's the reality of what we're talking about. And I need you to understand what reality looks like versus what your expectations may or may not be and what the law is. So, I'm going to give you the knowledge and provide you an understanding of what the law is. And then, we can talk about how we can work on what settlement looks like for you. So, if you want the house, how do we enable you to keep the house? If you wanted X, how do we enable you to do that?"

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, my approach with them is very non-lawyer-like really other than-

Karen Chellew:

I can see that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah. It's very, it's more of a conversation and just trying to understand what's important to them, ultimately what their expectations are. And I'll be honest with you, I mean, I do not take every case and there's a lot of reasons why. But one of the biggest reasons is expectations. I know from the onset of that conversation that I cannot get them X because it's just not possible legally. And I know that if I were to take the case and not get them X, then they're not going to be happy. So, I have no interest in doing it when I know that legally it's not going to happen. And I'll tell them that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And if they're understanding and they really truly are being understanding about it, then I'll consider representing them. But if not, I'm not your girl, you know?

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

You're not the shark in Stilettos right?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Not in that case I won't be.

Catherine Shanahan:

I love that. Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

So, Tiffany, how do you balance and what can a client expect when working with their attorney when you're balancing preparing for trial, or that root of litigation because that is what an attorney does as you're also trying to settle? So, I think you have to take steps down the litigation path to keep the case moving, especially if you have a spouse who's just sitting there with their arms crossed. So, how do you help a client kind of balance that and navigate through those two different pathways?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, I mean, it's very challenging for clients. They don't understand the work that goes into a trial. They think that, "Well, I've already tendered you all the documents. And you already have a marital balance sheet now, that we're pretty much done." And it doesn't work that like. So, with settlement obs we have all of the documents, we have full financial disclosure. And then, we start to arrange what essential they want and how we can make it look appealing to the other spouse, right?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, when we're doing that we have, and I keep referencing the marital balance sheet because it's just easy. And again, a marital balance sheet essentially, for those who don't know, is just it's a spreadsheet that has nothing fancy like what you guys do. But, if I'm just putting something together, it has all of the assets and all of the debts. And you can literally move around, you want... If we're going to give her the house, then the house goes on her side of the balance sheet and then, we distribute the assets and the debts accordingly. So, that way if we're doing a 50/50 equitable distribution case we know that we have to have the same amount of 50/50 on both sides.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

There's a huge strategy in making settlement offers that are literally the same thing but look different to the other spouse. So, when we're setting up for settlement these are the things that I do. When we're setting up for trial, it's, "Okay, now let's look at what the law is. And let's see based upon the link of the marriage how much non-marital assets, factors that are considered for Illinois, under 503, the statute. How are we going to divide the property and what would that look like at a trial?"

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

There are certain things that a judge can't order at a trial, but that parties can agree to. So, you've got to keep in mind that it's not the same, and a lot of clients are like, "But he agreed to this. Or we could have the judge order that." And it's like, well if we go to trial that's off the table because now the judge doesn't have the discretion to do X. So, really explaining it in depth, again with being cautious of not overwhelming them at the same time, because they think trial and they think, "Oh my God, I'm going to spend $20, $40, $50,000 just immediately to get all of this going."

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, it's not easy to answer your question completely because it's-

Karen Chellew:

No, I think you did-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

But-

Karen Chellew:

It was very helpful [crosstalk 00:20:35]-

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah. I think so too, because I got to be honest with you, I never even understood that it was the attorney's job to explain the law to the judge.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, it is.

Catherine Shanahan:

And to fight for your client's rights there. I just thought the judge was the one who knew all the laws and was going to apply it himself. So, just your little explanation goes a little bit much further than what I'm saying. But I think that as a whole, the everyday person doesn't understand. Now, I'm just the financial person. Karen understands it because she worked with a firm for so long, so she gets it. But someone like me, and most of the people out there, didn't really understand that it was true. You know what I want, go in there and get it for me.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

They didn't look at it in that perspective, which is why, again, nobody wants to go to the courtroom. Nobody should want to go to a courtroom.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

No, and I think this is really helpful for everybody when they are framing settlement and getting set up for settling, is keep in mind when you're settling you have the control. You have the power. When you walk into the courtroom, you lose that power. When you have settlement, you can come up with creative solutions in order to resolve and to distribute the marital estate. You really have a lot of creative solutions for parenting time and for non-financial related matters like holidays, and decision making.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

When you go into a courtroom there is no creative solution. It's cookie cutter. It's, "Well, we're going to do this. We're going to alternate. We're going to do this." And everything is very, very cookie cutter. So, when you're looking at settling and you have the ability to be creative in doing it, it's something that really, honestly is the best. That's why I always start off with how can we frame this case for settlement? What do we need to do next?

Karen Chellew:

That best benefits your client. And so, I run against, well Catherine and I both do, we run up against a lot of people thinking what our portrait is, is what you call a marital balance sheet. Or, some people call it a net worth statement. So, that's great to have, but that doesn't help the client understand if I take the house, this is what it means to me financially. How much retirement would I be giving up and what does that mean to me? What do I need for cashflow from my budget? How are all these divisions going to affect me long term?

Karen Chellew:

And so, the delivery of what we call the MDS financial portrait allows you, as an attorney, to move that data around that sheet with the client knowing what all of those assets and liabilities being moved around means to them long term. So-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Oh yeah. Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

That's invaluable.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, and what it entails to move them because it's not as easy as just, "Okay, here's your marital settlement agreement. See you later. Go do it." It's a lot of effort to make some moves amongst those assets and debt.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah, especially for the higher net worth with the executive compensation being played in, and prior employers who had the deferred compensation. So, that can get lost in all of those moving arounds of the net worth statement if the client doesn't have the knowledge and the questions to ask to make sure that all of those factors remain front and center. And not just front and center, but what that means to them long term in different markets and this whole year of COVID really has just changed the landscape of a lot of couples divorcing modules. And, their division scenarios, so that's something that you point out that's very important, I think.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Well, and to add to that, I mean then you start looking at tax implications. Do you know how many attorneys don't even advise clients on tax implications?

Catherine Shanahan:

Yes, we do.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

I don't even know if they really even care. I mean, it just boggles my mind.

Karen Chellew:

Even have the knowledge. Yeah.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

No, they don't, and honestly I feel like you're really doing your client a disservice by not even acknowledging that, "Look, you're going to have this IRA. He's going to take the cash. What does that mean for you? And then, when you take it out at 65, or 62, or 59 and a half, or whatever it may be; that's income to you. Where he just took a nice lump sum cash buyout and you don't have any of that, which isn't an income to you." So, nobody explaining these things. Why don't you do a division of an IRA or something along those lines, and what I do is I subtract out, for my client.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Like, "Okay, well if you're going to take this on, then this IRA actually only equals X because once I do the net, take out all the taxes and get to that portion of it, this is really what you're left with. So, therefore if we're going to do a cash buyout and really make it equal, we have to consider these things." So, I mean, it's just unbelievable to me. Going through all of these things with clients is just so important, and unfortunately, a lot of attorneys, either they don't know or to be honest with you, they don't care.

Karen Chellew:

I agree.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

It's too much time. It's too much... It's an inconvenience. They probably are taking on every single case they can get, and really it's just how much money can I make from the client and get this over with? And they're not invested.

Catherine Shanahan:

Right. It's too much work for them, and at that point they've already earned their fees that they want to earn. But, you also have to consider the earnings on the tax deferred growth on that investment as well. I mean, that's what we do with all of these accounts because there really is a way that you have to true up the investments to both parties, and allow the considerations and recommendations. But, what I really want to shift back to, again, is that when you're getting ready to settle and one of the parties is just not... They're just going to push you to the end. A lot of people, I say they just run out of their patience. They get a divorce fatigue about them, and their patience are gone, and they're just saying, "Okay, I'm being forced to settle, basically."

Catherine Shanahan:

When do you decide, where do you play that card, "I'm going to hold out to the end. I'm going to hold them until he folds, basically" and going, "I can stay the course because that's my personality" but a lot of people can't. So, I think that what gets lost sometimes is when you don't have, and which is why we spend so much time on our portrait with our clients is, at the end there when your patience are running out and you have divorce fatigue and you're just done with this. If you don't have a document to go back to and say, "Okay, I'm willing to stick until this comes to fruition, or I'll let the judge decide. Or I'm willing to take scenario B or C, because I see it right here in front of me, so I'm making a decision on that." How do you work with the other side of being the stronger link there that you're willing to go to the end? What is-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

A lot of it, really to be honest, is based upon... and I'm going to assume that there was what we call a pre-trial conference, which is where we actually sit down with the judge and the judge gives us a recommendation as though if we were going to trial. I'm going to assume also that that judge would also be our trial judge because unfortunately, a lot of times we have judges giving us pre-trial recommendations but it doesn't matter. They're not our trial judge. So, that has no weight. It doesn't mean anything. They're not going to be the ones that is hearing the trial itself, then why does it matter? I don't care what you think. You're not doing the trial. Your recommendations won't mean anything to either counsel because if they know, they know that that judge will not be the trial judge.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, assuming we're before a trial judge, assuming there's a pre-trial recommendation, I know that the judge recommended X. And I know also what he would have the discretion to do at a trial. I can tell the client, "Look, if you take this, if you take what he offers you, you're going to get $500,000, right? Now, I can't guarantee you anything in what happens at a trial, but I can tell you that it's kind of like gambling, because it is. But, you're looking at upwards of over a million if we go to trail. So, do you want to take the risk? Let's do a cost benefit analysis. How much is it going to cost to get you to trial? Does it make sense for you to go to trial?"

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

If the offers are low, then we are forced to. I had this just happen to me a couple years ago. A client and I worked together for like three and a half years, and got great pre-trial recommendations. And, the husband wouldn't settle it. So, we did a five day, back to back, full trial in front of Judge Walker in Cook County, and she got three times the amount that I anticipated she was going to get.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, for her, it made sense, right? It was amazing.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And she actually just got remarried before COVID. I went to her wedding.

Catherine Shanahan:

Awe!

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And so, that was really great-

Karen Chellew:

So, was she scared and did she falter every now and then and say, "Oh, I'm not 100% sure." Did you have... Was it a challenge to keep her engaged because you were so confident that the offers were so low? Because I think sometimes we run into that where the other spouse just bullies, bullies, bullies to the point that they've lived their entire life listening to their spouse. And he was the authoritarian or she was the authoritarian for all that time. And now, they're having to make independent decisions and can they trust that decision when they're so new at it, with new advisors and so forth.

Karen Chellew:

So, do you find that, specifically even in that case, that she had a little bit of trouble hanging in to see it through?

Catherine Shanahan:

But before you answer that, on that same type of client, we have seen time and time again, and I can already tell by just the few times I've talked to you and your personality, and what I've read about you. We see the own client's attorney then bully them into settling, because either it's financially over their head and they don't want to do anymore work. They haven't followed along with it, and they don't want to catch up because it's too much work to show up. Trial is a lot of work for the attorney, and half the information, when I see it, it's never even used. So, they're just gathering this information.

Catherine Shanahan:

So, we've seen their own attorney say, "You should go settle this." So, it's like they're being bullied almost on both sides.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

That is absolutely the saddest situation.

Catherine Shanahan:

It is.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And I have seen it, and it's very, very, very upsetting. Literally, a lot of attorneys, because they hadn't done their jobs originally, discovery, so the tendering of all the documents, that's all closed. So, if you didn't tender it previously, you can't use it at trial. So, guess what? Their attorney thought, "Oh well, we're not going to go to trial, so I'm not going to worry about tendering the documents. And they have enough of the documents. We don't need this document or that document." Maybe they were lazy with it, never pushed the client to ask them for certain things.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

But when you go to trial, you have a non-marital house from prior to the marriage, well everything under the law is presumed marital, which means it's your burden to prove that that's a non-marital home. And if you didn't tender the documents regarding that home, how are you going to prove it's non-marital? So, they catch themselves, the attorneys that is, in a situation where they're advising their clients something that is not in their best interest because they didn't do their job initially.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And then you've got, just like you guys are saying, you've got situations where the other spouse was authoritative. He or she was very much in control of everything, and the other spouse does feel bullied. The client I was telling you about, the husband actually used the emancipated children, the children that are obviously over 18, he used them against her. He actually blamed her to the children for doing all of this and making litigation be so [crosstalk 00:34:19]-

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, and oh my gosh, it's just... So, her daughters still to this day do not talk to her.

Catherine Shanahan:

Which is sad.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

It's just so upsetting. But you know what? She stuck with me, and she knew that I would never take her down a road that I wouldn't personally go down myself. And that's what I do with my clients. I would never ever advise you something that is not in your best interest. And if I wouldn't do it personally, I would never tell you to do it.

Catherine Shanahan:

I love that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And so, she really, she stuck by me. She understood. I spent a lot of time with the education piece of it for to understand this asset, if we go to trial, this asset if we don't. Going line by line and her to see the potential numbers of what it would look like. And then, we had the unknown categories of specifically for her was the dissipation, where he was spending money on his girlfriend and the traveling. And Mexico and all these gifts, and all this stuff that he bought the girlfriend. And it all worked out.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Honestly, it is obviously a case by case basis, but doing the cost benefit analysis, giving them an idea of what they would get at trial really helps them. And then, just getting them focused on you know what, even if we settle right now, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be divorced tomorrow.

Catherine Shanahan:

Right.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

By the time we get a date for the divorce, the prove up date, by the time we get everything on file you're not going to be divorced tomorrow. So, okay, what? We've been in it for a year. What's two more months to get you what you really could potentially get? Versus you just settling now because you want out.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, what I love about that, and if your client listens to this, I want her to know that she should really be proud of herself because at the end of the day, you go home. We go home. We all go home. So, they're left... The judge goes home, and her ex moves on with his life very easily. So, she's stuck with what she felt in her gut was right. I mean, she had a good champion ahead of herself by having you to help her with that. But at the end of the day, her daughters are going to see this. Take it from me, take it from Karen, we've seen it. I've seen it personally. I've seen it through a lot of our clients. Those kids will come back around because the true colors always shine.

Catherine Shanahan:

So, that's really, I love to hear someone that is able to persevere. And believe me, we believe in settlement. We love mediation for the clients who are informed. They come through our process, we know they're informed. So, we want anyone to avoid court, but to have your attorney and have your spouse bully you to a decision is something that is so upsetting to us at our firm, and just anyone that we know. So, I love actually hearing this story to be honest with you.

Karen Chellew:

I wish we could replicate you a thousand times.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, seriously.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Me too. [crosstalk 00:37:28].

Karen Chellew:

Oh my goodness.

Catherine Shanahan:

We have a lot of great mediators that we know, but good litigators...

Karen Chellew:

Oh, it's so hard.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And that's another thing to mention, Karen what you were talking about in regards to attorneys pushing settlement. There are, I can tell you at least in the domestic relations division, which is the family and matrimonial law, that a lot of attorneys actually don't know how to do a trial. They don't know how to litigate. Actually like, not just go into court and go into a pre-trial in the back, and making arguments in chambers. I'm talking about opening statements, rules of evidence, moving in exhibits into evidence, testimony, cross examination, closing arguments. A lot of attorneys don't know how to do that.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And that's, sometimes to be honest with you, I have a good percentage of my clients right now that know how great of a trial attorney I am, that came to me just to do the trial. Saying, "My attorney can't even do it. I'm not happy with him anyway. I need somebody who knows trial work, and who is going to be a shark in Stilettos." And I am that girl at that time if I have to be. But it's amazing.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, a lot of attorneys will avoid trial because they don't know how to do it.

Karen Chellew:

[crosstalk 00:39:03] agree, and I just want to point out, a shark in Stilettos doesn't mean to someone else's detriment. It means standing in the gap for your client. That's powerful, and we just don't see that a lot. Thank you.

Catherine Shanahan:

I want to follow up on what you just said, because I think it's... Let me remember what you just said. I'm getting all excited about it, all these things I want to ask you a question.

Karen Chellew:

So am I.

Catherine Shanahan:

Not knowing how to go to trial. I mean, my own attorney didn't even go on record and ask for attorney fees. And what people don't understand is I, at one point during trial, was saying to my ex, I was talking directly to him because I knew the truth. I knew he knew the truth, so I'm trying to talk to him. And the judge kept saying, "You're not allowed to talk to him." You know? Or, I turned right to the judge, I'm a talker and I know finances. So, I turned to the judge to explain something. He's like, "You can't do that. It has to go through your attorney."

Catherine Shanahan:

I was like, to Karen later, "What did they mean I can't say it? I know this information, and I want to look him in the eyes." And they're like, "You're not allowed. That's not the process." So, I had a learning experience that you have to make sure your attorney is really going to say everything that you want them to say, or fight for you, because if it doesn't come out of your attorney's mouth, it's not going to happen. And I didn't realize that, so I do think it's so important you have an attorney if you're going that litigation route, or if it ends up having to go that route, that that attorney is like you. They're equipped and they know how to enter all the orders, and do all of those things that go on record, and everything else that goes over my head. Because again, I'm just a logical thinker. I'm not really a follow this process thinker.

Catherine Shanahan:

So, yeah, that is very important. It's so refreshing to hear you speak like this actually, because I really [inaudible 00:40:56] down and dirty. Like what do you guys say about each other at the end of the day when you walk out of that courtroom, because I know what we say about certain people. And it's terrible because we need you. It's a matter of getting the right fit.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, and the problem is, is that a lot of attorneys are not really, truly passionate about what they do. Right? So, for them, it's like, oh they work at a firm, they're a partner, they have to bill so many hours, they have to collect so much money, otherwise they're out of a job. But they don't love it. They're not truly, truly invested in it, because it's just a job. The difference is with me it's like the zealous representation they get is because I'm very passionate about what I do. I know that sounds silly but it isn't. It's hard to explain because a lot of attorneys, they don't have that fight in them anymore.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

It's kind of like, and it's sad to say it because I love animals and I love my dog. She's actually sitting over here. But, it's like an older dog, and they just kind of lay down and play dead because they're tired. And attorneys that aren't fully invested in their clients, that's what happens when they go to court for you. That's not good. They don't ask for things. They don't ask for attorney's fees. They don't zealously represent you because they're just tired. And they're not [crosstalk 00:42:21].

Catherine Shanahan:

It's okay. You're there.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Guys?

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

Yep.

Catherine Shanahan:

You're there.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Sorry, I lost you.

Catherine Shanahan:

That's okay. You're back.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Okay. Sorry about that. So, anyway, what I was saying is that's what happens when they go to court, right? They're not fighting for you. They're not zealously representing you, and that's why you have to be very careful on what lawyer you decide to have represented you because you don't know it from the beginning. And, unfortunately, little things that are so easy to ask for that are never done, it's just because they're not invested. They don't care.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

It's like it means nothing to them. They're not invested. They're not getting anything if you get $100,000. They don't get anything. It's illegal, right? Ethically, it's not allowed. So, they're just like, "Well, whatever."

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, yeah.

Karen Chellew:

I'm going to make an observation here because it's my experience that when I go to a consult with a client, an initial consult, I'm just going to leave it at that one, where the attorney's promising them everything. "I'm going to do this. I know that judge. I know him. I know her. I know the whole world, and the whole world essentially bows at my feet." [inaudible 00:43:46] you know? "I am it."

Karen Chellew:

Versus someone like you, who says, "You know what? I'm going to be straight up. We're going to start here, and then we're going to go here. And I'm never going to lie to you, but I'm always going to be there for you." So, while that may not... That's a bit of a different story in an initial consult, but I think as a client, you should be able to recognize the difference because that representation is going to play out because someone who talks that way in the beginning is not going to deliver at the end because it's all about their ego. And all about who loves them, and they just need this new client to love them, because they need a lot of money, billable hours, to your point, to keep their job. Or run their firm or whatever. And that's a very different message than what I hear you saying today.

Karen Chellew:

And if we could have more attorneys that would take that approach and just be real, because these are real people and real families. And it's not about taking somebody to the cleaners. It's not about that. It's about my fair share and will I be okay? And how do I set up my new life? It's really about that, and that's something we just don't see a lot of.

Catherine Shanahan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah. And what we were talking about previously is in regards to attorneys that specifically ruin settlement for the benefit of themselves or their firm. Specifically just eliminating any chance of settlement and moving a client towards a trial when they know that it's not in their best interest. I tell clients all the time, I say, "Look, I don't want you to pay a lot of money in attorney's fees. That's not at all what I'm looking for you to have to do. In fact, my goal is, is that you pay as least as possible and then, in turn, you tell your neighbor, your friend, your family, your boss, whoever. Hey, you know what, Tiffany and her team did such an amazing job." And that's how my business grows.

Catherine Shanahan:

Absolutely.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yeah, I don't churn, that's what they call it in my division. Churn a file. I don't do that, and it's not good. I mean, these attorneys that do that, I mean, these parties just spent their kids' college tuition over litigation for what? So, when you do that initial consult with that attorney who's like, "I know this guy, and I know this guy. I'm just the end all, be all." Think about what the real intentions are. And think about how that person's going to frame your settlement, and how they're actually put the work that they're going to put into your case, because they're not invested. And if they're not invested, they're not going to put the time in. It's going to be very cookie cutter. It's going to be very, very bare minimum work at a very, very high price.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, attorneys like myself, that are really invested in clients, we are so eager to get the best result. Whatever that means, like how ever long that takes. And if that means that you know what, maybe it took me an hour and a half, and maybe I went a little overboard, I'll no charge. I'll no charge some time for them. Although it's technically billable and the judge would grant me that time, I do it as a courtesy because I really go above and beyond in all of the work that I do. So, it really is sad, like I keep saying, about these other attorneys.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

But, with all of us working together, we make a difference.

Catherine Shanahan:

Oh my gosh, I'm so happy to hear that because I said to Karen, "If I hear one more attorney or judge even say that this is the process, and it's the process." And I keep saying, "Well, then change the process. Change your attitude, which will change the process." But they don't, and that's why when I say what's the down and dirty with the attorneys when they're off alone and they leave their clients there? Is it, "I'm going to get to you..." We've heard this before, "You have the weaker spouse, so you need to settle." Those kinds of things are really frustrating and even these trial attorneys sometimes when the trail comes, they're not the ones that show up. They send their associate.

Catherine Shanahan:

We've seen the, what is it called? [crosstalk 00:48:20] yeah, the associate. They send them for the case, or the conference officer, or for the trial case. And you're like, "What? Why is that person showing up? I've paid for the other one all this time."

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yep, exactly. Yeah, it's crazy [crosstalk 00:48:38]. And then, that's a problem that a lot of clients have too, it's like, "Okay, well I just spent all this time going through settlement with you, and we're trying to reach an agreement. And now, all of a sudden, you're not even working on my case anymore." So, they just get passed around to different people who then have to catch up on what the other attorney did to understand what recently happened with this. And the client's getting billed for it. And, all the while, nobody really knows what the hell's going on because there hasn't been one attorney on it long enough to really understand what the hell's going on.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

So, that's, again, why obviously having you guys is so, so crucial. Being able to put together the parts of the finances and the assets and the debts, and long term investment information. And then, letting me being able to do my job, where I can focus on that aspect and not have to do that. And not to mention, it saves the client a lot of money.

Karen Chellew:

Yes, and I love that you help your client understand they're not just taking your word for it. You're making sure they understand what's happening, what their decisions mean to them. That's incredible.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, which is why we want to align with you and mediators and the good attorneys that we come across, is because if we can all streamline this process, if you, the people, let us do your financials and let the attorneys do their job, let the mediator do their job. It's less stress, it's less time, it's less money. That's changing the system that I am passionate to change. Karen, I'm getting all heated because I'm thinking of all these cases. And I wish Tiffany would have been in on.

Karen Chellew:

I know.

Catherine Shanahan:

Clients have been on. Right? So, this has been great information. It really is. I hope if you're listening and you're in the gunk, or the middle of this, you realize that there are other options for you. And if you're looking just to hire an attorney that really it's an important conversation that it's every right that you have to have it.

Karen Chellew:

Absolutely.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Absolutely. Yeah. Knowledge is power.

Karen Chellew:

Absolutely.

Catherine Shanahan:

In divorce, knowledge is everything.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah. Tiffany, for those lucky people who are going through a difficult situation, who they have access to you, what counties in Florida and what counties in Illinois? Is it Illinois?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Illinois, yep.

Karen Chellew:

Are they able to access your help?

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Right now, with COVID and everything occurring via Zoom, I'm in all counties in Illinois and all counties in Florida. When things change, then I won't know yet as far as Florida exactly. Right now I'm in Hendry County, but the Palm Beach area, Fort Lauderdale, Miami. So, more of like the Southeast of Florida. All of those counties.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'll go work with you there. Karen can go to Illinois. I'm coming to Florida.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

I know, right?

Catherine Shanahan:

I know you'll need me there. You don't want to see me over Zoom.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

Yes. And then, in Illinois when Zoom it's... pre-COVID, McHenry County, Cook, Du Page, Will, Lake. I do some work in Grundy. Pretty much when it comes to any county, whether it's Illinois or Florida, I have clients that call me and say, "You know what? I don't mind to pay the reduced hourly for the drive time. I really don't mind, because I'd rather have you than have somebody else." And the people that are in those [crosstalk 00:52:34]... Yeah, the people that are in those counties, especially the smaller ones, everybody kind of works together. And the clients, rightfully so, feel like that opposing counsel is really on their side because they're friends with ex.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

And, unfortunately, a lot of times that's kind of true. I can't say that it's not. Not every time, but I understand the concern and they would rather have me from the city, downtown, working on... I work on high asset net worth cases, so they need somebody who has the knowledge. They need somebody that has the power, the ferociousness. So, here I am.

Catherine Shanahan:

Awesome.

Karen Chellew:

Thank you. Continue your great work. We'll continue our conversations I'm sure. And, this concludes our podcast, and we will see you on the next one.

Tiffany Hughes, Esq:

All right, thank you so much guys. It's been an absolute pleasure as always.

Catherine Shanahan:

Thank you.

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