There are divorce lawyers and then there are divorce lawyers, the latter and emphasized of which hang out in super secret clubhouses, keep stashes of Sports Illustrated under the floorboards, and assure all clients that, just as soon as they learn the secret handshake, all the secrets of divorce court prejudices will be magically revealed to them. The burgeoning business of divorce lawyers targeting men who feel that the legal system is biased against them has built itself largely on the strength of its appeal to men not to be suckers for a raw divorce deal that leaves them penniless and childless. Divorcing dudes everywhere are starting to pay close attention to such messages.
In a legal market that seems overcrowded (to say the least), "divorce for men" firms have narrowed their focus to men who feel disenfranchised by the legal system. According to the Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Smith, divorce for men firms charge about the same as a family-law practice, but make a different pitch, one that has been gaining momentum since a petulant men's rights movement began to take shape in the 1970s and 80s as it coped with custody laws that seemingly favored women. Firms such as Cordell & Cordell have had a while to craft messages that resonate, such as, "We're going to help you keep the dollars you earned," or, according to one encouraged Texas client who related a marriage counselor's advice, "Make sure you get a good attorney because the system is prejudiced."
There's only so much, however, that these firms can promise clients within the bounds of state laws, which vary on divorce. Besides, writes Smith, divorce statutes "have shifted in recent decades," meaning that men are no longer ubiquitously regarded as the de facto breadwinners — women's incomes are, in some cases, outpacing men's incomes, which forces judges to order women to pay alimony. In light of these shifting economic realities, is the rallying cry for men to fight back against a supposedly rigged system beginning to ring a little hollow?
Not according to firms like Men's Family Law and Cordell & Cordell, which are enjoying a business boom as a result of building their websites back in the mid-90s. Capitalizing on social media has helped these firms spread their message (however anachronistic it's becoming in certain parts of the country) to all those disaffected men who feel like they're about to get short-changed in court. According to Men's Family Law founder David Pisarra, firms like his are "about empowering men, not bashing women."
In other words, divorce for men firms are about engendering in men a feeling that they're being treated unfairly by a prejudiced legal system, and then galvanizing them to actively fight for as much as they can hold onto. In some cases, that can be fairly characterized as "niche" legal work, but, in others, it might also be called exploitative, especially in states where divorce law is more or less immutable. Says Missouri family-practitioner Ann Bauer, double-taking on Cordell & Cordell's "keep the money" pitch, "Wait a minute-you can't change Missouri law. Pretty much we're going to divide the property down the middle."
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