Dear Nick and Dear Nora:
Spike (aka Nora) thinks her case is over until she gets a very upsetting letter from her lawyer whereupon she calls her oldest friend, Bucky, and leaves a message suggesting that he and his kind (lawyers) are stupid or sadistic or avaricious — or all three.
She then reads the disturbing letter from her lawyer. Her lawyer is obviously trying to avoid much-needed psychotherapy by using her as a sounding board and then charging her for his time.
The problem is Judicial Council Form FL — 141 [approved for Mandatory Use on July 1, superseding the previous version].
The letter from Spike’s lawyer continues:
“Enclosed you will find a fresh copy of Judicial Council Form FL — 141 Approved for Mandatory Use on July 1, 2013."
Every Jan. 1 and July 1, the Judicial Council changes existing forms or adds new forms, and we have computer programs that provide a template for each form. Then, twice a year, the attorney service sends an email and link so that lawyers can update their entire set of forms to match the newest versions.
Let’s say you came to my office on May 25, and we needed to complete Form FL-141. I would call it up on my computer, fill in the blanks, and print out a final copy to be signed and dated by you and filed with the court. Assume it takes six weeks to gather the various exhibits to be attached to the Martial Settlement Agreement (MSA), for you and Nick to get signatures from your lawyers, and for you to get your own notarized signatures.
This is not an unusual amount of time. If you each have a different notary and different lawyers, that’s six signatures on exactly the same document — and no changes can be made unless initialed by the lawyers and their clients. In your case, it took some time to enlist the services of the lawyer who is going to handle the disposition of your sequin factory, so all the papers in the bundle are finally signed on July 15 — after they have been reviewed by you, by Nick, by your lawyers, by an associate attorney from each firm and by at least one legal assistant from each firm.
The court bundle is then organized in a $37 Leitz 5700 Signature Book (catalog description: “Store and protect items awaiting signature within this sturdy signature book. The well constructed organizer features twenty thick blotting pages with reinforced tabs and sight holes for quick retrieval.”).
Typically, we send a legal assistant to court to deliver and submit the bundle. This time, however, we sent a lawyer and a legal assistant. The bundle was a nonstarter, and the deputy clerk reviewing it sent the bundle, the assistant and the young lawyer flying to the County Bowl. I feel like firing both of them, but they are not at fault and it took some courage to knock on my door to tell me that the settlement had been rejected by a 22-year-old clerk.
Why? Well, Form FL-141 changed on July 1, and we were attempting to file a pre-July Form-141; “they” can’t let that happen.
You might ask, “What’s the difference between the old and new Form FL-141?” This has always been a confusing form. Aesthetically, the title itself is confusing: Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration. To be in the same room with such a thing is to be soiled by it.
Oh yes, the change. In the former document the person signing it says he gave his spouse the previous year’s tax return. It is now two years of tax returns.
I know you will say that when you signed the old Form FL-141 it was correct, current and the only form available; there was no way you could have signed the new form because it literally didn’t exist. Nice try; that won’t work. Then you’ll say, “Two years of tax returns! Pinky and I exchanged more than 30 years of personal, corporate and gift returns.” You know it’s true; your lawyers know it’s true; some legal assistants know it’s true; and a lot of people at FedEx Office know it’s true. It so happens that there is actually a statement in your MSA about both parties having access to every tax return prepared during the marriage. But it doesn’t say so on Judicial Council Form FL-141 Adopted for Mandatory Use (Rev. July 1, 2013).
The current form has been completed on your behalf. It requests two tax returns, not one. That is the only change. Please sign and date as indicated then mail the enclosed SASE. A new statement for our services in this matter will be sent under separate cover. Your prompt payment is always appreciated.
• • •
So, Bucky, tell me this isn’t true and that it’s some sort of a sick lawyer’s joke. Hell, tell me that it’s a joke from Pinky. Just please tell me it is not true, because if you don’t I will feel that my ability to sense and understand a reality that’s good enough to get me through is going to start going down the drain. This is killing me, Buck. Help me …
• • •
My voicemail to Spike in response:
I can’t help you. The same thing has happened to me. OK, not to me, but it did happen to clients of mine. The only thing for you to do, Spike, is to Take It Like a Man.
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.