6 Degrees of Divorce: Charlotte, Mexico, and Seinfeld

I can’t begin to describe how difficult going through divorce can be for some clients. I’ve practiced divorce law in many cities in North Carolina, and currently in Charlotte. There are emotional roller coasters, cycles of depression and elation, frustration at the other spouse, and fear about what the future holds for kids and finances. Clients have to deal with all those issues the best they can, but on some level, they have at least some degree of influence on the outcome. Clients can also choose how they cope with those issues, whether by (highly recommended) counseling, family support, or other means.

What happens regarding things outside the client’s control? I often talk to clients about these matters. For instance, I talk about how no attorney can predict with 100% certainty what a judge will do. I talk about a client’s inability to “fix” the other spouse’s behavior. I talk about how going to court will not result in “justice”, but simply a resolution. I talk about being unable to predict the value of assets or investments they decide to accept in lieu of other property. Let me give you a much less drastic example of how these things outside a client’s control can drive them (and me) crazy!

On occasion, I’ve had to “serve” a lawsuit on someone in a foreign country. For the most part, this has not been difficult. However, I had one experience with serving papers in Mexico that seemed like an unending battle. The client (“John”) married a woman (“Maria”) from Mexico. They lived in the U.S. for a few years, and then Maria was unable to maintain her status in the U.S. She also wanted to move back to Mexico, so she did. She moved back to her small town in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. The only physical numbered address was the cantina in the village. Even on Google Maps™, the town only appeared as a dirt road turnoff with no buildings.

Not a problem, yet. John obtained an address and I began serving the papers. Mexico has various requirements and does not permit service by normal mail or Fedex. You can only serve through the Central Authority. All the documents must be translated. Every time documents are sent to Mexico, the minimum response time (even by email) is 6-8 weeks. Correspondence with the Mexican authority was frustrating at best. Documents were sent back multiple times for errors such as:

– The signature on the U.S. document did not appear in Mexico to match the signature on the translated document;
– “We never received your paperwork” despite numerous calls and emails attempting to confirm;
– “That person doesn’t work here anymore”;
– “30 days” was unclear. Is it “treinta dias” or “treinta dias naturales”?
– And, so on.

Even more frustrating: We sent back corrected documents immediately. The “errors” noted above were newly discovered errors every time the documents were sent, instead of all the ‘errors’ being identified at once.

Still, that’s the nature of the law and correspondence with foreign countries. John was irritated and ticked off, but very patient. He had dealt with the Mexican Consulate before and was aware of how difficult it could be. We were now 6 months into attempting service.

Then came the most infuriating attempt at communication. We called Mexico for an update on the status. The other line said something like “no hablo Ingles. Uno momento, por favor”. The phone receiver was left off hook. For about 3 minutes, my office could hear the background noise. It was an episode of Seinfeld on T.V. and workers in Mexico clearly watching. After no response for quite some time, someone in Mexico picked up the receiver and promptly hung up.

Put yourself in John’s shoes. How would you feel? John has a right to be completely ticked off. He can stomp his feet and scream at the top of this lungs, but no one can make it better. All I can do as his attorney is assure him that we will keep annoying Mexico until they get it right. Even we only have a small degree of control over the outcome. I sometimes tell this story to other clients to demonstrate the impact of what things we can and cannot control, like the court system, the other spouse and uncertainty about the future.

Divorce is difficult enough on its own. It’s essential to help educate clients to prepare for things that can only be managed but are beyond our control. Contact me and tell me what experiences you’ve had that drove you crazy and how you dealt with them!