The New York Times ran an article December 4 2010 titled “Taking Sides in a Divorce, Chasing Profit” . The piece details the emerging business of bankrolling litigation. In this case, Divorce litigation.
“With some in the financial world willing to bet on almost anything, it should be no surprise that a few would see the potential to profit from the often contentious and emotional process of ending a marriage.”
I am encouraged by the opportunity this creates. Here is how it works and why I see the idea as a welcome twist.
In California, family law attorneys are required to be paid up front in a retainer form rather than on a contingency basis common in other forms of litigation. When retainers run out they must be refreshed. As divorces drag on and fees mount, one spouse may find themselves with no cash to continue paying the attorney charged with protecting their legal rights. This leaves the party with control over the family assets in a position of power and may lead to the out spouse, the one without control, being pushed into a corner during settlement discussions. Faced with taking the deal offered by their soon to be ex or incurring additional legal fees they can not pay, the out spouse will often choose to take a deal that is less than equitable.
Divorce Bankrolling would loan the out spouse the additional funds necessary to prepare and sustain a case as long as necessary and help level the playing field during litigation. Of course it is not without costs. Clients end up paying back the loan along with a percentage of the “winnings”.
What remains unclear is what exactly does winnings mean. To make a truly fair exchange for value and compel me to recommend the service to clients I would need to know just how the lender will define “winnings”. It seems impossible to calculate two versions of the settlement, one before the loan and one with the loan, then calculate the difference and call it “winnings” but this seems to be the closest thing to a true contingency type arrangement. Divorcing clients are rarely faced with fighting for millions at the risk of getting zero as is done in the world of civil litigation. So how do we determine the true value of this service?
I will keep my ear out to see how the idea progresses. The New York Times reports the business is small but quickly gathering interest. Time will tell if it also gathers supporters and clients.