“Good morning, Mrs. Slabost. How are you?”, I greeted her as my secretary showed her into my office.
“Oh, fine,” she said weakly and then quickly following up with, “No, that’s not true. I’m not fine at all.”
She was 50ish, not very tall, rather frail in appearance and a little stooped. Her step was tentative and her movement rather slow. She projected anything but strength. Clearly, this was a troubled woman.
“Well, a lot of my clients come in the first time feeling not so good, but almost all of them leave after an hour or so telling me that they feel a lot better. So, how would you like to proceed? When you made this appointment you told my secretary you wanted a divorce, but that’s about all I know. We can either start by you telling me some about you and your family life or begin with me telling you about divorce law in California.
“Which is better?” she asked, seemingly already confused.
I tried to put her more at ease and comfort her a little by saying, “Well, there’s no better or best way. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. We can do it however you would like.”
She stared at her lap and finally after a short pause, said quietly, “Ok, tell me about the law”.
I wanted to put some enthusiasm into my explanation of how divorce law works in California, but having done it, seemingly, 10,000 times, it was difficult. I launched into my standard “new client” speech and started to tell her about the law concerning community property, separate property, support and the rest of the major issues confronting clients facing divorce.
As every experienced family law lawyer knows, there are not different issues and problems, just different clients. In my more than 20 years of family law practice at that time, I had seen them all, I thought – all the issues and all the problems. Without consciously thinking it, I believed that Mrs. Slabost’s case would present some variation on the usual issues.
She seemed to listen attentively, but then suddenly said, “I really don’t want a divorce.”
I naturally assumed that if she didn’t want a divorce then it must be her husband who did. Thus, I began, “California is a no-fault divorce state and if he wants one, then there will be one, even if you don’t. The process is . . .”
But she cut me off. “No, he doesn’t want one either. I have to get one.”
I waited for her to continue, but neither of us spoke until finally I broke the heavy silence by asking, “So, what seems to be the problem?”
At last, after another long silence, she blurted out, “The threesomes”.
“The three of us in bed.” She continued to look down and started to cry. As I handed her the divorce lawyers ever at the ready box of tissues, I was thinking, “Boy, this is a new one. I thought I had heard most everything.” I had no idea.
When her sobs had subsided somewhat, I asked, “Who is ‘the three of us?’”
“Me, my husband and Rebecca.”
Often a lawyer has to dig a little to get the relevant information that can seem so obvious to the client and so I did, “Who is Rebecca?”
She looked up and stared at me incredulously, as if I didn’t understand anything. The sobs returned and she could barely be heard above them saying, “Our daughter.”
Now, it was my turn to be incredulous. Had I understood her correctly? Did she have the same definition of a “threesome” as I? What on earth was going on here?
Hoping against hope that she would not give the answer that would turn this from a simple divorce case into both a divorce case and a criminal case, I followed up, “And, how old is your daughter?”
She probably noticed my emphatic sigh of relief but didn’t say anything.
Feeling that a little break would benefit both Mrs. Slabost and me, I buzzed my secretary and asked her to bring in a couple glasses of water. While we waited and while the secretary was in the room, no words were spoken.
Surprisingly, as the secretary closed the door behind her, my client started right in, “I don’t want a divorce”.
“I know, you said that.”
“I just don’t want the threesomes to continue,” she said with a little more strength than before.
My next question seemed quite obvious to me, but she seemed a little taken by it. “Well, then why do you do it?”
Another long pause. “I don’t know. Because they like it, I guess.”
Looking at this quiet, even mousy, middle aged woman in such distress, I thought I knew the answer to my next question even before I asked it. “Have you told your husband you don’t want to continue the threesomes?”
“No,” was the shy, almost inaudible reply which I had expected.
“Have you told your daughter?”
She shook her head and the sobs renewed themselves.
Well, they sure hadn’t taught us this in law school.
My next question sprang fully formed and spontaneously from my mouth — a true blurt. “Do you want me to call your husband?”
She looked as if she had been shot. The crying abruptly stopped, her head snapped up and her eyes riveted my own. “Would you? Oh, would you, please?”
Not all sure that this was a call I really wanted to make and absolutely certain that I had never made one like it before, I dialed the number she gave me. As the phone rang, thoughts of how Mr. Slabost was going to react discomfited me. Anger? — most likely. Denial? — Absolutely. Accusations against his wife? — Possibly.
To my partial relief, the man’s voice answering the phone came on quite pleasantly. I explained to him who I was and said that his wife was sitting in my office, having come to me for a divorce. I believed that I felt his shock, even over the phone. However, he said nothing and I related to him what his wife had said about not wanting to continue the threesomes and feeling that because of them she had to get a divorce.
Finally, in a voice shaking with emotion, he said, “I thought they wanted the threesomes. We don’t have to do that. I love my wife. I don’t want a divorce.”
I assured him that if the threesomes stopped then there would be no further talk of divorce from his wife. He gave me that assurance and she left the office, her head held a little higher than when she first came in. I never heard from her again.