FULL TRANSCRIPT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 27
INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS VETRANO JR.
Jessica: Do you know just where to start if you’re thinking about or have decided to get divorced? Are you aware of the do’s and don’ts for the process? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. I’m Jessica from the exEXPERTS. T.H. is not with us today. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS. Check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce-related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest. Dennis Vetrano Jr. is a divorce lawyer, litigator, mediator, and collaborative divorce lawyer based in Hudson Valley, New York. He’s direct, straight to the point, and a no BS kind of guy, which we love. He also happens to have an amazing TikTok account. If you haven’t been following him, you need to start now. Welcome to the show, Dennis.
Dennis: Oh, it’s so great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jessica: It’s great to see you again. We’re just going to dive right in. Because you and I were talking, before I started recording, about how—I want to say “back in the day” type of a thing—the way people initially thought about approaching the divorce process, it was like The War of the Roses and Kramer vs. Kramer. Your knee-jerk instinct is got to find a lawyer right now, got to figure out a way to take my ex for everything they’re worth. So my first question to you is, when do you think someone thinking about divorce should meet with an attorney?
Dennis: Yeah, I mean, I may differ from a lot of other professionals out there in that I would say meet with your lawyer as soon as possible. When I talk to clients, I say, “Look, your health, your safety, your physical, mental, emotional well-being is always first.” Because you can’t fix those things once they’re done, right?
Dennis: But a very close second should be the lawyer so that you know the parameters, you know the playing field. Nine times out of ten, even in those cases, they say, “Well, I think it’s going to be amicable, and I don’t think my spouse has spoken with a lawyer,” nine times out of ten, they have, and it was six months ago, and you have no idea, and they’ve been posturing from the start. That tends to be very cost-effective for people. If you just consult with a lawyer early on, make sure you consult with somebody who really knows what they’re talking about, who’s a good lawyer, a good reputation, read the reviews, look at the website, look at their background, read their bio, talk to some people. Then whether it’s free or even if you have to pay for an hour or two hours, it will be very valuable information. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re locked into hiring them right away to pursue a divorce. It just means you’re getting the lay of the land as early as possible.
Jessica: If someone is even just thinking about getting divorced and they haven’t really maybe even spoken to their spouse about it, they haven’t made an actual decision, do you feel while you’re in that exploratory phase of thinking about it, it’s worth it to start meeting with lawyers?
Dennis: Yeah. Even when I have a consultation, what I’ll say to clients is I’ll say, “Look, okay, you’ve paid me for the hour,”—our rates are pretty good for the first hour for doing the consultation, but then I say, “Look at all of the other resources that are out there. There are things like my TikTok page, there are things like even you can print out a parenting plan, like a draft parenting plan online. You can take a look at something like that.” So do the consult with the lawyer first, take advantage of all the resources that are out there. Part of the reason why you do that is because knowledge is power, right? I think even for people, this is a stressful process for people. A lot of people who are anti-divorce will say, “Well, you just decided you just wanted to break up your family.” No, most of the time, people who are contemplating divorce, who ultimately pull the trigger, have been contemplating the divorce and have known that direction they’re going in for, most times, years. It takes them a long time to get through it. But as you’re wrangling with it mentally and emotionally, I think the calm is brought by the information. Gather as much information as early on as you can.
Jessica: I mean, we couldn’t agree more. That’s literally the whole mission behind what we’re doing at exEXPERTS. We feel the more educated you are, the more information you have, the better prepared you’re going to be. It also goes directly to the point of if you don’t know anything about divorce, then you don’t really know what the different options you have are. That’s why people may not know what collaborative divorce is, or what the difference is between collaborative divorce, or litigation, or whatever, all of those different things. It used to be you’re getting divorced or you’re not getting divorced. Now, it’s like you’re getting divorced and you can choose from any of these five different options in order to go through with your divorce. When you’re talking to your clients, what do you feel you’re hearing most in terms of how someone knows that it’s time to get divorce? What’s the final straw that you’re seeing?
Dennis: My experience is the final straw is relatively innocuous. It’s just one thing that somebody says or does that just it’s a light bulb. Because nine times out of 10, with these divorces, like I said, there’s so many things that people have been contemplating for so long. It’s not one major factor and then that’s it. Even when there’s a cheating spouse, even when the relationship is dead, even when there are significant issues of substance abuse or domestic violence or mental health issues, still people wrangle with the issue for so long, that it’s just for them, I think many times in my experience, it’s just one little light bulb thing that it’s like, hey, you’re turning 51 tomorrow, or you’re turning 50, or your sister, your daughter, or your friend says something to you that’s like—
Jessica: Right, this is my life.
Jessica: I feel the last time we spoke we talked a little bit about the stigma around divorce. It’s making me think about that now, the way that we’re talking, because I think there are so many people out there who make such a rash judgment about people who are getting divorced. We have so many haters on our Instagram comments and in our TikTok comments about how divorce is a sin and how we’re such awful people because we are talking publicly and openly about the fact that we’re divorced and happy on the other side, and how there is opportunity that you can have a better life. People are very offended by that. As a divorce lawyer, I know there was always the joke of the stigma about divorce lawyers, and the same thing with real estate agents, all of that. But I mean, is that a big part of something that you feel you’re dealing with on a regular basis?
Dennis: Oh, I was dealing with it actually just I think it was this morning, as I was getting ready for work. I’m scrolling through the comments of one of my most recent posts, and the word “bottom feeder” kept getting used to describe my advice and the things that I have to say. But I’m here to tell you that your divorce is not an end. It’s a beginning. There is life, there is love, there is career, there is money, there are hopes, and there are dreams. Everything you want to accomplish is on the other side of it. Am I anti-marriage? Absolutely not. I come from two parents who have been married now 50 years. I’ve been married to my wife for 16 years going on, very happily married. All I’m saying is, and I’m always big on this, move your life forward. Maybe it’s not divorce, maybe it’s a marriage counselor? Maybe it’s working on you, and working on the two of you to fix whatever the problems are. But if you know they’re not fixable, don’t stay in something that’s unhappy. Don’t think that I’ll never find love again, or I’ll never be able to start a career at 50 years old, or I’ll never be able to buy another house. I don’t believe in using the word “never”.
Jessica: Yeah, well, and neither do we. So I appreciate that. One of the things that T.H. and I have talked about also in the past was the concept of gray divorce, which we’ve been seeing more of in the last few years. I mean, divorce rates certainly went up for a while during COVID. I think all of a sudden people having to be stuck together all the time made them realize like, “Oh, my god. Is this really what I want for the rest of my life?” But what divorce trends are you seeing right now?
Dennis: I’m seeing with the gray divorce, I’m seeing that, well, the divorce rates in my experience is much higher with the gray divorce. So you’re seeing baby boomers, that generation, you’re seeing very high rates there. I think in large part because they’re starting to discover that they don’t need or want to be unhappy. They’re tired of just sticking it out, right? For many, this is a new phenomenon because it’s always had that stigma. There are religious, social stigmas, and even familial—“You shouldn’t do that. Nobody in our family gets divorced.” That sort of thing.
Jessica: I feel that’s the generation that really grew up with parents who stuck it out no matter what and—
Dennis: That’s right.
Jessica: —it was so looked down and frowned upon to divorce. Then the generation just past the baby boomers, which is us, is really like, “We’re allowed to take control of our own lives.” But they’re in that iffy period.
Dennis: Yeah, well, that’s true. I mean, again, I think they’re just discovering that. They’re just discovering that they can have that happiness, that their whole life they’ve been told that, “Well, you just stick it out. You don’t divorce. Nobody divorces. Why would you want to do that?” I’m finding with the younger generations, it’s just an interesting dynamic with the younger generations because they’re getting married much less frequently. That’s one of the dynamics.
Jessica: Yeah, and later also.
Dennis: And later, and later. But I think there’s also a lot of interesting dynamics developing there. Because the ladies in those relationships tend to be a much higher percentage than they used to be, like leaders of business, CEOs, killing it, making their own money, buying their own houses, having their own things—
Jessica: They’re ballers.
Dennis: Right, right, right, what’s like badass bitch, is that the—
Jessica: Right, exactly.
Dennis: Yeah. Yeah, my wife’s one of those badass bitches. It’s tough to keep up with her. But yeah, and they’re seeing like, hey, now you have the situation where these ladies are paying all the bills, and they’re working the jobs, and they’re working the overtime, and they’re killing it. But for social or whatever other reasons, I’m finding they’re still taking care of the kids, they’re still making the meals, they’re still doing the laundry, they’re still doing the school meetings, and they’re still doing the doctor’s appointments. I’m like they’re at the point where this can’t work. This can’t work where I’m doing it all. You want to do it, and I think in that sort of circumstance, this supermom thing it’s there. It’s like a thing. They’re like, “I can be supermom.” But then they get to a point where like, “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t be everything to everyone all the time. I can’t.”
Jessica: Have you heard of the book and the accompanying card game Fair Play?
Dennis: Oh, that sounds familiar. But I can’t.
Jessica: I’m blanking on the author/creator of it, but it really is—it’s a woman who’s a little younger than us, and who has created this concept. The book is great; the card game is great. It’s literally fair play. So it gives people the opportunity rather than bitching and moaning at your spouse, like, “I’m doing all of this, and you’re only doing this,” she gives you the opportunity to approach conversations, but in ways that are more interactive. It’s like each person you could say, “Let’s each make a list of all of the tasks and chores that have to be done each day for us and for the kids.” Then it’s like the mom makes a list, and the dad makes a list. Then they compare lists. They don’t usually match. There’s usually a discrepancy between all of the things that the mom is doing versus the dad. I hate to stereotype, but that’s just the analogy I’m going to use right now. And so instead of the mom having to say, “I’m constantly doing all of these behind the scenes things that you’re not even aware of,” now he sees it all written out. And it makes someone more inclined to say, “Oh, okay, I didn’t even know that these 12 things needed to get done every day. And so yes, I’ll take on some of that responsibility.” Anyway, it’s a great thing for people who are struggling in marriages and or want to get remarried and feel like there needs to be an equal distribution of the household duties and everything that goes into raising a family. It’s excellent. You should look into it because I feel it might it useful for some of your clients.
Dennis: Yeah, it sounds awesome. It sounds awesome.
Jessica: I’m just going to pause for a quick moment here. Because we know that it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about divorce, so we’ve done the work for you. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get exEXPERTS in your inbox. Join our virtual open house events where you can ask questions to top experts live, and you can sign up for private sessions with us so you can move forward and thrive. You can get all of this information at www.exexperts.com. We’ve lived it, so we get it. Okay, now I want to talk to you a little bit about the hard and fast do’s and don’ts that people may not know about or think about when they are getting into the divorce process, or even if they’re in the process and happen to be litigating and are going to have to be making court appearances, where there really are unspoken rules about things that you can or shouldn’t do. Before we get into the court part, just someone who’s thinking about divorce and starting the process, what would you say are the three things you really have to know that you must do in order to prepare yourself appropriately?
Dennis: Well, there’s nuts and bolts sort of things. I mean, I think I would approach this in two different ways. I’d say the nuts and bolts sort of things that many people overlook but we should know what to do, and then we’ll talk about the specific things as a lawyer – what do I need from you. I think the nut and bolts things, I think make a to-do list. That’s one of the most important things you could do, make a to-do list.
Jessica: What’s on it?
Dennis: That’s a good question. Gather information, documents. Think about which friends and family, if you had an emergency or you were in a pinch, you could call and could help you no matter what. What if you got kicked out of your house tomorrow? What if you had to go somewhere with your kids right away? Where would you go? Who could you stay with? Who could you call for a favor, right?
Dennis: I think the other piece is to talk to a lawyer. Research a lawyer, somebody you can talk to, to get advice from.
Jessica: How many consults or lawyers do you recommend that someone speak to, to make sure that they’re feeling like they know who they should go with?
Dennis: I don’t think there’s any magic number. I think you might hit the hit the mark right out of the gate, but I think you need to do the research, like I was alluding to earlier. I think the first thing I would suggest is go to the website, read the bio. Look at the website, okay? If there’s a well put together website that’s comprehensive, and that gives you some information about the firm and gives you a feel for it, right? Read the bio; read reviews. Then I would definitely go to the office and talk to the person. Keep in mind the office is a representation of them. So if you walk into the office and there are boxes everywhere and papers all over the place, it’s like, I mean, honestly, honestly.
Jessica: Yeah, no, you’re right.
Dennis: So I think that is a representation, a reflection of the office. For example, when you come into our office, it’s pretty organized. The operation is pretty organized. I think that needs to be a part of it. And then the last piece is, listen, there’s no magical answer as to which lawyer is going to be the best fit for you. It’s all about feel. And I tell clients that. I say, “Look, I might not be your cup of tea. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad lawyer. It doesn’t mean somebody else is better or worse than I am. All it means is that I’m not the right fit for you.” Clients, you’d be surprised, meet with that person and take some time with them, and you would be surprised how quickly and easily you will feel it. You will know this is the person I need to be with.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, if you’re not vibing with someone—
Jessica: —like, if your gut is like, “We’re not jiving,” that’s telling you something.
Dennis: Right, right, absolutely, absolutely. Like I said, it is about feel. So I think those are the important things. So back to the list, I mean, look, you find people you can go to in a pinch, things you’re going to need for your lawyer – documents etc., a lawyer, a counselor, possibly a divorce coach, and really just start envisioning. I think part of the process is envisioning what your life is going to look like on the other side. That may mean starting to think about, hey, right now we’re living together. The kids go to baseball camp. My daughter goes to tennis camp. Then like the pickup and the drop off, start just the wheels turning for that, right? Now insofar as what the lawyer needs, we usually need lawyer stuff. We’re going to need pay stubs, we’re going to need tax returns, and we’re going to need copies of title documents. So if you own a boat, where’s the title? You own a house? Deed, copies of mortgage statements. Again, tax returns, pay stubs. If there are stocks, a lot of times what I’ll suggest for people, the first thing we ask you to do when we’re hired is do a net worth statement. You can find those online. It’s so funny because I suggest even people that are in a happy marriage periodically complete a net worth statement. Why do I want you to do that? Because I want you to see on 14, 15, 18 sheets of paper your entire financial life, right? Take the time to do it accurately, pull the bills out and write out the exact numbers: how much you make, and what you have at the end of the day, and how much you’re spending each month, what are your assets, and what are your liabilities, just for your financial health moving forward. It’s such a useful tool, and we don’t use it enough generally.
Jessica: We hear a lot of stories, as I’m sure you do as well, where the lower wage earner, or if a parent stays at home, they don’t often even know anything really about their finances, and it’s scary.
Jessica: And so we are huge advocates of financial literacy. You need to know what you have so that you are not in such a fearful situation when you are going through divorce. I mean, look, your situation may not be great anyway, but at least having an idea of what you have and where it is—and so we have all of these people who reach out to us and they’re like, “Well, I don’t have any of the passwords. I don’t have access to anything.” Yeah, I mean, it really is an issue for sure for a lot of people. So I second all of that. Getting all of your financial documents and having them over time, and keeping them in an accessible place for you, and knowing all of the passwords, it’s crucial.
Dennis: Yeah. I will tell you this, to share a little bit of my history, when I applied for my first mortgage, I had to fill out a net worth statement for the bank. I felt like an absolute piece of shit after I did that, excuse my French. Because when I looked at it, I said, “I don’t make enough money, I have too many expenses, I have too much debt, and I don’t have enough money in the bank.” So be prepared, you may look at your net worth statement and say, “Oh, my god, my financial circumstance is dire.” But as we’ve said before, first you get the information and know what you’re looking at, and then from that point forward, I knew what I needed to do, and I moved forward. And you can always change your circumstance if you want to.
Jessica: Right, of course, of course. So what are some of the don’ts for people to be aware of and careful of not doing, if they are thinking about or starting the divorce process?
Dennis: I think the biggest thing for me that can hamstring a case is the emotions. I think that’s what makes this area of law so challenging. It’s not just law and facts; it’s law and facts and really high emotions. I think I’ll say the don’t with a do attached to it. I will say don’t go into the divorce thinking you want to try to get back at the other side or have some level of proverbial axe to grind. Because I will tell you that won’t get you what you think you’re going to get out of it. Number one, you’ll never get that from the other person. Not to mention, you’re putting them in control of your situation when you do that.
Jessica: Right, mentally, right.
Dennis: Right. You’re never going to get that, and it’s going to cause your case to be expensive and contentious and drawn out. Even if the other side really doesn’t necessarily want to play proverbial ball with that throughout the process, you’re still going to end up with a situation where you’ve got all now all of this battle, all of this emotional baggage at the end of the case that you may, in most cases, have kids with that person and be trying to work with them in the future.
Jessica: Right. And it just makes everything so messy.
Dennis: It does. It does. So the do is, get a professional to work with the emotions on the process. If you feel downright pissed off and you were cheated on or whatever, or you were taken advantage of during the marriage and you need to get back at that person, you vent that with your counselor. You don’t give that to me or give that to the judge at the courthouse. Because I will tell you, it’s not going to get you where you want to get to. It’s going to make your case much more complex and expensive.
Jessica: What are some other things that people really need to avoid doing when they are in the courthouse, in order to not put themselves in an inadvertent position where they’re being ruled against from the judge, based on things that they didn’t know that they had to avoid doing?
Dennis: Well, I think probably the most basic thing is, remember that every time you’re in court, you’re on stage. I mean one of the best things your lawyer can offer for you, if they’re a good one, is they can judge people. They can listen to the words that you speak, they can look at your body language, and they can see the way you’re acting, see the way you’re conducting yourself, and make judgments based on that. The court will make determinations based on the things that they see when you go to court. Just make sure to dress professionally, work with your lawyer about what to say and what not to say. Because again, a lot of times there’s information I don’t want you to divulge to the other side, even if it’s not in front of the judge. But I think the better lawyers are knowledgeable and experienced enough to know how to guide you through that process. Like I said, the other piece, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s the emotions. Try to keep the emotions out of it, because if I’m working with the law and the facts, I’m much happier than just trying to manage emotions. That’s kind of above my paygrade.
Jessica: Yeah. No, and we actually have done episodes about your lawyer is not your therapist. You’re going to go in there and you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars an hour venting to your lawyer. It’s literally going to go nowhere, because they’re going to say, “You know what? It’s a no fault state,” or something where it’s like, none of that shit even matters. We are huge proponents of therapy and that sort of thing. I’m curious, from a lawyer’s perspective, because you’d mentioned much earlier the divorce coach thing, and T.H. and I always talk about the fact that even though now we know that divorce coaches did actually exist 15 years ago, it really wasn’t a thing. We had never heard of anything like that. Neither of us had divorce coaches. As a lawyer, do you feel like that helps you? Or is it more of an annoyance sometimes if there’s another person in there chirping in someone’s ear?
Dennis: Well, let’s put it this way, let me give you a couple of statistics. We offer collaborative divorce and we offer divorce mediation. We have for quite some time, certified divorce mediators, certified collaborative lawyers. Out of all the cases we get, 99% are litigation cases.
Jessica: Okay. Okay.
Dennis: People come to you with a mindset of what they think things are supposed to be, and things people have told them outside the office that they need to do, and they want to drive in that direction.
Jessica: They have to fight for it, they feel like.
Dennis: Right, right.
Jessica: So it sounds like you probably don’t work a lot with divorce coaches?
Dennis: Right, to your point, I’ve never worked with a divorce coach. Not once ever.
Jessica: That’s interesting.
Dennis: Do I have a problem with that? Absolutely not, I really wish I had. Because again, I have a handful of cases I’m handling right now where I try to politely say, “Okay, I want to answer your questions. Really I do. But you asked this question after court the other day, and then you asked it a second time. Now you’re asking the same question a third time.” And I say, “I understand I am giving you seven years of school and 23 years of practice in a 20 minute conversation, and you’re going to ask the same questions over and over again. I get it.” But when it’s things that I don’t want to charge you for, I say, “Look, as long as I’m working on your case, I’m not working on another case. So necessarily, I’m charging you. But I don’t want to.”
Jessica: Maybe in some cases, a divorce coach would be helpful because they would have another resource to go to?
Dennis: I think every litigation case should have a divorce coach. I think it would help it by—I can’t even quantify how helpful it would be. You got to remember too there’s such a unique level of experience and expertise that a divorce coach has if they’ve been through the process themselves. I could never put myself in your shoes if you’ve been through it. There would be no way for me to see it through that lens. I see it as the lawyer, and I can’t really see it another way. But I think when a divorce coach has been through it, they can see it through the other lens. I think that’s a really valuable level of experience and expertise that people can take advantage of. Plus, it’s not $495 an hour or $595 an hour. I mean, it’s much more cost effective because so many clients call and they want to vent. They want to say, “Hey, I’m so upset. I was so pissed off,” and they’re going to talk to my paralegal for an hour and a half venting. It’s like I don’t mind that you want to do that, but I don’t want to charge you for that. That’s so much better—
Jessica: You need to find another outlet for sure.
Dennis: Right, right, and preferably somebody who’s been through the process.
Jessica: Yeah, no 100%. T.H. and I also talk about that a lot. We feel a huge part of the feedback that we get from the community, the exEXPERTS and the Divorce etc… community, is that a) obviously we’ve both been through it, but we went through it in such different ways. I had two very amicable divorces. I am very close with both of my exes. In fact, I’m currently dog sitting ex number 2’s dog. On Monday, I’m using ex number 1’s car to go see my current boyfriend. It’s the modern family. You can’t make this shit up.
Dennis: That’s a story in and of itself. I like that.
Jessica: I got stories upon stories.
Jessica: T.H. had a very acrimonious and vindictive divorce. It went four years to prepare for litigation. They settled the day it was supposed to start. And so when we are talking to people, we have different perspectives. And so I 100% agree with you that being able to talk to people that are coming from different places and can offer different perspectives is so important. We’re running out of time. But before I let you go, I want to know is there one thing about divorce that you want people to know?
Dennis: I mean, I think I’ve said a lot about it being a start and a future, but let me talk on another issue. I think we need to change the way divorce cases are handled these days. Because I will tell you, every client you get is convinced of their case, right? I have one another one right now. I have to talk with the client in a couple of days. “My case is 100%. Dennis, as soon as the judge hears my position, they’re going to rule in my favor. Everything will go my way. It’ll be sole custody. It’ll be divorce to me. I’ll get 75% of the assets. Don’t you worry, I’ve got it.” I want you to know there’s uncertainty associated with litigation. You don’t know how the judge will come down on an issue of credibility. Many of these issues come down to he said, she said. You don’t know what the judge is going to decide. Sometimes you have judges that walk into the courthouse, and they bring all of their prejudices, all of their preconceived notions, all of their ideas about family and relationship and divorce into the courthouse with them, and they use that to make decisions on your case. That is not necessarily fair, but it happens every day. So if you think that by going to court and litigating your case to the hilt that you will find justice there, I hate to tell you, it’s highly unlikely. My point is use your experts to get your emotions right. Negotiate where you can. If you need to dig your heels in and insist on what’s fair, insist on what’s fair. But try to do it the easy way. Try to do it the easy way if you can.
Jessica: Spoken from a litigation attorney, so yeah, okay. Well, on that note, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time. For everyone listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help us out. Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more information on Dennis. And of course, share this with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.