Don't Skimp on Your Divorce Lawyer: A Lesson From the Accidental Bigamist Wife

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Bride two groomsOf all the regrets commonly expressed by the recently divorced, "I'm sorry I didn't pay my lawyer more money" is probably last on the list. But for one New York woman, the decision to go cheap on the legal fees led to a nasty surprise as she found herself accidentally married to two men at the same time.

As The New York Post reported on Sunday, Jennifer LaCarriere had no intention of becoming a bigamist. In September 2011, as she walked down the aisle in an English church with her soon-to-be second husband, she thought that she was free and unencumbered, a single woman embarking on a new life with a new man. Instead, as she later learned, her first marriage had never been legally dissolved.

In August 2010, LaCarriere and her first husband went to Express Bankruptcy and Divorce, where they met with Leomarys Alvarez, a Bronx-based woman who claimed to be a lawyer and notary public. For $535, Alvarez agreed to file all of the couple's paperwork. Compared to lawyers who charged thousands of dollars to handle a divorce, it seemed like a bargain.

As it turned out, however, Alvarez was neither a notary nor a lawyer, and when LaCarriere returned from her trip to England, she received a nasty surprise. When she contacted New York City officials to complain about not receiving her divorce paperwork, she discovered that it had never gone through. She was now married to two men.

It's not hard to see why LaCarriere and her first husband patronized Alvarez: They were seeking their divorce shortly after New York Gov. David Paterson signed a law allowing no-fault divorces in the state for the first time. Prior to that, couples seeking to dissolve their marriages needed to cite a specific reason, such as cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, or abandonment.

Beyond that, there was also the question of price: While the court costs for LaCarriere's uncontested divorce were only $335, the recent introduction of no-fault divorce made self-filing an unlikely choice for the couple. Faced with spending thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer or mediator, the pair went with what seemed like a reasonably priced option.

According to the Post, Alvarez's plea deal with the Manhattan district attorney's office is expected to result in a $2,500 fine, 400 hours of community service, and five years probation. Her office did not reply to repeated phone calls.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, a reference to former
New York Gov. David Paterson used the wrong name. While author James Patterson's books have repeatedly topped The New York Times bestseller list, he has never leveraged that popularity to run for office in the Empire state. We apologize for the error.

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