Law firm takes up cudgels for divorced dads
Cordell & Cordell will take father’s side in custody or child support cases
By Dave Moore | Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal
Joe Cordell is either the legal equivalent of a snake oil salesman or he’s providing a sorely needed service to dad-kind.
He has opened the Cordell & Cordell P.C. law office in the Galleria office tower in Dallas to fight on behalf of fathers seeking custody of their children.
And for those who don’t obtain or seek custody he aims for low child-support payments.
“I can’t say it in a sweeping way (that all family courts favor mothers over fathers in divorce/custody cases),” Cordell said. “But it’s true that there are a lot of courts out there for which the playing fields aren’t completely level.”
He said fathers sometimes have to overcome court misperceptions that they’re not as fit to parent as mothers, and that the lawyers in his firm are especially equipped to overcome such biases. About 97% of the clients his firm handles are men, he said.
But Dallas Divorce Attorney Shelly West said Cordell’s claims are more about marketing than divorce-court realities. She said a good attorney can argue equally well from either side of the table.
“Fifteen years ago, I would have said he was right,” West said. “But the focus has gone from the presumption of favor toward mom and toward doing what is in the best interest of the children.”
West said that family law has been re-written in Texas and attitudes have changed in Dallas County courts so that the best interest of children is the rule of the day to the point that there is no bias for Cordell’s lawyers to fight.
But Cordell said his strategy of representing fathers works.
“I think there is an advantage to representing just one side of the table,” Cordell said. “There’s a passion when you serve a particular interest that you care about.”
Cordell’s marketing campaign includes the slogan: “A partner men can count on.”
Cordell expects his Dallas office to perform like his Atlanta office, which opened in 2004 with one full-time lawyer. It now employs five full-timers. Dallas’ population, like Atlanta, is extremely transient, he said. Cordell’s approach to practicing law is more compatible with highly mobile men because they don’t have as many word-of-mouth references to rely upon, he said.
Cordell said that there’s a large population of men who believe family court is stacked against them in custody battles.
“I think it’s more than a subculture – guys, and particularly dads, are of the opinion that they face greater challenges in custody battles,” he said. “And in some courts, it’s more true than (in) others.”
West doesn’t dismiss Cordell’s claims when it comes to family law in other states.
For example, in Kansas, where her father-in-law practices law, alimony can continue ad-infinitum, until a spouse remarries, she said. And some women don’t remarry, just so they can continue to receive their support checks.
Texas courts, however, are years ahead of most other states on spousal support, awarding child support and custody rights, West said. She said the vast majority of child-support payments amount to $500 or $600 a month.
“I’ve had very wealthy dads say … my kids can’t live on that,” West said.
For all those arguments, Cordell said his practice wouldn’t be growing if his clients weren’t happy. The Cordell law firm started in St. Louis in 1990 and has expanded to six other locations, including Dallas. His firm started emphasizing its legal services for men in 1996. Cordell runs his law firm with his wife, Yvonne. He said they have been happily married for 16 years.
Joe Cordell said his firm employs a client-care representative who keeps in touch with clients and provides written updates on the status of their cases.
“Our greatest victories might be ones that seem very minor, where we get a guy supervised visitation where he might have had problems in the past with alcohol or child abuse,” Cordell said.
How does West, who has been practicing law for 13 years, feel about another divorce attorney coming to town?
“I always welcome the competition,” she said. “I think for public perception, it’s probably brilliant marketing. As far as whether it’s based on reality, I kind of doubt that.”