NEW YORK – For someone who helps couples break up for a living, Nancy Dunaetz is quite a romantic.
The California divorce attorney actually "gives something back" to her clients by working to find them new spouses.
While this approach may seem counter-intuitive, Dunaetz nonetheless believes a good divorce lawyer can help lonely people find new love.
"You tell your divorce attorney about all aspects of your life," Dunaetz said. "You get to know what a person likes, doesn't like, what their fears are ... You even get to meet their ex-spouse. So you even see physically what they were attracted to."
This "extra" service isn't something Dunaetz regularly provides. She runs a "very serious family law practice" as a partner in a Los Angeles firm. But she's set up three marriages, countless long-term relationships and many blind dates during her 20-year career.
"It's not like people know that I do this in general," she said. "But I've had former clients call me and ask, 'Come on, don't you have a guy for me?'"
Dunaetz won't arrange dates while her clients are in the midst of a divorce. But once the case is over and the client has had time to recover, Dunaetz doesn't just forget them.
When she meets a man or a woman she thinks is "someone special," she arranges for them to meet another exceptional former client — sometimes fixing them up with her own friends.
Connie, who didn't want her last name used, is the first person Nancy set up on a date. Although Connie didn't marry the man she met, she said she enjoyed the experience and ended up in a long-term relationship.
"We met at [Dunaetz's] house for dinner, so it was very comfortable," Connie said. "It even wasn't necessarily a 'date.' It was just nice to meet each other. And afterwards he asked for my phone number, and we dated for quite a while."
Dunaetz said she would rather not get involved in the matchmaking. But without her helping hand, she noted, it sometimes just doesn't happen.
"It's not like I give someone a photograph and say, 'call this person.' I find that otherwise people just don't do it," she said. "They don't call. I'm just facilitating the introduction of people who are very compatible."
And what do the marriage "experts" think about all this?
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a co-founder of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said that while she doesn't see this as a trend among family law attorneys, it's not such a stretch.
"I've talked to enough divorce lawyers to know that they don't hate marriage," said Whitehead. "And for some of them, it breaks their heart to see some of these marriages come apart."
David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute of American Values, had a more mixed reaction.
"Bravo! But ouch," was how he reacted.
"My basic reaction is that she seems to be a good person doing a good thing," he said. "It's one of those 'only in America' kinds of things, where you get your divorce lawyer to be your matchmaker."
And although Dunaetz has successfully helped people recover from failed relationships, she said she actually doesn't advocate divorce.
"I always encourage a couple to go for counseling first," she said. "If there are children involved, it's always sad. But you know, some marriages shouldn't exist ... I have many clients who at the end of their divorces are happy and ready to move on."