A wise person once said, “Marriage is grand. Divorce is a hundred grand.” Few decisions in this world are worse than being a willing participant in a long, toxic, dragged-out divorce which bankrupts both parties and ruins innocent children involved.
There Are No “Winners” in Family Law
In a car accident, there is liability: someone is at fault. In criminal cases, someone is guilty or not guilty. In 1969, Ronald Reagan passed no-fault divorce in California. Proof of one party’s wrong-doing is no longer necessary to achieve divorce; alleging “irreconcilable differences” is sufficient. In family law, parties who previously built a life together are now dissolving their relationship, figuring out what to do with their children and assets. Their emotions are raw, and the the pain of losing a life partner is frequently the temporary blindfold obstructing otherwise good judgment.
Everyone’s a Victim
During this breakdown, one party (frequently both), sees themselves as victims, and the other side as evil. In the 20 years I have practiced family law, I can tell you one thing – in the majority of cases, no one is evil. Good people don’t marry bad people. Maybe something, or someone, has changed. But at the end of the day, the relationship has ended, the law doesn’t care who is at fault, and it is necessary to figure out what to do next.
I believe in most cases, given the correct information and guidance from a knowledgeable family lawyer, the parties can reach a settlement agreement regarding their children and assets on their own, without the costly intervention of court. This is why I firmly believe in divorce mediation. I also believe that while everyone seeks attorneys for guidance, as a solution to their problems, the truth is many times, unscrupulous attorneys create additional problems, capitalizing on petty conflict and preying on fear. Another reason to choose mediation!
In family law, trust is broken. One party (frequently both), feels hopeless and unable to move on because of what has been done to them. The lack of trust opens them up to petty disputes which subtract from the main goal, which is to be able to repair the breach and move on in a healthy way.
Family Law is More Family Than Law
Remember this on your journey: marriage and divorce aren’t just legal issues. They are personal decisions with important legal consequences. Knowing family law is the bare minimum requirement of being a good divorce lawyer. An excellent and effective lawyer not only teaches you the law, but also gives you options for your separation or divorce.
In California, you have several options for divorce:
Mediation is when you and your ex hire a neutral third party to help you settle your case. You can be self-represented, or have attorneys, and still choose mediation. The mediator and attorneys can be as involved as you want them to be. You are in control. Almost 100% of the time, the WORST mediated outcome is better than the BEST litigated outcome. This is because in litigation, someone has to lose. Frequently, you go to Court, you BOTH lose because neither of you got the result you wanted, you’ve each spent over $25,000 – $100,000 each in attorneys’ fees, and have lingering hatred, stress, and other health and emotional problems. Incidentally, almost 90% of family law cases settle without going to trial anyway – so isn’t an attempt at resolving before all this money is spent at least worth a shot?
Mediation is an option worth exploring, even if you and your spouse are barely talking to each other. Conflict is not a bar to settlement. A trained mediator, alone or with the help of a Mental Health Professional, can help you and your spouse better understand each other, for the ultimate goal of reaching an agreement. Read more about Mediation here.
Collaborative law is the “conscious uncoupling” made famous by Gwyneth Paltrow. It is a process whereby you and your spouse assemble a team comprised of attorneys, mental health professionals, and financials, premised on your pledge NOT to go to court. When your team is assembled, everyone vows to work hard to settle this case. In fact, if the case falls out of the collaborative process, your team, pursuant to their pledge, will NOT help you litigate. It is this promise not to litigate that is the cornerstone of the collaborative process. It encourages all parties to work hard to reach a workable settlement agreement.
Limited Scope Representation
If you cannot afford to hire an attorney to handle your entire divorce, you can hire an attorney in “limited scope”, or on an “as-needed” basis (aka “unbundled legal services”), to perform specific tasks which will help you during your divorce. For example, you can hire us to ghostwrite your papers, for representation at one court appearance, or as a consulting attorney while you are in mediation.
This is a good option if you wish to control your legal fees – you choose to hire a lawyer for as much or as little as you wish to help you.