Emotional overload in California divorce

It is said that death, divorce, and moving are the three top stressors we can have in our life. There is no question that experiencing a family law case is stressful, difficult, and certainly emotional, sometimes extremely.

Many family law clients get a little confused at least once during their case – understandably so – and start to believe that their lawyer is also their therapist and general counsel on all things. While it is absolutely possible, and perhaps desirable, to get close to your family law counsel, you still have to draw the line.

Attorneys are not trained to counsel you on emotional issues. In fact, I counseled most of my clients that we needed to put the emotions aside and treat the case as much like a business transaction as possible.

Attorneys are also much more expensive than therapists, sometimes by three or four times. It is in your best interest to talk to a professional – a professional counselor – to help you with the emotional aspects of your family law case. Not only will your wallet benefit, but you will be able to deal with your case in a better way – which can also lead to better decisions.

Hiring a Lawyer or Coach in California divorce

Some people find it to be very scary to meet with a lawyer. A couple times, I met with potential clients who burst into tears when they came to my office. Some shook with nerves. The person you are meeting with should understand that the meeting itself is a little nerve-wracking, and do all they can to put you at ease.

If you’re meeting with one, hopefully any and all of your anxiety will disappear in the first few seconds of meeting with him/her. If not, then perhaps the person is not the one for you. Attorneys are people too (judges as well, but we’ll get to that later), and you won’t get along with or connect with every one. Some will have personalities or traits or mannerisms or ways of handling their cases that you just don’t like. That’s ok. Your case is YOURS, and you MUST feel comfortable with your representation. Each client is looking for something different. Some want an attorney who is more aggressive and some want one who is more compassionate. Some want – and need – more constant or regular contact, and some are more hands-off. Some want comprehensive control over their case, and some want to leave a lot up to the attorney.

There’s no right or wrong answer to these considerations, but you have to recognize that you do not have to go with the first attorney you meet. There are all kinds of options for you, from doing it yourself using books like those from Nolo Press (www.nolo.com), using your county’s resources (like classes or a family court facilitator, or a local “lawyers in the library” service), working with an attorney or coach on an as-needed basis, or hiring a lawyer. And if you decide to hire an attorney, it’s a good idea to shop around a little bit. At least talk to more than one so you can recognize differences in style.

The more you know, the better off you will be during your case.

Preliminary Considerations in California Divorce

There are a lot of things that an attorney or coach can help you with in your divorce, custody, paternity or support case. One thing, however, that they cannot assist you with is making the decision. YOU have to decide if you want to take the step to file your case.

What we can help you out with is by giving you information about what can and will happen if you DO file. We can tell you about how the process will go, potential pitfalls, and possible outcomes. We can talk to you about procedures, strategy, and pros and cons. If you have proper information specific to your situation, then you can make an INFORMED decision.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to dive into something you know nothing about. I would strongly encourage someone even thinking about a family law case to consult with an attorney. It does not cost more than a few hundred dollars, and will be worth every penny if it allows you to move forward with eyes open. Be sure you bring a list of questions, and make sure you include overall, or total, cost as one of your questions. Hiring an attorney can cost $10,000 to start, and many tens (if not hundreds) of thousands to complete. Your finances and what you spend on assistance in your case (and how!) can be a huge consideration that is often overlooked at the outset of a case.

In a court case, any court case, knowledge is power. There’s a lot of information out there, so learn how to find accurate and helpful information and use it.

Is it helpful or harmful that your lawyer knows your ex’s lawyer in California divorce?

A divorce attorney who works for a time in one place gets to know the other attorneys in the area & how they operate.  In one county where I practiced for several years almost exclusively, I knew who was a pushover, who was sharp as a tack, who would cave right before trial, who was sneaky, who I could trust, and who would mean the case would cost double or triple what I expected.  Often, my clients would ask about the other lawyer, and I would share what I knew.

Often, too, my clients would express dismay, frustration and sometimes even anger that I knew and was friendly with the other lawyer.  They thought it would make me “softer” and not fight as hard for them.  They thought my friendship came “above” my responsibilities to them as a client.  It’s unfortunate that I was unable to convince them of how very wrong they were.  I am not the only one who has experienced this, and this article describes well what I am explaining here.

First, they never understood that I take my job and my responsibility to vigorously advocate for my clients very seriously.  Regardless of who is opposing me, I am going to fight for my client in the same way.  I operate by acting in my client’s best interests, and we discuss our strategy before every case.  I will be more cautious when working with someone I can’t trust, but my behavior does not change markedly from case to case and client to client.  Obviously, when pushed I will push back and I can – and will – get down in the trenches and fight when appropriate.  But in many cases this is not necessary and serves only to escalate the cost of the case.

Second, by knowing my opposing counsel, I know what to expect from them, good or bad.  When it’s a friend of mine, I can expect that they won’t blindside me or screw me over.  That helps my client, helps the case, and keeps costs down.

Similarly, my friends trust me as well, so they are more likely to work more easily with me and, as a consequence, work with their client to make the case more reasonable.  In cases with lawyers I am friendly with, there’s more of an attitude of “trust but verify” – we can agree on things in principle, while proof is in process.  With other lawyers, we may need to more through expensive discovery before we can even sit down to start to discuss the issues.  While it may seem that time cools the fires of anger, resentment and vengefulness, it is often the opposite. The longer the case drags on, the harder it can be to settle.

So, which would you prefer?  I would want an attorney who knew my opposing counsel well, and was friendly with them.

Need advice now? Schedule an appointment online, or call us at 925.307.6543.

How to save money in California divorce

Divorce can be very expensive.  Not only are you separating households, now working with the same funds but supporting two homes (and two rents/mortgages, two sets of utilities, expenses of duplicate furniture, etc…), but you may be taking time off work for court hearings, spending money on filing fees, and – of course – hiring a lawyer.  And lawyers?  Can be very expensive.

I do what I can to keep the costs down for my divorcing clients, from offering flexible options for payment (no, not monthly payments but I generally try to “break down” the case into more financially-manageable pieces for the client), family law coaching, and divorce mediation, but the cost is not entirely under my control.  What my clients do – or don’t do – essentially drives the path and cost of the divorce.  So, regardless of whether you have an attorney or not, here are some ways to keep the costs of your divorce down:

  1. Manage your emotions.  Divorce is incredibly difficult even in the best of circumstances.  It is likely that you have some strong emotions around it.  But the court and legal process generally will not be concerned about these emotions, and the more  you bring them into your divorce, the more you will likely pay.  Whether it’s spending excessive time with your attorney discussing the emotional issues or pursuing a losing issue because of an emotional attachment, emotions can bankrupt you when they take center stage in your divorce.
  2. Get professional help. As a part of managing your emotions, get the support you need for them by finding qualified mental health professionals to help you through it.  Your lawyer, your family, and your friends will be a great support during this time, but do not mistake any of them as qualified advice helping you through the roller coaster of emotions in divorce.  Find a therapist if you need one.
  3. Get – and get rid of – qualified professional help when appropriate.  Hire professionals who are going to work with you, for you, and who are on the same page as you.  If you feel like your lawyer doesn’t care, or is gouging you, or won’t pay attention to you or return your calls, then get rid of him/her.  Your divorce is yours, and you should have legal counsel that you feel comfortable with, who understands what is important to you, and who is reasonable and professional about fees.  Same with your therapist.
  4. Play fair.  The court and legal process in California has no patience for bids for revenge.  Mud-slinging and nasty declarations for the purpose of hurting the other party can not only rebound and hurt you, but can cost you unbelievable amounts of money.  They also drag on the process, increase the hostility between you and your spouse, and ultimately hurt your children.

Getting a divorce? How to decide if you need a lawyer

Making the decision to get a divorce can be very difficult, but once the decision has been made, deciding whether you can do it on your own or if you need an attorney can be nearly as difficult.  How do you find someone? How do you know if they’re any good? What is it going to cost? These are all important concerns that can make the process of hiring an attorney – or even just interviewing one – difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Determine if you can do it on your own. You and your ex getting along?  That’s a good first step.  Do some research and see if it looks like something you can figure out by yourself, or if it seems so complicated that you need help.
  2. Ask friends and family members if they know someone they can recommend.  If you get a recommendation, ask them why they are recommending that person – someone’s fabulous attorney could be your nightmare.
  3. Interview more than one attorney.  Attorneys vary widely in their approach, mannerisms, attitude, skill and professionalism.  Find someone who you think you can work with successfully.
  4. Consider alternative options, such as mediation or unbundled services like a Family Law Coach. This can both bring down the cost and the hostility of the divorce.
  5. When you meet with an attorney, ask them questions about how they approach their cases, whether they have had cases like yours before, and what they will do to help you keep costs down.  Set the expectations up front so you both are clear.  Ask about how often and in what way you will communicate, too, so neither of you ends up frustrated later.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

Don’t make your California divorce worse than it already is: avoid these all-too-common mistakes

I’ve talked before about how divorce is nearly always much more expensive and time-consuming than you ever expect it to be – frequently many times more – and given tips on how to not only reduce this time and expense, but how to reduce the stress and toll the divorce process has on you and your children.  Particularly in California divorce, and divorce in the Bay Area, courts are overcrowded and lawyers expensive, so this problem is exacerbated.

There are things you can do to ease the process – for example, hiring an experienced Family Law Coach – but there are also things you can do in your relationship with your ex that will make the process go more smoothly.  The marriage may be over, and even perhaps the friendship and trust that certainly existed at some point, but if you have children, there is still going to be a relationship of some sort, and what you say and do – how you conduct yourself – will have a large bearing on what the post-divorce relationship looks like.  Even if you don’t have children with your ex, you still have to maintain a relationship to get through the divorce process.  Here are some tips to help you through:

  1. Divorce is hard.  It’s hard on both of you.  Focusing on the reasons for the divorce or bringing up old arguments will do nothing but make it all worse.  The marriage is over, don’t dwell on these things.  If you have issues – anger, sadness, resentment – then work on them with a qualified therapist.  Don’t make it worse on you, your ex and your children by hanging on to issues that no longer matter.  One qualifier: if the issues you’re focused on involve concerns about your children (substance abuse, violence, neglect, for example), then these are relevant to the divorce case.  Never listening to you, not picking up socks, and that pesky affair are not generally going to be issues that move your case along.
  2. Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth.  Threatening to “take custody” or to quit your job to avoid child support or bad-mouthing your ex’s lawyer do nothing but make the emotions in your case escalate.  Yes, we all can say things we don’t mean when we’re angry.  All the more reason to think before speaking to your ex.  This is a great article about the nasty things spouses say to each other in a divorce – and why they’re empty threats.
  3. This is an issue I’ve talked about before – as soon as you possibly can, start thinking of the divorce in business-like terms.  Once you decide to divorce, the court and legal process essentially strips all emotion out of the equation and gets to the business of dividing assets, determining appropriate support, and working out the child custody and child visitation schedule.  Try to look at the divorce as a business transaction, because that’s what the court is doing.  It’s the break-up of a family unit, so each side gets half of what’s in the family.  Removing your emotions in the court process (and keeping them reserved for therapy, for example) will help to move the process along because you will not be delaying the process on emotional grounds.
  4. One last tip for those working with legal professionals: refuse to work or stop working with someone who is making the process worse.  Unfortunately for you, lawyers benefit financially when cases take longer and are more acrimonious.  If your lawyer tells you to stop talking to your ex (saying all communication has to be through the lawyers) or discourages you from making a reasonable settlement in favor of an expensive trial, find someone else to work with.  You’ll all be better served in the long run.

Or, I suppose if you have endless funds, time and anger, you can do all of the above, fight for years, and make a few lawyers rich.  It happens, all too often.  Remember, you get to choose how your divorce proceeds.  Which will you choose?