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.

Being thankful for your divorce. Wait, what?

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, is divorce something that we can be thankful for? Perhaps it’s most difficult in the beginning, but we CAN get to that point.  Are there reasons you can think of to be thankful for your divorce?  Here are some reasons to be thankful for divorce.

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.

Protecting your finances in a California separation or divorce

One of the most difficult aspects of divorce is the financial aspect.  Suddenly, two households need to be maintained with the same income as what maintained one household before the separation.  In addition, there are court filing fees, attorney fees, expenses for getting a new home and new ‘stuff,’ and many hidden expenses, such as the expense for taking time off work for court hearings, expenses in increased insurance, for example, and the list goes on.

One of the ways to protect yourself is to talk to both an attorney and a financial advisor.  Both should be qualified and be working to help you and not trying to get more money out of you.  If you educate yourself on the legal process and financial planning, you can make better decisions throughout the process. This will help you in the long run.

In addition, make sure you change the beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirements, and other payable-on-death accounts.  Do you really want your ex getting your money? Similarly, update your estate plan to reflect your new circumstances. Note, however, that in California, once the Petition has been filed and served, you may not change your estate plan during the divorce/separation action without permission from your spouse or a court order.

Finally, do an assessment of what you have.  Assemble your life insurance, bank/stock account documents, retirement accounts, debts, etc., and put them all in one place.  Knowing what you have can be the first step in determining where you’re going and how to get there.

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.

Secrets of winning child custody in California

I have many clients that come into my office and say they “want custody” of their children.  What does this mean in a California divorce or paternity case? Most often, it doesn’t mean what the client thinks it means.

In California, there are two kinds of custody: physical and legal.  Physical custody involves where your children live.  If they live with both parents, as in most cases, then custody is shared jointly.  In the case where one parent is not involved at all with the children or has domestic violence or substance abuse issues, then one parent may have sole physical custody.  The norm is shared joint physical custody.  Legal custody involves which parent has the right to make the decisions about your children’s health, education and welfare.  Again, this is generally joint except in the instances mentioned above.

What most clients are talking about when they say they want custody is the parenting plan.  This is the schedule of when your children will be with which parent.  I am often asked what a “normal” schedule is, but the reality is that schedules vary as much people do!  The important part of creating a parenting plan is to keep your children’s needs in the forefront of your mind.  They are adjusting, too, and the transition is difficult on everyone.

Second, be reasonable.  You may despise your ex, but that doesn’t give you the right to cut him or her out of your children’s lives – they remain a parent even though they are no longer your spouse.  A judge will frown on an unreasonable request made for no good reason.

Third, pick your battles.  Remember the adjustment period?  Well, that often translates into dropping grades, acting out, misbehaving, sleep problems, and overall a difficult mood or behavior from your children.  This doesn’t mean it’s all your ex’s fault, and it’s not your fault, either.  It’s just a natural part of the process.  Now, if your spouse is acting inappropriately, such as not properly feeding or dressing/grooming your children before school or harming them, then you should see the judge immediately.  But normal acting out in a divorce is, well, normal.

Finally, remember that it will pass.  At some point the custody fight will end and you will settle into a routine.  I mean, you can fight until your children are 18, but do you really have the time, money and energy to do that to yourself and to your children?  The sooner you can get to that normalcy, the better for everyone.