California divorce: My ex is crazy! How do I get the judge to see this?! Why doesn’t he understand?!

So frequently I have someone come to me and tell me that their ex is crazy and they just can’t get the judge to see it and understand. They give me dozens of examples of what he or she has done, telling me that it’s just not fair that the judge doesn’t see it. In these cases, there’s generally a couple things going on that we have to keep in mind.

First, the reality is that if your ex is crazy, then there’s a pretty high likelihood that the crazy behaviors spill over to you as well. Of course, your excuse is going to be that s/he makes me act crazy! And this may be the case, but from where the judge is sitting, it doesn’t matter. If you both are acting crazy, then the judge is not going to see a difference in the craziness.

Second, you have to learn how to back up your claims. If you say your ex is crazy and then give examples of the craziness that do not include hard, verifiable facts, then the judge won’t believe you. For example, if you say you showed up at the appointed time to pick up little Joey, and your ex wasn’t there, then your ex is going to be given the opportunity to respond. Your ex may say you were six hours late, didn’t show up at the right place, or showed up on a motorcycle and wanted to take little five year-old Joey away on it. You need substantiation. If your exchange spot is McDonald’s, go in and buy something and keep the time-stamped receipt. Take a picture of yourself in your car – time and date stamped – showing you were at your ex’s house at the appointed time. If you were ordered to contact a mediator or therapist or other professional and your ex won’t cooperate, then get an email showing YOUR contact and acknowledgement that your ex has failed to communicate. You have to give the judge something to go on.

Finally, you have to learn how to talk in court. Keep your emotions down. Stick to the facts. Do not engage in conversation with your ex – talk to the judge. Be respectful at all times, no matter what. If the judge is not hearing you, ask to be heard on an issue. Say thank you at the end, even if you’ve lost.

You have to gain credibility and use it, which can take time. You also have to distance yourself from the craziness so that you don’t get pulled into it.

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

Over the five years that I worked a;most exclusively in Solano County, I got to know the other lawyers in that county quite well.  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.

Trying to prove your ex is crazy? It all starts with you

It’s not infrequent that I have a client who says their ex is completely crazy.  Often they are correct, though just as often my client also has a little bit of the crazy – after all, they were married!  In truth, everyone is a little crazy, at least on occasion, in a divorce.  The key is tempering it when you need to, which is something not everyone can do.

When you’re trying to prove to the judge or court that your ex is the one who is making up lies, exaggerating, and generally trying to hurt you and/or drag your name through the mud, you have to keep several things in mind or you will not be successful.

  1. The judge has a very limited time with you, so s/he has to make quick decisions based on very little information.  The judge, remember, knows nothing about you, your ex, your past, your history, or anything other than what is before the court and what you manage to convey in a short hearing.
  2. Most examples and instances of unreasonable behavior are difficult, if not impossible to prove because there is no outside evidence and it comes down to he said-she said.  The judge has no idea who to believe in those circumstances, so it’s up to you to prove that you are the credible one.
  3. When you start before the court, you and your ex are on equal footing.  If you want to show that your ex is unreasonable, then you have to work extra hard to appear as reasonable as you possibly can.  If you both act unreasonably, then the judge puts you both in the same category, so your pleas that your ex is really the one with the problem will fall on deaf ears.
  4. Proving you are credible, and thus the one to be believed, can be harder than you think it is.  You have to be absolutely truthful with the court – which means no half-truths, no misleading comments, and being up-front and providing relevant information when appropriate, even if not asked.  It also means following ALL – yes, all – court orders to the letter, even if you don’t like them, don’t want to, or are trying to bury your head in the sand, hoping it will go away.
  5. If you are able to do all of these things, and convince the judge that you are the one that is credible, reasonable, and responsible, then you can start to make headway against your unreasonable ex.
  6. If you fail to show the judge that you are reasonable, then it takes far longer to dig yourself out of the hole with the judge than it would have to just behave in the first place.

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

Automatic restraining orders in California divorce: Don’t get yourself in trouble!

Getting a divorce in California?  Don’t get yourself into big trouble by violating restraining orders you don’t even know about!  In California, once the Petition is served, you’re restrained from doing these things and can be hurt if you fail to comply:

Estate planning for smaller estates

Many of my clients do not realize that their property and their family are at risk if they do not create an estate plan.  Many think that they do not have a large enough estate to need an estate plan at all.  The reality is that anyone with $100,000 or more in property – gross, which does not take any debt (mortgage, for example) into account – should have a comprehensive estate plan.  Probate fees alone can cost up to 10% of your total estate, but there are other fees as well.  If your family needs to go to court to obtain a conservatorship for you because you don’ t have a power of attorney, then that can cost thousands of dollars.  If you do not name a guardian for your children, your children could be the subject of a lengthy and expensive custody battle among your family members.  In fact, much of your estate can be taken with the cost and length of the probate process.  Don’t do this to your family: protect them.  This video gives you more information on the importance of comprehensive estate planning for estates with $500,000 or less.

Uncontested divorce: what to do when your spouse won’t participate in the divorce

On occasion I talk to someone who tells me that while they want a divorce, their spouse refuses to talk about it and says they won’t participate or sign anything.  Understandably, the spouse who wants the divorce finds this distressing.  But this is nothing to be stressed about, and here’s why:

First, once you file for divorce, your spouse is likely to at least seek out some kind of advice from someone, whether it’s looking around online, buying a book, talking to a family member, or talking to a lawyer.  When faced with an unknown, most individuals will act in self-preservation.  Since the only advice to give to someone who says they don’t want to participate in their divorce is DON’T DO THAT, those that get advice often find their way to action one way or another.

Second, there is a process for a default divorce, which is what it is called when one party does not file any documents (unlike “uncontested,” which doesn’t really mean anything anymore because in California, and in most states, you can’t “contest” a divorce – though you can contest the terms of the divorce!).  Once you file the Petition and serve it on your spouse, your spouse has 30 days (again, in California.  Your state may vary in its rules) to respond by filing a Response to the Petition.  If that Response is not filed, then the Petitioner spouse can file for default.  This is the process whereby the Petitioner files all of the income, expense, assets and debt information with the court and gets to determine who will get what, including child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and asset and debt division.  It still must be equitable (or roughly equal), but what you consider equal and what your spouse considers equal may be radically different concepts.  So long as the proposed Judgment by the Petitioner is not too skewer in one party’s favor, the Judgment gets filed and is an order of the court.

It’s simple in theory but can be complicated to complete, especially since the forms can be a pain to fill out.  But the fact that one spouse can make all the decisions regarding the divorce generally prompts the other spouse to action.  Consider the possibility of child and spousal support being determined without your input or participation at all, or child custody and visitation.  Most spouses tend to act when faced with the actual divorce paperwork, even if they say they don’t want any part of it.