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.

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Getting through your California divorce

There are many aspects of California divorce: there are the legal aspects, obviously, and the financial aspects. But there are also the emotional aspects and the lifestyle aspects that are too often overlooked. Divorce is, above all, a process and an adjustment, and we need lots of support, in various manifestations, to get through it.  Here is some advice on this very topic.

Best practices in California divorce: stay out of court!

I found this article on staying out of court in divorce to be very well written with some great points. I always work with my clients on their divorce in a way that serves and helps them in the best way. Some clients have high conflict cases that really cannot avoid court. Some clients need a little help with paperwork, strategy, negotiations, or other smaller issues.  And then there’s everyone in between. If you have a lawyer, or consult with one, who is “one size fits all” and does not seem willing to work with you in your case, then you may want to consider another option. Remember, it’s YOUR family, YOUR money, and ultimately, YOUR life. You choose how the divorce will go, and who will help you. I would suggest working with someone who will listen to you and help you with what you need instead of making things worse.

Getting what you want in divorce: The case for coaching

I often say that, logistically-speaking, divorce is not especially difficult, but it’s different.  If we remove the emotional aspect and the conflict, preparing the paperwork and going through the process is not particularly complex.  But when you have a family, a career, and a life, it can be impossible to take the time to learn the ins and outs of divorce law and process. Unfortunately, too, there are too few resources available in California for individuals to work through the process on their own.

There are a great many good books on the subject, and Nolo Press (www.nolo.com) has a wonderful book, How to do your own divorce in California.  This is a great primer on the basics of California divorce.  Usually, however, every divorce, even the most amicable ones, have one or two unusual or sticky issues that do not fit into the basic divorce issues covered in this book.  What is an individual to do when he or she just wants specific advice on a specific issue?

Every county has some kind of free legal resources, generally through the courthouse.  Most often, though, these resources are not intended to help with legal advice or strategy, but rather are there to help you fill out forms. It can be frustrating to wait in line to get some advice, only to be told that advice is not offered.  Another option is to do a consultation with an attorney, but many attorneys will not give specific advice until hired. You may not need full representation for the advice you need, and – indeed – you may not have several thousand dollars to pay for the answer to (what you think is) a simple question!

The answer is family law coaching, which is a concept I created when I saw this gap in services for divorcing parties. I work with my clients in advance of even our first meeting, gathering both basic information as well as documents, history and questions that you are looking to answer.  Instead of spending our consultation time gathering information from you, I am spending this time answering your specific questions and giving you the legal advice you want and need. I met with a client over the weekend who had already seen three different divorce attorneys. Each of them wanted $2,600 or more to help him with his case.  What he wanted was advice and answers, which none of the prior attorneys had offered him.  When we met, I had already reviewed his prior custody order, his intake form, and his questions for our meeting.  We spent our time together going over the process and h0w to approach his pending motion preparation, mediation, and court hearing. I even helped him to fill out his forms during our meeting, so he left knowing the legal strategy with which to proceed, what forms to file and how, and how to be as successful as possible in his motion…all for the price of one consultation.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are looking for advice on a specific issue and can’t seem to find what you need, give me a call and we can talk to determine if I am the right person to help you.

California Divorce: How to divide the stuff, from the wedding ring to the collectibles to the couch

Lawyers and judges do not like to get into the business of dividing a couple’s personal property in divorce.  The value of your personal property when you get divorced is not the price it would take to replace what you have, but rather the garage sale price.  So, when you value your personal items (furnishings, kitchen items, jewelry, personal items, etc.), think of holding a large garage sale where everything in your house is for sale.  Then imagine at the end of the day, the house is empty.  How much money do you think would be in the tin box at the end of the day?

For most couples, this doesn’t amount to more than a few thousand dollars, and since each party generally takes some of the personal items, frequently there isn’t any kind of equalization in the divorce.

Of course, if you have valuable antiques, jewelry, or collections, then there can be disputes.  The first dispute is often the worth of the collection.  Husband says his gun collection is worthless because none of the guns work.  Wife says it’s worth tens of thousands because of what the couple paid for it.  The answer is generally to get an independent appraisal and go from there.  The item or collection can be sold and the proceeds split, or one party can buy out the other party’s interest by paying half the value.

Another common question involves gifts.  Gifts given to one spouse are that spouse’s separate property.  Often the biggest gift is that of the engagement ring.  Upon divorce, the wife keeps the engagement ring as hers, regardless of whether the ring is Husband’s grandmother’s.

Finally, when attorneys and courts do not generally want to get into the division of personal property, what is a couple to do?  The best way, I think, is for each spouse to get a different color of Post-It.  Each spouse then goes around the house and ‘tags’ the items they want.  Then at the end, only those items with two Post-Its on them are items of contention. This makes it easy to identify what items need to be discussed without having to discuss every item – it narrows the field, which can reduce the conflict.

How did you divide your personal items when you divorced?