So, your spouse has hired a lawyer in your California divorce. What do you do? How to negotiate with OPC (opposing counsel)

One of the most terrifying things you can experience in a divorce is coming into court, expecting the hearing to be between you and your spouse, and finding out that your spouse has hired an attorney.  It can be scary.  Lawyers vary, too, in how they deal with unrepresented litigants.  I am always polite but firm.  I know one attorney who is outright nasty, from calling the other party names to threatening them to yelling at them.  You can’t always expect that an attorney is going to be civil…or even professional, unfortunately.

So, what do you do?  First, if you find yourself in the situation, and you want to or think you can hire an attorney, ask the judge at your hearing to continue (postpone) the hearing so you don’ t have to go forward and get steamrolled by the attorney.  Then get thee some legal advice and/or a lawyer, ASAP!  Generally judges will allow unrepresented parties a break if blindsided by an attorney at a hearing.

Second, if you get an attorney or other help or not, make sure you learn as much as you can about your case and the law.  The more you know, the better decisions you’ll make and quite possibly, the less you’ll pay for your attorney.  Nolo Press has some great books.   Third, remember that the attorney is getting paid to do a job, and is also a person as well as an attorney.  If the attorney is rude or says things you don’t like, it’s not because they have it out for you.  They’re doing their job.  They also may be a fantastic attorney, or they may not be so knowledgeable or experienced.  They may be having a bad day.  They may hate their client.  You just don’t know what’s going on in their head, but if you treat them like you would treat your ex (react emotionally, take offense to everything, or reject everything they say simply because they’re saying it), it’s not going to be productive.

Fourth, remember to keep your eye on the ball (and the bill!).  Don’t spend $1,000 on attorney fees over a $500 stereo.  If the other attorney has a reasonable proposal, don’t refuse to agree to it out of mistrust. I’ve had many clients insist that I draft settlement documents because they didn’t trust the other side.  In certain cases, this is appropriate since the other side might be sneaky. But in many cases, this just isn’t true and by having your own attorney prepare documents, you’re just upping the bill for yourself.

Finally, try to keep it together.  If you tend to be overly emotional, see a therapist.  Lawyers won’t help with this at all.  As soon as you can and as much as you can, try to view the divorce as a business relationship breaking apart.  This is the way the court sees it, so the sooner you get on board, the better.  This may see impossible, but it can and should be done as it will be better for everyone.

Need more help? Schedule an online appointment here or click here for California Divorce Made Easy!

California divorce: My ex is crazy! How do I get the judge to see this?!

Very 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. We can fix this, but it does take some finesse and strategy. Sometimes you may be doing something that seems perfectly reasonable, but doesn’t look so good to the judge. This is where we can really help, and where our experience really matters – we’ll show you how to fix your reputation in front of the court if it’s damaged.

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.

More on your California divorce court hearing: decorum in the courtroom

When you are in the courtroom, you want to act appropriately and avoid angering the judge. If you make the judge mad, he or she will remember it, and you don’t want that hanging over you. Some tips:

-Dress appropriately, like you’re going to a wedding or church. You CAN wear jeans, but if you’re dressed nicely, you’ll act more formally – which would be appropriate – and you’ll look more serious (and honest).

-Don’t interrupt anyone – and by anyone, we mean the judge, other court personnel or your soon to be ex-spouse. Wait for a break to request to be heard if you feel you’re being ignored.

-Treat everyone with courtesy and respect, even if you don’t think they deserve it. This includes bailiffs, court clerks and assistants, AND opposing attorneys.

-Don’t get mad, or at least if you do, try to continue to act with courtesy and respect. When you get mad, you lose your perspective, you say things you don’t mean, and you’re likely to get in trouble in one way or another. The depth of your feeling or anger will not win you any points with anyone.

-THANK the judge before you leave, regardless of the outcome.

Going to court in California divorce: The Dreaded Divorce Hearing

We learn that the law is blind, and images of lady justice come to mind when we think of the legal system…right? Well, maybe not all of us.

Most family law attorneys will tell you that decisions on family law issues depend heavily on which county you are in and even which courtroom (in front of which judge). You may think that this is unfair, that judges should apply the law uniformly. But I disagree – this is perfectly natural.

The whole reason we have the legal system is that reasonable people can disagree on many issues. Because of this, we need help in the form of the legal system and litigation. Judges are part of the legal system, and are bound to apply the law in as neutral way as possible. But the law is not always clear enough to apply totally neutrally.

Take this as an example: Parents live in neighboring cities, and each wants their child to attend the school in their neighborhood. The judge is charged with making this decision, and the standard is that the court should act – that is, pick the school – in the best interest of the child. How does the judge make this decision? Judges can look at where the child has gone to school in the past (to avoid disrupting the child’s schedule and established friends), can look to which school is objectively ‘better’ in terms of test scores and the like. The judge can look to see to which parent the child seems more bonded (and thus would be harmed by not being with that parent for school). The judge can look to where the child’s support system – other family members, friends, teachers, church, etc. – are.

But these factors are subjective, to at least a certain extent, and different judges will base their decisions on their own beliefs and experience on which are most important. For example, a judge who just read an article about the critical importance of an extended support system to a child may put more weight on that factor than a judge who hasn’t seen the article.

Similarly, judges are going to have their own opinions on various family law issues. They may tend to weigh certain factors more heavily than others, or tend to rule one way or another. This doesn’t mean that the judge is bad or biased, it just means that the judge is human.

So, what can you do about it? Look, and learn. Attend your judge’s hearings – they’re public! – and see how he or she tends to rule, how he or she runs the courtroom, and what arguments, attitudes, and styles seem to be the most persuasive.

Knowledge is power.

Court hearing decorum in California divorce

When you are in the courtroom, you want to act appropriately and avoid angering the judge. If you make the judge mad, he or she will remember it, and you don’t want that hanging over you. Some tips:

-Dress appropriately, like you’re going to a wedding or church. You CAN wear jeans, but if you’re dressed nicely, you’ll act more formally – which would be appropriate – and you’ll look more serious (and honest).

-Don’t interrupt anyone. Wait for a break to request to be heard if you feel you’re being ignored.

-Treat everyone with courtesy and respect, even if you don’t think they deserve it. This includes bailiffs, court clerks and assistants, AND opposing attorneys.

-Don’t get mad, or at least if you do, try to continue to act with courtesy and respect. When you get mad, you lose your perspective, you say things you don’t mean, and you’re likely to get in trouble in one way or another. The depth of your feeling or anger will not win you any points with anyone.

-THANK the judge before you leave, regardless of the outcome.