by Zonder Family Law Group
Here at Zonder Family Law Group, we decided to start a new blog series entitled “How to Screw Up Your Divorce,” not to poke fun at how a divorce situation can quickly turn from difficult to terrible when people in a divorce take actions that they think will help them – but typically end up biting them in the you-know-what.
Instead, through many years of experience, we have seen people at all stages of divorce make the same mistakes over and over – again, usually with the misguided intention that taking a specific action (or failing to take an action) will help avoid certain challenges of divorce when in reality the opposite consequence occurs – and we want to help those in the divorce process avoid these mistakes and instead take positive actions to benefit themselves and their families.
In this blog, we start at the beginning: it’s become clear that a marriage has come to an end, whether both of the partners want it to end or not, and there arises the question of how they are going to get this divorce done. Often, one of the first things they say to one another is that they want to do this with “no lawyers.”
This sounds like a great idea, right? Lawyers cost money. It is not uncommon for people to have bad experiences with lawyers, and specifically family law attorneys. And lawyers are just going to turn this into a war between the spouses, with all the money going to them, right? We’ve all seen how it went for the people in War of the Roses and Marriage Story, and nobody wants that. Right?
Without a doubt, there is no shortage of family law attorneys out there who are to be avoided at all costs for the obvious reasons. But, for the reasons we’ll discuss here, moving forward on a divorce which could be the most important event in your life affecting your finances and your children without obtaining legal guidance because you are concerned about bad lawyering is a bit like refusing needed medical treatment because you’ve heard bad stories about certain doctors.
There is a big difference between completing your divorce in an efficient manner while minimizing legal fees, which we are definitely in favor of, and simply avoiding the help of family law professionals, the latter of which can make things much less efficient and end up costing you more in legal fees. Here’s why:
Divorce Law is Confusing, and Confusion Can Lead to Chaos
The reality is that, even when parties are in total agreement on the terms of their divorce (or at least think they are), the process for getting divorce in California is anything but straightforward. There might be exceptions for those seeking a “summary divorce” with few assets and no children but we are not talking about you (there are strict requirements for who can qualify for a summary divorce). For many who own homes and have children and/or where there are any contested issues, divorce is a multistep process involving – at best – numerous forms and a final settlement agreement governing all the relevant issues in your divorce including property, spousal support, child custody, and child support, all of which must be approved by a court. That’s not even including the substance of the law affecting all of those issues, which the vast majority of people entering into a divorce are unaware of.
Trying to figure this out all on your own without lawyers while navigating the emotional aspects of the end of a marriage can create conflict between the parties even where there was little conflict to begin with. The delay, stress, and confusion of trying to do it yourself can turn an otherwise peaceful situation into a high conflict affair, particularly when other life events like new partners or unexpected financial stresses start to arise. By working with an attorney to guide the divorce from the outset at a time when both partners are committed to an amicable outcome, you can work to prevent such an unfortunate result.
Knowing Your Rights in a Divorce Can Foster Fairness and Reduce Drama
Similarly, many people entering into divorce will talk about avoiding lawyers before they even know what their legal rights and obligations to one another are, making it difficult for them to create a fair and useful agreement, much less one that a court will even approve. In some cases, both parties are unclear on the legal issues at the start, and in others it could be that one party is attempting to get a deal done without the other party learning their rights (and may even be talking to an attorney on their own while telling the other party not to).
This can result in an unfair, incomplete, or even unenforceable agreement. As an example, did you forget to divide a retirement plan that your spouse had before his current job? As another example, did you “walk away” from a community interest in your spouse’s business that was worth $500,000? Were you the unlucky one who failed to realize that your spouse incurred huge liabilities that were overlooked in the divorce, based on a misguided understanding that you are not at least partially responsible for your partner’s debts?
The can lead to months or even years of wasted time when one party refuses to sign an agreement or becomes concerned (rightly or wrongly) that the other party is attempting to pull a fast one on them. And it is not uncommon for both parties to end up quickly looking for the first lawyers they can find and the fees start rising without anything to show for it. In any case, by working with an attorney early on in the process, you can learn your rights and obligations and ideally work towards an amicable resolution rather than an unexpected yet avoidable mess.
Many Divorce Attorneys Work in a Collaborative and Cooperative Manner
Again, there are certainly are family lawyers to be avoided, but there are many, many experienced and caring family law attorneys out there who are not only committed to getting your divorce done in an efficient and fair manner, but also doing it in a way that utilizes a cooperative and collaborative approach while promoting ongoing cohesion, particularly where the parties need to work together as coparents of children of any age. They’ve been through this many times before, have seen what people do to both enrich their futures and worsen their futures, and can help guide you towards the former.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions from a Westlake Village Divorce Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.