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Peaceful Divorce - An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Ask most people what it is like to go through a divorce and chances are you will hear a litany of horror stories about high legal costs, unfair results in court and lawyers who don't care enough about their own clients to return phone calls. Splitting up a family and the assets that have been accumulated during a marriage is probably one of the most emotional transitions a person can go through. Being encouraged by legal counsel to litigate instead of being reasonable only exacerbates the bad feelings between a couple. Because of the high cost of legal assistance, it is more important than ever to make sure your lawyer has your best interests at heart and is not taking unnecessary steps so that they can profit by billing more hours to your account. If there are children involved it is crucial that the parents walk away from divorce court with the ability to co-parent, something that is hard to do after a long, bloody adversarial process. Finding a lawyer who takes pride in resolving a family law matter as quickly, inexpensively and with as little blood shed as possible is unusual.
Traditionally the process of getting a divorce has involved hiring lawyers, going to court and letting a judge or the lawyers decide and/or negotiate the outcome. The couple plays the most passive role in the legal drama. Because the decisions are coming from above instead of the couple themselves fashioning a result, it is often difficult for the couple to comfortably live with the final outcome. When the couple is more actively involved in creating the terms of their own divorce instead of having to put up with the "one size fits all" solution that the legal process gives them, there is a better fit and more of a commitment to make it work. Most people resent solutions that are imposed on them. It is natural that individuals are more satisfied when they get to decide for themselves instead of being told what to do.
The adversarial approach does not serve the co-parenting process nor is it economically efficient. The average divorce in California costs $20,000 each when both sides have attorneys.
Of course the price will go up or down depending on how much the couple is encouraged to fight vs. being encouraged to be fair and settle. Divorcing couples can be extremely emotionally vulnerable and easily manipulated by legal counsel who can be more interested in racking up a huge bill instead of quickly, fairly and efficiently resolving the matter. While there are many ethical divorce lawyers who try their best to protect their clients, their orientation is still that of a "zealous advocate" which means they will do everything in their power to try to get their clients the best deal. This deal often costs more in legal fees than it is worth and usually results in making the couple so angry with each other it is impossible to co-parent.
Most people are unaware that family law attorneys are the ONLY kinds of lawyers in California whose fees are protected by the equity in their client's home. By law they have the right to run up enormous fees and then slap a lien on the family home and force a sale, often taking more of the sales proceeds then their clients get to keep. Instead of the children of the divorcing couple getting the benefit of the equity their parents have built, the lawyer's children are the ones who get to go to private school and the children of some divorcing couple will be lucky to have lunch money. It doesn't have to be this way.
Divorce Mediation is an alternative that allows you to keep control of your own life, money and children. Most divorcing couples have a lot to protect and this can best be done by working together. Co-operation saves more than just money. The best gift you can give your children is to be able to co-parent with your spouse. Instead of a divorce taking years of expensive fighting, divorce mediation only takes a day or two partial days. While it may sound impossible that a total solution can be crafted in a 4-7 hour period, I have done it so many times with so many different types of couples, I know it works.
The attorney who acts as mediator does not represent either party but acts as a neutral facilitator who is a resource for both. The couple can ask the attorney/mediator legal questions and receive help in arriving at all the terms of their divorce. The mediator drafts the marital settlement agreement, which is the document that is attached to the Judgment. The judge signs the agreement without the couple ever going to court and the divorce becomes final 6 months from the day the initial papers were filed and served. When the mediator has a powerful intention to complete the divorce process instead of dragging it out, the results are miraculous.
As someone who taught school for many years, has a Masters in Special Education and worked with extremely emotionally disturbed children, my primary interest is to help couples do what is in the best interest of their children. It is not in your child's best interest to spend all your money fighting with each other. It is not in their best interest to be caught in the cross fire of their parent's nasty court battle. I have a unique ability to help couples focus on what is really important and get off the positions that keep them from settling. I do what I call "Divorce In A Day" by working with the couple to find each side's bottom line, letting them know what the court would probably do, acting as a reality check if they have unreasonable expectations and constantly refocusing them on what is the most workable solution for their situation. I do all the paperwork associated with the divorce as well as helping the couple craft their own solution.
Divorce mediation works best with honest people who are not hiding assets and just want a result that is fair. Most couples who are in the initial stages of thinking about getting a divorce would do well to meet with a divorce mediator as opposed to hiring their own attorneys. You only get one chance at getting a divorce without acrimony. Once you start to go down that adversarial road, it is that much harder to get back to a place where you can function comfortably as co-parents.
A party may also obtain a quick and easy divorce if the spouse fails to file a response in the case and therefore defaults. The filing spouse serves their spouse wi theta Petition for Dissolution of marriage and if he or she does not respond with a formal Response to the court, then the case will proceed by default.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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