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California: How To Choose The Right Divorce Lawyer
(provided by Belinda Etezad Rachman, Esq., Attorney-Mediator)
You open up the phone book and are faced with so many ads for divorce lawyers you have no idea who to call. Divorce is scary because you have heard so many stories from your friends about how nasty and expensive their own divorce was. Or maybe you saw your own parents as they waited for their lawyers to return their call, and waited and waited. Every month they would get a bill for each phone call, letter or court appearance and at the end they hated their lawyer so much that it scares you now. All of these are typical responses. You have enough self preservation instinct to be wary of divorce lawyers. Everything you have seen, heard and experienced is true.
Having been a divorce lawyer since 1996 I will tell you the dirty inside secrets and warn you what to look out for. In California and maybe in your own state, divorce lawyers are the ONLY kind of lawyers whose fees are protected, by law, by the equity in their client's home. Before you proceed with your divorce, you must find out how divorce lawyers in your state are paid. Do they have the right to run up huge bills and then slap a lien on your home and force a sale at the end of the case? Over the years I have seen many, many lawyers do everything in their power to keep the case going so they could run up a bill because they knew they were going to get paid. People who advertise themselves as being "aggressive" are playing to your worst instincts. Do you want the MOST you can get out of a settlement? If so, keep away from aggressive lawyers because by the time they are done, there will be little to divide.
Child custody and visitation issues bring out the fighting tiger in a lot of people because they are so angry at their ex it is hard for them to see how much their children need BOTH parents in their lives. It is the rare case where it would be in the child's best interest to have limits on parental contact. Your focus during your divorce as well as your life, needs to be on what is best for the kids. Divorce lawyers who manipulate emotionally vulnerable clients by encouraging them to fight over the children are not doing them any favors. Depending on the age of the children you may have a very long co-parenting relationship ahead of you. Do you really need to start World War III with the father or mother of your child? A more child focused attorney will understand the need to create a peaceful relationship with your ex and not engage in a scorched earth policy.
The battle over property division can be the one that makes the least sense. How often do people spend more money on the fight than what the stuff is worth? People will get more if they cooperate with each other. This may seem counter intuitive to you but it is true. Think of it as dividing a pie. Which way will you get more, if you cut it in half between the two spouses or if you cut it in 4ths so that each spouse and their lawyer gets a share. Obviously the fewer hands in the pie the more you will get.
So what is the solution? How can you find the right lawyer who has the intention to serve you rather than themselves? I am going to start by making some statements and then I am going to ask you an important question. It is a fact that our legal system is adversarial. That means there is a fight with winners and losers. The rules of evidence and legal forms are so complicated you have to hire a guide to get you through the divorce process because it would be a full time job trying to figure it out for yourself. Given the state of affairs as they currently exist, does it make sense to avoid the whole adversarial system when getting a divorce? If keeping out of court and saving money on legal fees while protecting your assets and co-parenting relationship sounds good to you, then you really ought to explore mediation.
So let's assume you want to proceed with mediation. You want to make sure the mediator you use has a great track record. The most important thing you want to know is how many couples have they worked with and what percentage settled. Once you find that out you can compare price, length of time it takes and other factors like personality and sex of the mediator before you make up your mind. The important thing is to have all the information you need to make an informed decision. Remember you only get one chance to have a "good divorce" so don't go down the wrong road because you won't like the destination.
Information provided by:
Belinda Etezad Rachman, Esq., Attorney-Mediator
California Divorce Source
California Divorce Laws
California Community Forum
California Divorce Resources
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