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Divorce Lawyers, Attorneys and Mediation

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The business of divorce is undergoing drastic changes. About 70% of people are doing their divorces without lawyers. Divorce attorneys are now calling themselves mediators.
If you are looking for a mediator/lawyer, be sure to check credentials, such as mediation training. There are no legal requirements for calling oneself a mediator.
Basic divorce mediation calls for 40 hours of training.
Ask how long a person has been mediating. But a new mediator with good training should not be rejected.
Ask how many divorce mediations the attorney has completed.
Meet with more than one mediating attorney before choosing the one you feel comfortable with for your divorce.

Letter from Supervising Judge, Family Law, Los Angeles

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Here is the letter that is sent to every petitioner for a dissolution of marriage (divorce) in Los Angeles County.  Do people ever read this?  It is good and wise advice.  Today I had lunch with a lawyer who was just back from a morning in court in LA; he told of the horrible way parents are treating each other in court, meaning their children suffer also.


Dear Petitioner or Respondent:

You have a Family Law case in our court. During this time in your life, you have a number of decisions to make about your future and perhaps the future of your children. I would like you to know that our court would like to help make this process as easy as possible for you and your family.

You may have a dispute with your spouse regarding where your children will live, what support will be provided and how you will divide your property. You have the right to have a court hearing and have a judicial officer decide these matters for you, which may be the most appropriate way to proceed, especially if you feel threatened by or fearful of your spouse.

However, going to court is not the only way to resolve family law disputes. Some other ways include having attorneys negotiate directly, having a neutral third party help both sides negotiate a solution (mediation) or using a method such as collaborative law. These other ways may help people find solutions that are mutually acceptable and may be preferable for several reasons: 1) You will directly participate in finding solutions; 2) You probably will be able to resolve your dispute sooner; 3) It may be much less expensive; 4) You may end the process with a better relationship with your former spouse; and 5) You will likely find it less stressful than court hearings. You can speak with your attorney, if you have one, about all of these methods of resolving your case so the two of you can decide which method may be best for you.

It is to your benefit to consider opportunities to reduce conflict and reduce expenses  incurred in the Family Law process. I recommend that you focus on what is most important.  Many people spend time, effort and money attempting to obtain satisfaction by prolonging the dispute with the other party, but this does not guarantee either party will be fully satisfied with the outcome.

If you have children, you must be particularly careful in choosing how to proceed.  Everything you can do to avoid involving them in the dispute or engaging in conflict concerning them will benefit them and you. Your agreement does not need to be perfect. It does need to be acceptable to both of you. For the mediation of disputes regarding your child(ren) and how they will spend time with each parent after the divorce, the court offers a free mediation service through Family Court Services. To make an appointment, call (213) 974-5524.

Please save this letter. Please read it several times during the dissolution process.


Marjorie S. Steinbert, Supervising Judge, Family Law Departments


Thursday, June 30th, 2011


The old-fashioned mythology of divorce still lingers on television and in the popular concept of splitting up.  But do you really need to linger in emotional limbo for two years (the average in Orange County) and use up your child’s college fund or your 401(k)?

Sensible people are finding their way to divorce mediators.

The essentials of a divorce are not complex:

-Identify all property (real, personal, financial) and debts;
-Characterize all property or debts as separate or community;
-Establish values for all property;
-Divide property and debts fairly between the two people;
-Decide what if any spousal support is appropriate; and
-(If you have children) Work out a parenting plan and  child support.

A trained and experienced divorce mediator can assure that you acquire enough information and have enough analysis so you are able to carry on effective negotiation.

Maybe you need a divorce financial planner.  Maybe you need a consultation with a divorce attorney or a forensic accountant.  Whatever each party needs in order to have informed consent to an agreement is a constructive step towards the  objective – a decent divorce.

Judicial Council statistics show that over 65% of people are filing their divorces without attorneys.  But this does include those who are using mediators.  By the end of their cases, 80% are without lawyers.

The divorce sharks are an endangered species.

Is Custody a Fighting Word”

Thursday, May 5th, 2011


A mother and a grandfather were killed this week by a father who apparently had “lost custody” of their daughter.  Four more people died in a  ” custody battle” recently in Orange County.  In October a woman was killed in a custody exchange.  A cursory review of Register articles concerning deaths related to divorce in the past year shows more  mayhem:  “Suspect in slaying testifies;”  “Man gets 15 years to life in slaying;”  “Man gets life term in estranged wife’s killing;”  “Man accused of killing wife, burning her body;”  “Man accused of killing wife to keep kids;”   “Jury selection begins in boy’s drowning;” “Husband arrested in standoff after wife’s killing.”

Then there were the attempts:  ”Costa Mesa man gets 17 years in prison for bomb, weapons case;”  “Suspect in Wife’s beating, kidnaping surrenders;” “Man accused of threatening pair during child exchange is arrested.”  This only in Orange County.   We have 58 counties in this state.

And the poignant article in December about the woman recovering still from the murder of her three children by their father six years ago.  We remember the horror of the boy set afire by his father in a motel in 1983, recalled last November as one of “The 50 Most Notorious Crimes in Orange County History.”

There was another Orange County case in 1989 when three boys were shot by their father (one survived, crippled) that became the occasion for a major change in court mediation protocols thanks to the efforts of domestic violence expert Mildred Pagelow with the mother testifying before a state senate committee.

An international and interdisciplinary organization of judges, psychologists, lawyers and others, The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, has declared the treatment of children in family courts a “public health crisis.”    Founded in California in 1963 to improve the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict,.the California chapter recently noted in a “Declaration of Public Health Crisis” that an estimated half of  the state’s children, or 4,775,939, have been touched by or involved in the court system as a result of their parents’ actions–separation, divorce, guardianships, paternity actions, domestic violence, dependency actions.  One of every two children they estimate, are likely to be involved in a family court case.

Their resolution stated that “…the resources allocated to family law cases involving children do not reflect the ratio of family cases to the overall work of the court.  This is ineffective and ultimately unacceptable,” adding that 175 judges handle the half-million new filings every year, plus the older cases, and at least 459 judges are needed.

The board of the California chapter declared, “There is a clear and present danger to the public health of the children of this State based on our society’s failure to adequately address the impact of child custody proceedings upon children as a chronic, system-wide, statewide, public health crisis which impacts the previous, current and future generations of California’s most precious resource–its children.”

In 1996 there was an official committee, “Family Court 2000,” that was supposed to fix family law.  Now there is a task force named Elkins to try again, and Orange County member Judge Nancy Weben Stock said “the culture of divorce” will be changed.

Said Albert Einstein, “You cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.”

One woman testifying last October to the task force said, “The system forces you into combat.”  One bit of culture the task force draft recommendations cite is to change the word “custody” to “parenting plans.”

That “custody” is a fighting word one can see from every newspaper headline using it–it always goes with “battle.”  The family law killings almost always occur in custody cases.  But in order to get a divorce in California, one must check a box asking that “custody” be “awarded” (after the battle, presumably) to one or both parents.  And two other words go with “custody” — “win” and “lose.”  Then one must also check a box referring to “visitation.”

How insulting is that?  If you do not have “custody” of your own children, you have “visitation.”  And if you do not live full time with your children, child support agencies refer to you as an “absent” parent.  One can see how the “culture of divorce” is one of aggravation and the fostering of hostilities.

What lawyering does to that mix is another aspect.  But people are opting out.  The statistics from the Judicial Council, the folks who run the courts of this state, show that 65% of people doing divorces in this state are doing so without lawyers–and that by the end of their case, 80% are without lawyers.

Will changing “custody” make a difference?  Psychologist say words do make a difference.  Twelve states, including Texas, Montana and Florida, have made the change to “parenting plans.”  But this, the Golden State, rejected that proposal in 1989.  And a retired appellate court judge, famous for his family law writing, said, “Don’t count on the legislature for anything.”  Initiative, anyone?

The Elkins Family Law Task Force submitted their recommendations to the Judicial Council April 2010.   They are now an implementation task force.

What Price Having Lawyers Battle For You?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

What Price Having Lawyers Battle It Out For You ?

Lawyer fees (could be up to $600 an hour) at $450 an hour:

Initial meeting and information gathering         10 hours     =           $  4,500
Discovery                                                                          50 hours    =             22,500
Trial preparation                                                         100 hours    =            45,000
Pretrial motions                                                              30 hours    =             13,500
Court time                                                                          15 hours    =                6,750
Total                                                                                 205  hours    =       $  92 ,250

Expert Fees

Custody evaluator            40 hours at  $250                                    $10,000
Actuary                                 15 hours at  $200 (if you are lucky)      3,000
Vocational evaluator       20 hours at  $200                                         4,000
Deposition costs                                                                                               2,500
Lawyer for the child         20 hours at  $400                                          8,000

Possible total:                                                                                             $119,750

Ditto for your spouse = $239,500 of your retirement, home equity, kids’ college money

The following five guidelines explain the legal basics of divorce:

* Most divorces are settled out of court in the hallways and cafeteria–after all of the above.
* Don’t expect the legal system (or a lawyer) to take care of you.
* Your future is in your hands — not the court’s.
* It’s easier to write laws than to enforce them.

Divorce After 50

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I’d like to recommend two wonderful books regarding divorce and mediation.

Nolo Press has a new book, “Divorce After 50”, a fine addition to their plain-English law books, legal forms, software and website. “Divorce at any age is a time of upheaval. But after age 50, divorce has a different feel, a different context, and a collection of issues not encountered by younger spouses,” says an introduction. This is very true and these issues are very common; you’re not alone. To learn how to combat these issues read the book or call us today for assistance.

You should also check out “Divorce Without Court”, a guide to mediation and collaborative divorce in the new second edition.

I hope you enjoy!

Prince Fredric Von Anhalt

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Prince Frederic Von Anhalt of Munich, Duke of Saxony, and 26 year resident of California, has tossed his hat, not crown, in the ring for governor of our fair state. All in the divorce industry should support him; he and his wife are testimony to our great offices and services. His 1986 marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor was his seventh marriage. and Zsa Zsa’s eighth. Such optimism is refreshing.

Conflict and Chaos.

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Where there is conflict, chaos is a close companion. While in other aspects of life it may be advisable to avoid this unpleasantness, disorder must, in a sense, be embraced when it comes to dealing with conflict. Clarity and resolve can only be achieved by accepting the disorder and chaos that comes along with conflict.

The Culture of Divorce

Friday, December 17th, 2010

“Stakeholders” in the culture of divorce are multiplying. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts will host 115 mental health professionals, 63 lawyers (some dual degrees) and 32 judges to ponder “alienation” and high-conflict parental break-ups. One woman told me, “The system forces you into conflict.” Start with the initial papers you have to file to get a divorce in California; you have to choose a form of “custody” and “visitation.” You are starting out with fighting words from the beginning.

Negotiating a Property Agreement

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Do you wish you had negotiated a property agreement before you had gotten married? It’s not too late to clarify your intentions regarding property rights. Husbands and wives can make valid agreements during marriage to change community property to separate, separate to community, or to alter the status of their earnings. What you earn from work during marriage is community property. That’s the default rule. But you can change that with a written agreement. It is advisable to create a written agreement with the help of a mediator, who will be able to assist with the negotiations.

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