What is the difference between you, your soon-to-be-ex, and Brad and Angelina? Sure, you’re a firefighter and your spouse is an educator, and even with your 401Ks and dashing good looks. Neither of you has won an Academy Award or appeared on the pages of Vanity Fair. But aside from that and oodles of money, private jets, and personal chefs, there’s another thing that sets you apart from the Hollywood divorce crowd: They know how to keep their dirty laundry from being aired in the corridors of the county courthouse. The A-listers understand how to package their “conscientious uncoupling” while getting it signed, sealed, and delivered quicker than Blake divorced Miranda and began dating Gwen. These couples never set foot into family law court.
I was on the bench for almost 20 years, nine of which were devoted to presiding over a family law docket, and though I worked very hard to bring dignity to my courtroom and fairness in my rulings, I was still a stranger in a black robe making generational decisions for families I met only in the sterile environs of my courtroom. Honestly, for the life of me I never understood why people kept coming through my doors to share their family’s heartaches, grief, anger, and intimate details in such a public and often chaotic arena.
Do any of the following statements describe you or your partner?
- We cannot get along about anything –kids, cars or our house!
- We get along pretty well, but need some guidance to get through the divorce.
- The last thing I want to do is have some judge decide where my kids spend their Saturday evenings.
- We have a lot of things and issues to sort out, and I have no idea where to begin.
- My ex is a ________. (Jerk, narcissist, control freak, etc.)
- We cannot talk about anything.
- I cannot keep taking days off from work to go to court just to have my case continued.
- I cannot keep paying out thousands of dollars to get a divorce!
WHAT “THEY” KNOW, THAT YOU SHOULD – If any of this rings true, the “A-Lister’s” divorce secrets may be the perfect antidote for your frustration. What Hollywood and the elite know is that traditional court works for some people, but not everyone. Traditional court is based on an adversarial template, and the breakup of a family is already adversarial enough without adding kerosene to the flame. Family law attorneys who have a practice based on resolution, integrity and helpfulness to their clients are wonderful. These practitioners make a stressful time as supportive as possible. Unfortunately, gun-slinging, take-no-prisoners attorneys add fuel to the fire, ratcheting up the heat until you are financially and emotionally spent and burned to a crisp. Additionally, courts are under-resourced, packed with families clamoring to get their six minutes of time before a judge who will make generational decisions about your kids, your business, your money and your house. It is a scary and often unpredictable way to tear apart a household.
A-listers know there are other ways to resolve family law disputes or settle a divorce without going to court. Here are a few things those in the know are doing to keep their private lives private. They can be indispensible in your divorce, too:
AN EXPERIENCED FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE – A conscientious and experienced family law attorney can help you draft a marital settlement agreement. If you and your partner agree on everything and you are both represented by attorneys, you can submit all necessary paperwork directly to court and never make a court appearance. This only works if both sides agree to everything and you are paired with an attorney who knows that resolving your case privately is more important than puffing, posturing and pumping up for fighting.
A-LISTERS AVOID THE “DIY APPROACH” – After hearing horror stories of prolonged divorces and ghastly amounts of money being spent, the do-it-yourself, paralegal approach can look very appealing. Tread cautiously here, and do your homework. Don’t simply Google “divorce paralegal” and select the first name you see. Is the paralegal service supervised by a licensed family law attorney? Did you know that paralegals may not draft legal documents that secure or advance legal rights (that’s called the unauthorized practice of law in California, and is illegal). Are you and your spouse able to dictate 100% of the terms of your divorce agreement to the paralegal service and not rely on any “advice” they may give you? Unless the paralegal is a licensed attorney, they are unable to practice law, so you’ll also want to know who the paralegal connects with in order to help guide you. Also, beware of notarios, document preparers and paralegal services who are doing more than preparing paperwork. If a document preparer is giving you any legal advice, they may be practicing law without a license – a serious offense.
MEDIATORS, PRIVATE JUDGES, AND NEUTRALS – THE SUPERSONIC A-LISTER SECRET TO A COURTLESS DIVORCE – If you play around on the Internet researching divorce in California, the answers to how much it costs and how long it takes vary. Certainly there are horror stories outside the average, and success stories as well. Generally, the consensus is that for a simple, average, run-of-the-mill divorce it will cost around $25,000 and take you 15 months. If you have complicated issues, own a business, disagree on the children or someone is moving out of the area, those numbers increase rapidly. As a judge I saw attorneys’ fees and custody and business evaluator fees, therapist fees, minor’s counsel fees, and all sorts of expert fees frequently hit and surpass $75,000! And on many occasions I heard distraught parties plead with me, “I was quoted $5,000, and now I am into this for $50,000 with no end in sight, judge!” Parties have spent life savings and gone into debt fighting in court about holiday schedules for kids and whether or not to sell the marital home. No one wins in divorce court if the parties and attorneys are fighting till death do you part with your money, your possessions, and your sanity. Smart parties who are divorcing, separating or attempting to resolve their conflicts, with or without an attorney, understand that mediation empowers parties to make decisions for themselves.
Good, experienced, and smart mediators and private judges settle cases privately and outside of traditional court for a fraction of the cost and time. Do your research and find a mediation firm that has vast experience and knowledge in the area of dissolution, parentage, child custody, business litigation and resolving cases. A-listers resolve their cases faster, cheaper and much more privately by using a private judge or mediator in the comfort of a mediation office. SMART COURT and any mediation firm worth their title will provide a comfortable, large space with separate rooms for conferencing, beverages and snacks, helpful staff, and access to technology as well as competent, experienced conflict resolution experts.
If you are getting a divorce or battling in family court, you are no different than the A-listers. You have options, and now you know what they are. Why would you spend all that money and emotional currency in a hostile public pressure-cooker when you can reduce costs, time and stress? Consider the SMART way of handling your family law case – the future for you, your ex and your children will look brighter.