Southern California has famously high rates of divorce, and the cost of getting divorced in California is considered the highest in the country. While there are many divorce attorneys and law firms competing for business across the region, many of the top attorneys charge rates that – when combined with the challenges and delays of the California family law court system – make protracted litigation financially out of reach for all but the very wealthy. Thus, many parties in a divorce turn to mediation as a cost-effective alternative to reaching a fair resolution of their divorce. Others turn to Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law or Los Angeles Free Clinic for low cost or no cost services.
But what about those high net worth divorcing couples in wealthy communities like Malibu or Calabasas? In other words, the people who may well have the funds to devote $250,000 or more to pay leading attorneys to litigate their divorce? Is mediation an inferior alternative for upper class divorcing couples compared to both parties utilizing their abundant financial resources to retain expensive counsel to hammer out the issues of divorce – property distribution, child custody, child support, and spousal support – in the Los Angeles County court system?
From a general perspective, the answer to that question is decidedly no. The fact that mediation is generally far less expensive than litigation in no way means that mediation is an inferior process relative to litigation. Mediation indeed provides arguably even more benefits to high net worth divorcing couples than a couple with an average level of wealth. Here are a few reasons why.
More Money, More Problems in the Family Law Courts
USA Today reports that the average amount of attorneys fees paid by a party in a California divorce is $17,500, but that number goes up to $26,300 when children are involved, both of which are the highest in the nation.
That may sound doable for high net worth couples, but understand that is merely an average, and the cost of attorneys can easily skyrocket into the six figures where there is significant money and high-priced attorneys involved. The “average” divorcing couple may have a house and personal possessions, cash in the bank, a couple cars, and a few retirement funds to divide. High net worth couples – particularly in those places like Malibu and Calabasas – may well have far more challenging assets to divide: business holdings, complex income streams such as royalties, multiple homes, and numerous investments. More money also means reason to litigate issues such as child support and spousal support, which are both issues that can continue to be litigated for years after an initial divorce judgment is finalized.
All to say, even people with significant assets should avoid having hundreds of thousands of dollars in family funds go to attorneys and experts in finalizing their divorce, whenever possible.
A good mediator is well-positioned to deal with a high net worth divorce, and can include forensic accountants, financial advisors, and other experts in helping the couple determine the best way to divide assets and agree on support in a manner that is fair under the law and which minimizes unnecessary costs. Other members of the mediation team may include mental health professionals to facilitate productive communications and offer input re child custody and parenting timeshares.
Mediation Allows High Net Worth Divorcing Couples to Finalize Their Divorces Quickly
Do you ever wonder why some celebrity divorces seem to be announced and finalized at the same exact time (for example, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert) while others take many years to finalize (Brad and Angelina)? Well, every case is different, but quickly resolved divorces almost invariably mean that the couple reached an agreement which they both signed and which was submitted to the court for approval. Lengthy divorces typically mean that the couple is fighting over many different issues in court, which may come to the court piecemeal over years in a series of temporary or permanent orders (and when one party tries to appeal any of those decisions, even more time is added on).
Los Angeles courts often take months to schedule every specific hearing, and a disputed high net worth divorce may involve formal written discovery, depositions, dozens of hearings over a course of years before the divorce even gets to the trial stage. With mediation, however, couples can schedule their meetings with a mediator on their own schedule and move as fast as they want in working towards a resolution of their issues (and keep in mind with meditation that the parties and not the mediator are the final say on what goes in an agreement, which is different from court where the judge makes the decisions). Meaning a high net worth couple can resolve their divorce in a matter of weeks or months as opposed to years in the court system.
Mediation Provides Privacy for High Profile Families
Public courtrooms are, well, public. Putting aside current COVID restrictions, in normal times anyone in the public is welcome to watch your hearings and/or trial. Furthermore, for the most part, the documents that both parties file in court in their divorce – which can include allegations and evidence of fraud, abuse, criminal acts, drug and alcohol use, and so on – are publicly available. Which is especially perilous for high profile individuals with significant assets and reputations to uphold.
Mediation, however, occurs in private, outside of the public view. To the extent documents are involved, they are not publicly available. The parties can keep their family business private while focusing on the all-important task of resolving their divorce in a manner that preserves family wealth for future generations.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Calabasas Family Law Attorney and Mediator
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.