In the first blog in our “How to Screw Up Your Divorce” series, we talked about how the approach of trying to move forward without lawyers in even a mildly complex divorce (for these purposes meaning a divorce with children, significant assets, and/or questions of spousal or child support) under the belief that doing so will make it easier, less expensive or more fair can be deeply misguided and self-defeating. Here, we talk about the other end of the spectrum – when one or both partners thinks that divorce means you immediately are going to war and need to “lawyer up” in the sense of finding the most aggressive, unpleasant lawyer possible (pro tip: while these lawyers are generally not great for clients, they’re also not hard to find) and adopting a similarly aggressive and antagonistic personal attitude towards your soon-to-be ex.
To be sure, there are a lot of understandable reasons that people do feel led to adopt a “this means war” approach at the beginning of a divorce. It’s what we see modeled in TV and movies, but of course good drama is built on ongoing conflict with high-stakes twists and turns – you can’t build a movie around two people who decide to work together at the outset to finalize their divorce amicably and without drama, after all – but save the drama for fiction, not your life. Also, when a divorce ends, often there has been some sort of betrayal or at least dashed expectations, and the emotional urge to “get back” at the other person can be strong. But attempting to do so in the legal arena often just results in headaches, high fees, delay, unwanted courtroom dates, and ongoing bad blood long after it’s over. And, unfortunately, as we discuss below, there are plenty of divorce attorneys who have made it their livelihood to pour gasoline on these emotional flames to increase their fees, but the question is whether that really benefits you and your family or the lawyers.
Courtroom Battles Should Be Your Last, Not First Resort
As we have discussed in numerous blogs, for the vast majority of divorcing couples, the best approach is for them to work together to reach an agreement on the issues necessary to finalize their divorce – including property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support – and submit that agreement and supporting papers to the court for approval, ideally without the parties themselves ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. The benefits to this approach are legion – for starters you save time, you save immense amounts of money that would otherwise be spent on legal fees, and you save your sanity (all of which you’re going to need as you begin your post-marital life).
The key term in all of that, however, is an “agreement.” Which means both of you will need to come up with terms you can both live with and then do what needs to be done to get your signatures on the paperwork. The only alternative to an agreement in resolving a divorce proceeding (short of the parties reconciling or one of them dying) is to have a courtroom trial, which is typically preceded by many courtroom hearings, and that of course is hugely draining in both financial and emotional terms. And when there are children involved, you will need to continue to effectively coparent those children, whether they are six or sixty.
All to say, working towards an agreement means starting with an amicable approach, not a warfoot approach. You wouldn’t set out to create a partnership or employment agreement by threatening to torch the other party’s village and you shouldn’t do so with a divorce agreement either. Yes, this can be hard, but it is very much worth it. And you don’t have to do it alone. There are many skilled family law attorneys, mediators, and other divorce professionals whose business is to help achieve this outcome for you.
“Aggressive” Lawyers Will Generally Aggressively Run Up Your Bill Rather Than Aggressively Seek an Efficient, Fair Outcome
When seeking out a family law attorney to help guide you along the way towards an efficient and fair outcome, you should be very careful in avoiding family law attorneys who espouse an “aggressive” approach to resolving a divorce. There are appropriate times in family law proceedings where a more assertive approach is necessary, particularly where there are issues of domestic violence or where one party has demonstrated a pattern of failing to fulfill their legal obligations.
But too many attorneys out there promote and adopt an aggressive approach right from the beginning, regardless of whether it is needed or not. Why? Well just as long, drawn out conflict makes for a good movie about divorce, it also makes for a very large bill for the lawyer. As we said in the previous blog, this definitely does not represent many if not most family lawyers, but it unfortunately represents a good number of them, and they are to be avoided. And even when financial gain is not the lawyer’s angle, it can be inexperience or simple lack of skill that leads them to pursue an aggressive posture – reaching a fair and efficient negotiated settlement often takes more skill than going straight to court to have the judge sort it out.
Again, the point here is to reach an agreement between the parties, and working with an attorney who wants to antagonize the other party regardless of the situation will most likely lead to attorneys battling it out in hearing after hearing, not getting you the future you and your children need and deserve.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
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.