I see it all the time—someone goes into family court for a solution to their problem, and finds that everything is worse after the hearing than it was before. If you need proof, go and watch any Request for Order calendar at your local California Superior Court’s family division.
This is not to disparage our truly fine family law bench. Where I practice, mostly in North San Diego County at the Vista location, I am often amazed the compassion and understanding that our family law jurists bring to their decisions.
But the overwhelming majority of people who find themselves in our courtrooms have unreasonably high expectations of what a court can do to help in any given situation. To see why, I’d like to take you on a little journey through the minds of the people involved.
Let’s start with you. In the universe of your relationships to your soon-to-be-ex and to your kids is a body of information or truth about what is happening, and what is good for your family. A subset of that truth is your understanding of what’s going on. Another subset is what your ex understands or believes is going on.
Visualize your understanding of what’s going on in your case as a window, the larger blue area in the diagram above. You then go to your attorney, spending an hour (at a cost of $350) for an intake. You present documents like text messages, pictures, tax returns and the like. This information, recorded in your case file and in the lawyer’s brain, is a smaller window inside the larger window of everything you know. Your child custody or family law attorney can’t see everything in your window; he/she must look through the smaller window of his/her knowledge of your life.
Now comes a 20-minute Request for Order hearing. The tools that your divorce lawyer has to present the case include written declarations that you sign, documentary evidence that he/she will lodge with the court on your behalf and maybe two or three sentences from you during the hearing.
The lawyer must expand, as much as possible the judge’s window on your life, but by necessity that window is very, very small. That’s why it’s so darn difficult for your judicial officer to get your case exactly right or see it from your point of view.
The moral of the story is that you and your ex have the biggest windows into your lives and family, and are therefore in the best position to make those important decisions about how to share childrearing responsibilities, how to divide your estate, how you will be supported, in short, how you will accomplish your goals for your post-divorce life. This is your family, and the decision maker should be you, and not your lawyer, or the person who has the smallest window, the judicial officer.
In mediation we take the time to explore how you and your ex can accomplish your goal of divorcing inexpensively, avoiding expensive and upsetting hearings, and accomplishing your goals. In mediation you don’t have to follow the California legislature’s or the judicial officer’s view of how your family should be constituted. If you come in to our free workshop this coming Saturday (February 4, 2017) at 1:00, we’ll show you how to do this.
Hoping to see you soon, I urge you to:
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!
Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.