This is Thomas Ferreira, your family law attorney and mediator in Carlsbad California. Today I want to tell you about a philosophy of going through a divorce, child custody, support or other family law matter.
If you are already in the thick of family law litigation you will recognize some of the things I will discuss in this post. For those of you at the very beginning, you may feel like your at the edge of a black abyss, staring down into unknown depths and wondering what’s in store for you.
What I’d like to do is shine a light into the abyss, and give you some philosophy you can use right away as you start this journey in California family law court.
1. It’s Not What You Think.
Most people think divorce court or child custody court is always the way it is portrayed in the movies. That is, by its nature nasty, adversarial and dominated by lawyers and judges. But the truth is, in a large majority of the 138,121 divorce filings in fiscal year 2014-2015, about 70 percent of the cases had at least one self-represented person at the beginning, and by the end of the case about 80 percent did. That’s a lot of self-represented folks.
2. Change your thinking about your case.
When thinking about a core philosophy of moving through divorce, I’m tempted to cite the episode of Seinfeld where George decides he is going to do the opposite of his normal inclination for every decision he makes. Straight off, he goes up to an attractive female and says, “Hi, I’m George Costanza, I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
This may not be a good real-life guide to our family law system, but for many of you it may be a good thing to have in your head as you consider your options.
The temptation is strong in divorce and child custody to take actions that are hurtful to the other side and destroy trust. After all, you are divorcing or breaking up. It’s natural to send emotional attacking messages. It’s natural to seek the most aggressive lawyer you can find to make them pay or protect your rights. This is literally what most people do.
I know a man whose divorce case cost him and his ex-wife over half a million dollars. The case was eventually tried in 6 full days, and the court rendered a verdict transferring a huge portion of his wealth to his ex. He struggles with bitterness over the result, and over the effect all this has had on his children.
If I could sum up the philosophy I have used to move through the system for countless clients and through my own case, I would say, “If you want to do well in the divorce system, take every opportunity to build trust between you and your soon-to-be-ex.
This seems counter-intuitive, so let me explain. If you’re nice to the other, understanding their decision, helping them with the children, and following through on commitments and obligations, you’ll build trust over time. If you have the trust and confidence of the other, you won’t need aggressive lawyers, who really only make things worse and more expensive. You’ll be able to agree. You’ll be able to look at the big picture, and resolve your case.
In my own case, my current wife and practice manager, Tammy, has taught me much about this. She is kind to my ex-wife, helping her with our kids and the kids from my ex-wife’s second marriage. This kindness has engendered a trust that helps my ex and me when we have disagreements. We have, with a few exceptions, been able to move through the process without court intervention.
A second philosophy that I have covered in other posts is that the family court is ill-equipped to solve most of the problems that come before it. There is a guy that I met recently that I see nearly every time I am in court. He keeps coming back, thinking that the court can solve his problems. He is like the proverbial person who keeps doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.
The take away here is that if you can sum up the courage and self-control to be nice to your ex, you’ll end up with more money and more happiness after the process is over. And the second take-away is that often the court cannot solve your problems.
Until next time…
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!
Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.