Friday, June 12, 2015

The "I" Word; Cases That Can't Settle

While I feel it is necessary to educate the public about options to divorce outside of the old fashioned court process, it isn't always possible. Both parties must agree to mediate or collaborate.

Many divorcing spouses do not want to agree to anything their ex has to offer. There may not be anything that anyone can do about that. Some spouses simply want to hurt the other at all costs. In these cases you will need a tough attorney to have your back. If the attorney is strong enough, she or he will need to push back until the other side hopefully starts thinking about settlement.

Many tough, litigating attorneys are happy to settle their cases; it's the ones who inflame the parties and churn the case that you have to be careful of. This is when it's great to know that you have an attorney who is collaborative in spirit but who can also advocate for you. That gives you the chance to negotiate a little bit at the very least.

To learn more about your options, call for a free consultation at (626) 351-1200.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Can Parties in Litigated Cases Afford Mediation?

Recently, I was reviewing a discussion between family law attorneys about the costs of peacemaking (namely, mediation). I was expremely disappointed in what I was reading.

Some of the comments included the opinion that the courts should be awarded more funding for the administration of free mediations for litigated cases. Or in the alternative that the court system should maybe pay mediation fees to mediators because the parties are unable to pay attorneys fees, spousal support, child support and two households and then add on mediation to the litigation process.

I disagree wholeheartedly. It is completely up to the family law attorneys to set the tone and educate their clients that it costs far less to attend mediation and stay out of court whenever possible. If the parties pay for mediation in the beginning before the mud-slinging begins, there is a good chance that the parties won't have to pay their attorney retainer fees AND replenish the retainer fees. Attorney's fees can cost anywhere between $20,000 and hundreds of thousands on average - PER SPOUSE!! Mediation and collaborative divorce may cost between $5,000 and upwards of 35,000 per family depending on the complexity and ability to communicate and compromise. If parties cannot afford mediation fees, then they certainly cannot afford to spend their income and assets to pay 2 litigation attorneys to make court appearances.

For more, see the following article:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Good Faith Use of Collaborative Process

Lately, I've been hearing family law litigators and forensic accountants saying that collaborative divorce doesn't work because one party may enter into the process for the purpose of learning the other sides' strategy and it's easy to drag out a case until the other side gives up and remove the case from collaborative process to litigate.

First, there are a few disingenuous people in every kind divorce process, be it collaborative, mediation or litigation. However, if the professional team is trained, transparent and communicate with each other, hopefully we can determine that there is a bad apple quickly and either guide them to being transparent, or close out the collaborative case to minimize the manipulation by the bad apple.

Second, collaborative divorce includes something that litigators have an extremely difficult time with; refraining from taking positions or planning strategies. We work hard to "de-position" the clients in collaborative divorce. It is critical that everyone keeps an open mind. Once the information has been gathered by the neutral financial specialist, and she or he creates some scenarios to consider for settlement, then the team can brainstorm with an open mind and discuss solutions best for that family. Collaborative lawyers need to avoid the pitfall of getting stuck in mere law. Families are far too important to force them into the limited rules of law and deprive them of creative, thoughtful, real life solutions.

For more information, contact Amicable Divorce Services for a free consultation: 626-351-1200.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce - Part 4

The lawyers (who MUST be collaboratively trained) draft documents as needed and are there to make sure the client can make informed decisions. We're not there to argue the law. In fact, the law is the lowest point of interest in collaborative divorce. What we care about is the values and interest of each family member and what solutions would work best on a case-by-case basis. After meeting with the client, the divorce coaches tell the lawyers what the clients' values and interests are.

The divorce coaches (who must be licensed therapists and also trained in the collaborative process) work with the clients on communication, emotions and co-parenting. This is a key component of the collaborative process. Without open communication, the process cannot work. Without co-parenting to support the children (even adult children), the kids may be set up for failure, guilt and fear... for their entire lives.

The financial specialist is like a neutral mediator who gathers the financial information, discusses this information with the team, educates the clients, and leads the team meetings. We rely heavily on the neutral financial specialist which saves the clients tons of money. Rather than paying 2 attorneys and 2 forensic accountants to fight over your money and property, you have one neutral doing all of the work with you and creating scenarios that may solve all of the short and long-term financial concerns.

Collaborative divorce is the opposite of the cookie cutter, litigation process. We put the clients' real needs above everything else.

For more information, schedule a free initial consultation with Leslie Howell (626) 351-1200.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dabbling Versus Focusing

A question I am sometimes asked is whether a civil or criminal attorney is appropriate to represent clients in family law matters. Sometimes you see an attorney's website with a long list of kinds of law she or he practices. It's personal opinion, but I wouldn't want an attorney who dabbles in family law to be involved in my divorce. And if I have a run in with law enforcement, I certainly wouldn't want an estate planning attorney to represent me any more than I'd want a heart surgeon to operate on my brain.

Typically, you want someone who focuses on one field of law to represent you in whatever matter you're dealing with. There are a few exceptions. I know very few attorneys who handle each crossover matter well and I believe that the key is how thin they spread themselves.

Leslie Howell practices family law only. Call for a free initial consultation to learn about your options for divorce. (626) 351-1200

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce? Part 3

What are the roles of the collaborative professionals? The roles of the professional team members are different than in litigation. Let me compare litigation with collaborative divorce.

In divorce litigation, the lawyer often takes on many roles: litigator who will fight for you, argue the law for you, strategize with you, hold your hand, give you tough love, calculate your budget in terms of child support and spousal support, and characterize and divide your assets and debts. If we have you hire other professionals, we tell them what their job is and what to do in each case. For instance, we tell the forensic accountant what issues to work on and what the client's position is. We also prefer a psychologist who will favor our client to help win the case.

Collaborative divorce is vastly different. Each professional on the team handles her or his own job without direction from anyone else. For instance, while the collaborative lawyers may know about some of the clients' financial concerns, we do not fill the clients' heads with strategies or positions. On the contrary. We do our best to remove any positioning our clients may have so they are able to have an open mind. There is no talk of "50/50 custody" and advising your client to remain unemployed so that he or she can get all of the spousal support they can possibly get. There is no talk about spending more time with the children in order to pay less child support. These are legal positions. Instead, we all aim to keep an open mind and gather all kinds of information to begin brainstorming on solutions that will address each family member's concerns. We work together as a team to restructure the family and make it as successful as possible in the long term.

More on the roles of the collaborative professionals in Part 4, by Leslie Howell of Amicable Divorces Services. (626) 351-1200.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce? Part 2

The most expensive part of the collaborative process is retaining your professional team. It helps if you compare collaborative divorce to litigation:

In litigation (when you're going to go to court), each party pays their respective attorneys a retainer fee before the attorney commences work on the case. Litigation retainer fees range from $3,500 to $10,000 on average in the Pasadena area. Of course you might be able to scrape up an attorney to represent you as your attorney of record for $2,500 or $3,000, and you can certainly find Westside attorneys who charge upwards of $50,000 retainers. (See our blog "What is a Retainer Fee")  These retainers are replenished over and over throughout your case until years later when your case is finally finished. Some clients replenish their retainers every month.

In a collaborative divorce, you pay each lawyer a retainer, ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 in the Pasadena area. These retainer amounts depend on the complexity of the case, and how much attention a client may require. These are factors that lawyers may be are evaluating during your consultation. As long as the retainer is reasonable sufficient (not too low), the collaborative retainer is not likely to run out too quickly like it does in litigation. Keep in mind that you also pay your 2 divorce coaches and 1 financial specialist a retainer fee so there are a total of 5 or more retainer fees. Sometimes retainers may need to be replenished but certainly not as often as in litigated cases.

In the end, an average litigated case will cost somewhere between $20,000 and $100,00 PER PERSON from beginning to end. Cases involving high income earners or trust beneficiaries will cost far more than this. Collaborative divorces usually cost between $15,000 and $35,000 total for the entire family. Again, if it is a complex case or emotions run extremely high it can cost well over $35,000 but will still cost a fraction of that same case if it were litigated.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series....

...or contact Leslie Howell now for a free initial consultation to learn more. (626) 351-1200