I often hear from clients that until a friend referred them to Divorce With Dignity, they were not even aware that there are divorce options other than going through litigation. I was talking about this recently with Joann Babiak, a San Francisco Bay Area attorney who handles many family law matters, including divorce and mediation of family-related conflicts. She also has a background in psychology and extensive training in mediation and dispute resolution.
Since we both work with clients seeking divorce, our conversation led to the topic of how we can help strengthen our clients’ vision of what is possible to achieve without court-based proceedings. She agreed to share some of her thoughts on this topic in this blog posting. For this article, when Joann talks about legal matters, she is talking specifically about California law.
It’s true that many people are unaware of options they have when it comes to divorce. There are many doors to the court house, and a lot of people have the perception of just the “Perry Mason door” – a litigated case with a big “aha!” dramatic moment – which is generally not what happens in family law.
In a divorce there is a definite potential for hostilities in the court room. The court system is set up as an adversarial system. But there are much better places to air hostilities, such as with therapists, counselors, and supportive friends – people who can help you regain your equilibrium.
Divorce is a journey from point A to point B. It can be smooth sailing, or you might have to contend with some serious storms. Before I discuss legal divorce options with my clients, I ask them to share with me their background, situation, and goals. There’s more to divorce than just picking a legal option – I work with my client to set a course that’s right for his or her circumstances. I ask my clients to express their feelings about the impending divorce – some feel great relief; others are stunned and in shock, feeling like the floor has just dropped out from under them. In any case, it’s not easy to disentangle oneself from someone you’ve been living with for 10, 20, or 30+ years. My desire is to help clients through the process with the least amount of trauma to their financial and emotional security.
Once I get a feel for my client’s unique situation, we discuss strategic considerations of the case and how these influence the client’s choice of available legal options. One of the legal options, of course, is litigation. But there are other often less contentious choices that could result in an out-of-court settlement, such as mediation or collaborative law. These often are better approaches in light of the client’s own desires. States other than California may have different options.
One thing I do not advise is for couples to try to do the divorce themselves. It’s in their best interest to consult with a professional who can make sure their rights are not being neglected. I know some clients initially take the attitude of “give them everything, I don’t care”. These are often people who are in despair. My advice to them is to step back and not rush through the divorce process. Couples need to take a look at all their assets and debts (each spouse’s full disclosure is mandated by California law), and find a way to divide them up fairly. Many people think that if only one of the spouse’s names is on a particular asset acquired during the marriage that they don’t have any rights to that asset. Under California law, this is not necessarily the case.
I try to strengthen my client’s vision of what is possible to achieve without litigation by illuminating the big picture, and talking about ways for the client and soon-to-be ex-spouse to design futures with regard to parent-share time, child care, child support, spousal support, etc. instead of leaving such decisions up to a judge. My goal is to help my client create a good life for him or herself after this chapter closes.
At Divorce With Dignity, we have a similar philosophy to Joann’s. We take the time to get to know our clients so we can provide them with the best service in helping them to achieve a peaceful, non-litigated divorce. Knowing that divorce is more than just filing the legal papers, we take a holistic approach by offering referrals to other types of professionals that may be helpful in each case, such as therapists, divorce coaches, financial counselors, realtors, and attorneys when legal advice is required. To find a Divorce With Dignity facilitator in your area, please visit our website.
I wish to thank Joann for sharing her insights. Our conversation also included the topic of mediation in divorce, which will be the subject of a future blog posting.
The author of this blog is not an attorney and the information contained in these blogs should not be considered legal advice. The information provided here is based on the experience of the author and some of her clients whose actual names are not mentioned. Do not hesitate to seek the advice of an attorney if you have any legal questions.
photo credit: anieto2k