Divorce is probably the most emotional and dramatic event somebody will go through. From a legal standpoint a divorce, also known as a Dissolution of Marriage, is effectively a division of a family’s assets and liabilities, an allocation of time as it relates to the minor children. It is also a process by which the spouse who is in the least fortunate financial position has an opportunity to receive financial support from the other party in the form of child support to help with the cost of raising their children and/or spousal support to help sustain them for a reasonable length of time.
As family law attorneys, we understand our clients are going through a very hard time in their lives and our goal is to aggressively, yet cost effectively, represent them in a manner they can get in and get out and move on with their lives. For that purpose we try to balance the need to be done as quickly as possible with the need to do a thorough job to get the best result possible.
Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce
Contested divorces are cases in which the spouses have a disagreement when it comes to some issues, example: how the house will be divided, who will have the children and when, etc… In an uncontested divorce however, the couple has come to an agreement on how they will resolve these matters. Uncontested divorces are more streamlined, and therefore they can be completed much faster.
Complex Family Law Cases
A client can have little to no asset yet have a highly complex case because children are involved and there is a litigation around custody. For example one parent may live in France while the other lives in Orange County, we could have an international custody battle in such case. Another example is a domestic violence issue that relates to custody. A third example is a move-away case in which one parent may want to move out of state to join their family because the other parent is not providing enough support.
Executive Divorce, Orange County
There is a very specific way to manage high-asset divorces. A standard divorce where you have one house, two kids, and perhaps one 401k plan will be different from handling a case where there couple has high and/or complex financial assets.
To represent such clients effectively requires unique knowledge and experience. At Stabile & Moshtael, many of our clients have high assets and/or are high income earners. We have knowledge of taxation law along with a very solid grasp on financial issues; we have a deep understanding of property issues such as title issues; over the years we have developed the connections and relationships with the appropriate financial experts a client can hire to help with the computation of income analysis, standard living analysis, marital balance sheets, and more; we have specific knowledge on discovery, there are specific discovery tools and motions to file which you would not utilize in a standard case.
Divorce Time & Legal Cost
How long a divorce will take to complete is simply unknown at the beginning of the process. The same is true for how much a divorce will cost. Every case is different and there is no way to know with certainty. For example assume a divorce case which is uncontested, both parties walk in and the divorce attorney can only represent one. In such case the family law attorney may offer a set fee, but 99% of the time (at least with reputable family law attorneys) the client will be charged by the hour. The fees are a function of time and since no one knows how long a divorce will take to complete, by consequence it is impossible to answer with how much the legal process will cost the client. Divorce attorneys can control their conduct, and the conduct of their office, they can also have limited influence on their client’s conduct, however they cannot control the opposing party and their lawyer. Every time the opposite side takes a legal step, they need to respond.
Often time clients will have inconsistent visions. They will want to hire an aggressive lawyer, yet they want the lowest legal fees simultaneously. As a client who wants a practice and aggressive attorney should be prepared to spend more money, and expect their fees to be higher than normal because they are going to be on a more accelerated path as opposed to moving at normal pace.
Our goal is to always complete the divorce as quickly and thoroughly as possible, however many factors can reduce the pace of the process including the fact that judges in Orange County are usually overworked. You can ask for a trial date and the Court can set it 5 months from now. In this case the time it takes to complete the divorce is no longer a function of the attorney, or the client, or the opposing party, but simply a function of the court system being backed up, which in a way forces people to settle.
At Stabile & Moshtael, one way in which we help our clients financially is by setting up a monthly budget. We send our clients an email every month in which we advise our anticipated legal costs for next month based upon what has been occurring in their case and what we expect to do the following month. This is just an estimate and we ask our clients if they are comfortable with the budget.
Many lawyers do not offer divorce planning because people do not see it as being a very honest way of approaching things. If you are divorce planning the concept is that you can anticipate an event that will occur well in advance of it happening, which may be illegal. In California, a husband and wife have fiduciary duties to each other, they are treated like business partners under the law. The Law took all relevant rules that applies to a business and profession code and applied to the family code. Therefore a husband and wife are not supposed to lie to each other, or steal from one another, they share everything and disclose everything to one another as partners. This implies even if you are doing a divorce planning and being somewhat secretive about it, you need to meet your fiduciary duties which cannot be violated while you are divorce planning. Usually divorce planning focuses on financial planning. It is a financial plan, a set of recommendations being made to the client to better manage certain portions of their finances without breach of duties so that by the time they go through a divorce they are not in as bad a financial shape as they would have been without the plan.
Divorce planning when you earn more than your spouse
When determining spousal support, a judge will look at the standard of living of the couple for the previous 2-5 years. Therefore if the couple is used to having the biggest house on the block, the latest cars, buying expensive dinners, in divorce planning the spouse would be advised to slowly adjust the amount of money they are spending in anticipation of a divorce. Income is another component the judge will look at. Hence, delicately, the spouse will take certain actions to adjust their income. For example they may be working overtime to keep a certain standard of life; they would be advised to rethink the amount of hours they are working before they are forced to continue doing so after their divorce. Another example is having debts that are not in writing, say a spouse borrowed money from their sister. During divorce planning they will be advised to have a signed document proving the debt. Another good reason for divorce planning is to run a hypothetical divorce and find what sort of financial situation one will be if they had a divorce presently. That is if the numbers provided are correct and if they were in a divorce today, this is the amount of money they would have to pay in spousal support, child support, attorney’s fees, what will most likely happen to their pension, savings, etc…
Divorce planning when you earn less than your spouse
The above assumes the person who is inquiring about divorce planning earns more than their spouse. However what if the person who is inquiring earns less and has limited control over the funds. They cannot easily increase their standard of living and the other party is not very likely to fully disclose all their financial assets. Divorce planning will be a set of recommendations to prepare for this event by taking several steps including: taking a snapshot of the couple’s financial situation so that later on when the divorce is filed and the other spouse wants to be dishonest they can be caught because we would have the proof. We work with forensic companies that work with the District Attorney, they will take a digital snapshot of computers and every digital storage device where important information may be hidden. For example a business owner may want to go and change their profit and loss statement. Having a digital copy of the original document can be prove they were tampered with. Similarly to the above example a good reason for divorce planning is to run a hypothetical divorce and find what sort of financial situation one will be if they had a divorce presently. That is if the numbers provided are correct and if they were in a divorce today, this is the amount of money they would have to “receive” in spousal support, child support, attorney’s fees, what will most likely happen to their pension, savings, and more.
A divorce ends in one of four ways: death, reconciliation, settlement, or trial. Many times it is a mixture of the last two; spouses will usually settle on some issues, but go to trial to get a judge to decide how to resolve other issues. It is always recommend to a client to try and settle. Always. However there is a catch, one should only settle only when one has sufficient information on which to make an intelligent decision. That implies knowing what they are settling about, they must have done at the very east 70% of the discovery before making any decision.
For example if one spouse has a business they are running full time while the has a another job or is a stay-at-home parent, how can they divide the business fairly if the latter does not know what the business is worth. Maybe they would get overpaid. However if there is a settlement in this situation, without the help of legal and financial experts involved, the spouse who is not running the business will most likely be underpaid significantly. A simple question to help clarify: who between those two has more knowledge about the financial state of the business.
When settling, one needs enough information to decide intelligently.
It is our policy to always send a settlement offer before going to court to help our clients save time and resources. The question to ask then is when should the settlement offer be sent.
Mediation is a form of working things out to trial and settle a case. However even in the realm of Mediation both spouses and their mediation attorney need to have enough information from which they can mediate the case. Moreover, especially in high conflict cases, each party may desire to have their own representative in the process to help them understand whether or not they are making a sound decision.
As a concept mediation is great, you have one individual who cannot take sides. This neutral third party tries to help the spouses meet some form of midpoint. However who said such midpoint is fair. Just because a spouse says their business is worth $1 million and the other says it is worth $500,000 does not mean the middle point is $750,000.
Therefore anyone who is looking to settle or mediate should do some from a position of knowledge, with enough information they can make an intelligent decision. As your family law attorney part of our role is to counsel you and perform the necessary research to finally give you an opinion as to what your ranges are so that you make an educated decision.