Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why your neighbor is wrong

This morning I received another "my neighbor says" e mail. Everyone seems to be an expert on divorce because they either have been divorced, know someone who has been divorced or their hairdresser knows someone who has been divorced. There are certain myths that keep making the rounds. Even my professional family law lawyers list serve occasionally gets a question from a novice lawyer who believes some of these myths. So here goes:

Myth: A minor can choose which parent he or she lives with when he or she is 14 (or 15 or 12 or 16) The correct answer is 18 -- the age of majority in this state.

Myth: The judge will ask the kids where they want to live. Fact -- the children will never be called upon to testify and the judge does not want to talk to them. The children's preferences are heard through an intermediary, typically a Guardian ad Litem (GAL)

Myth: If you move out of the house it will be considered abandonment and you will lose all rights to the asset. Again, correct answer is NO. All assets are considered and available for division, even if the person moved out of the house.

Myth: If you have an affair you will lose custody of the children. Fact -- it is how you behave as a parent that will factor in the custody determination. (Incidentally, we no longer use the word custody, it is a parenting plan)

There are many more myths I hear and a few of them are even true. I would love to answer your questions. Either post to this blog or send me an e mail and I will answer directly or in a future posting.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tell it to the Judge

I have been making it my mission to change the way people think about divorce. I truly believe in empowering couples to dissolve their marriage in a respectful cooperative way without going to court. Most people find going to court for their family law cases to be a miserable experience. It is very public, sometimes humiliating and very intrusive. That is the reason I am actively participating in organizations that promote keeping family law cases out of court such as King County Collaborative Law, International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and various mediation organizations.( , , )

I recently found an unlikely ally -- A Judge! Actually he is a retired Court Commissioner, (Court Commissioners hear family law cases in this state) and had been on the bench for 25 years. This judge spoke to a conference of family law attorneys promoting mediation and collaborative law. From his point of view, there are many reasons couples should consider alternative dispute resolution. In the future I hope to have him write a guest column for me but in the meantime here are some points to consider.

Judges have to consider case law as precedent -- Judges are bound by laws made by the state legislature often in response to a particular case and various previous cases that have been determined by hiqher courts. You may think your case should be an exception to those laws. The judge may even vehemently disagree with those prior cases or legislation. Judges don't make new law and will rarely find exceptions -- even if the case is argued brilliantly and the facts appear unique to you.

The Judge doesn't know the case as well as you do -- The people who have the most information about the case are the parties. They in turn translate that information to their attorneys who then translate it for the Judge who has a very short time to digest the information and make an informed decision. A lot may get lost in translation. One Judge described this to me as a pyramid with the parties at the base and the Judge at the very top. As you move up the pyramid there is less and less information. Even the experts and witnesses have only part of the story.

Add to this the fact that the courtrooms are overcrowded, Judges may be hearing many cases in one day and Judges may have their own preferences or biases. Some are open to creative solutions and some are very traditional. Most of the Judges are fair and they are competent but they are still strangers to your particular situation.

Going to court is the most expensive option available in not just money but time and emotional trauma.

Read more about options on my web site.