Litigation is the most common method couples use to get a divorce in California; however, it’s rarely the most efficient and can even be the most challenging. Congestion of the family court system in Southern California makes the normal issues with litigated divorces even more difficult.
Impacted Court Delays the Divorce Process
According to the Los Angeles Superior Court 2016/2017 Annual Report, their family law court decides more than 30,000 new divorce cases annually. Couples filed 92,544 new cases that year, including marital dissolution, nullity, legal separations, and family law adoptions. That translates into approximately 253 filings per day in the L.A. County family court. With so many filings, it’s not surprising that that long backlogs are delaying divorce proceedings.
Lengthy Cases Increase Expenses
It’s common to have status conferences multiple times each year that the case is pending. Both attorneys attend the conference to give the judge an update about the case. Scheduling additional hearings to move the case forward is likely to happen as the attorneys file orders to show cause or other motions.
Each time a court appearance is necessary, the attorneys bill for the time spent sitting in court, waiting for their turns. Attorneys also bill for travel time and preparation time. If the attorney bills three hours at $350 per hour for a single court appearance, that’s over a thousand dollars per court appearance, per attorney. In addition to court appearances, there are charges for:
- Trial preparation
- Settlement conferences
- Phone calls
- Communicating with experts and court personnel
- Brief writing
Obviously, the expenses add up quickly, and the longer the case drags on, the more expenses there are.
Focus Shifts From Resolution to Winning
Pushing to the side real resolution of legitimate issues in favor of “winning” is common in litigated divorces. The divorcing spouses tend to lose sight of what’s really important, so the litigation process becomes a competition.
There are significant issues needing negotiation during the process of dissolving a marriage. Deciding issues of children, finances, and property should focus on what’s best for all involved. Instead, the spouses may become angry with each other and take out that anger in a long, drawn out, and expensive way. Litigated divorces frequently end with both parties feeling dissatisfied and injured.
Alternative to Litigated Divorce
Some couples choose to engage in a collaborative process to dissolve their marriage. When both parties commit to a positive outcome and want to cooperate, a collaborative divorce is more cost-effective and productive.
Since each party engages an attorney, they still have legal representation throughout the process. Instead of a long, expensive court process, though, this approach usually involves a series of more casual meetings. Each person meets privately with his or her attorney first to talk through the issues. This helps the attorney understand what the client’s needs and thoughts are. During these private sessions, the attorney walks the client through each of the pertinent issues. For each issue, the pair will determine what the best-case scenario is and what the client is willing to accept.
When everyone is ready, the parties and both attorneys meet to go through the list and come to an agreement for each point. The purpose of this meeting is to find common ground and come up with a plan that both parties can accept.
After agreeing on all points, the attorneys work together to draw up the marital settlement agreement. This is an uncontested divorce because both parties agree to all terms and are not asking the court to make any decisions. When the collaborative approach is successful, the attorneys can file the document with the court without anyone having to appear in court.