Making Good Decisions in Family Law

If you find yourself confronted with a family law issue, it is important to protect your interests and those of your loved ones. The decisions you make when going through a dissolution of your marriage or when experiencing other legal problems relating to your family may be some of the most important decisions you will ever make. It is because of this that you should seek the guidance and assistance from effective legal counsel.

If you find yourself needing legal representation, this guide is provided to help you consider how the family law system does, and does not, work and how important your decisions are to the process. Please consider the following as general pointers, not legal advice, on the path through a family law dispute.

I. When choosing a law firm and an attorney do your homework.

The attorney you choose is an important decision when involved in a family law matter. Take stock of what is at stake: business interests, real estate, your financial future, custody and the welfare of your children, and the like. With these important issues in mind, try to find an attorney capable of effectively handling your specific case. Don't compromise.

Insure that the experience and advocacy skills of the attorney you choose are the right fit for you. This is the time that you should talk to your friends, therapist and perhaps other professionals to acquire a referral to the attorney best suited to protect your interests. Be sure you understand why they liked their attorney or, where applicable, disliked the attorney who handled their opposing party's case. Sometimes, not liking the "other attorney" means that that attorney was effective. The disliked attorney may be the attorney you want to hire.

If your attorney is not doing a good job, find an attorney who will. If your attorney is not a good fit, find one who is. This is your case.

II. Once you choose an attorney, cooperate with your attorney.

Before you sign a retainer agreement with your attorney's office, read it and be ready to abide by the terms of the agreement. Remember, by signing a retainer agreement you are entering into a binding contract with your attorney's office.

When you receive mail from your attorney, open it and read it.

If you do not understand something, ask your attorney for an explanation. This is why you have an attorney.

III. Review your attorney's bills and pay them, or work out a payment plan with your attorney.

Ask for an explanation of services rendered or costs advanced if you need one.  It is important to keep an open dialogue with your attorney's office regarding any questions you may have about the costs associated with your case. The more work that is done, the more complicated the matter, the more unreasonable the expectations or the more unreasonable the demands of the other side, the more legal fees you will incur. The better the communication, the better chance you have of working in harmony with your attorney through this process at less expense.

Pay your experts when billed and make sure you provide them documentation when they request it to avoid last minute rushes. Rush charges are expensive and can be avoided. Doing things at the last minute can and will cause delays in the resolution of your case, which can lead to additional financial and emotional costs.

IV. Divorce or other family law matters are document intensive.

It is important to organize documents you give to your attorney. This will help keep your legal fees down. When requested, collect your financial records and other documents and deliver them to your attorney's office. Your best effort to locate, organize and produce financial and other documents is crucial to reducing the time spent by your attorney's office in doing so. Do not simply drop boxes of disorganized documents at your attorney's office for them to sort and organize. This will cost you the attorney's staff’s time.

Take responsibility for all aspects of your case. This is your case. Be proactive and partner with your attorney and their staff to insure that you are participating in your own representation. The more efficient you are, the more you will save your attorney from handling administrative tasks instead of practicing law. Allow your attorney the time to practice law instead of having them act as your personal assistant.

V. Keep all communications and dealings with your attorney's office efficient.

If you can reduce your questions or thoughts to writing and forward same to your attorney's office, it will help in reducing the duplication of questions and answers and allow the attorney to address each concern or question once, instead of repetitiously. It is rare that you need to speak to your attorney's office on an hourly or daily basis.

However, it is always important to keep your attorney informed of significant developments during the course of your case. Keep the lines of communication open and return calls and respond to inquiries from your attorney promptly.  Your attorney’s office should do likewise.

VI. Follow the advice and instructions of your attorney

Follow the advice of your attorney, your therapist, your tax advisor, and other professionals during this difficult time. Following the advice of your hired professionals is better than taking the advice of, or listening to the opinions of, casual friends or strangers you may meet. Each family is different. Comparing your divorce or family law matter to your friends’, neighbors’ or other family members’ is not productive. There is no such thing as "the usual" divorce or custody dispute.

VII. Be on your best behavior during the course of your proceeding.

Make sure you are able to keep your emotions under control, with the help of qualified clergy, counselor, or therapist if needed. Going through a dissolution or child custody dispute can be emotionally draining and can lead to anger and uncharacteristic aggressive behavior. You are going through one of the most difficult times in your life.

Be sure you do not act out inappropriately in the presence of your spouse, children, or when you appear before the Judge. Always make your best effort to be rational, reasonable and realistic throughout your case. You can be your own best friend or your worst enemy before, during and after your case is over. When faced with life changing choices, being calm helps you make better and smarter decisions.

The State of California has set rules that require individuals to meet the requirements of full disclosure in a dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership.  Your business becomes the Court's business. Financial penalties and sanctions may be imposed by the Court against any individual who is obstructionistic during the course of litigation or whose behavior is found to be inappropriate.

VIII. Keep your story private.

Your family situation is your own business. It is important to keep it that way. Your privacy is important.

Caution: Stay off the internet! Don't post negative comments about your spouse or anyone else. Once your comment is posted, it is there forever and can and will likely come back to haunt you.

The best advice during this stressful period is to take good care of you and your health. You need the stamina and the strength to endure the extra pressures during this emotional period.

IX. Don't blame your attorney for how the family law system works.

Your attorney did not create the Family Law Code, the Code of Civil Procedure or the Rules of Court. The Legislature did. When you file a document with the Court, your attorney is required to follow certain legal procedures. These requirements must be followed during the course of litigation. You can help your attorney meet deadlines by responding promptly to requests, providing necessary information, and being honest and forthright.

Your attorney does not have control over how the Court system operates or how fast a case proceeds. In difficult litigation, you and your attorney may go to court on several different issues. Often, individuals will say, "But nothing is going on in my case... we haven't even been to Court.” Please recognize that many tasks are being performed on your behalf on a daily or weekly basis to move your case toward  resolution. Your case is not like a fiction series you may see on television.

X. Choose your battles wisely.

Don't go to Court over small inconsequential issues or file as many motions as you can just because you can. For example, don't spend time, money and energy over one piece of furniture. Be smart. Don't let your anger, frustration and upset take over your good sense.

Don't let your case control every aspect of your life. If your attorney is effective, you will find yourself with appropriate orders that will assist you and guide you into your future. It is important to maintain a good relationship with your attorney in the event you need them again. Your attorney will know you and your family dynamic well by the conclusion of your case.


Basie & Fritz - Attorneys at Law
3638 Camino Del Rio North, Suite 280, San Diego, CA 92108 | 619-280-3000 | Copyright 2013