• Our last blog focused on divorce cost in California. We touched a bit upon what is the divorce mediation cost vs. other methods of divorce, but didn’t really delve in to look at, particularly, how much does divorce mediation cost?

    No matter what version of divorce mediation you opt for, you are already ahead of the game in so many areas over litigation. You should never underestimate the power of you being able to create your own future.Yet, the cost difference is nothing to be shrugged at. It is almost invariably going to be less to go through mediation than the litigious route.

    So, how much does divorce mediation cost?

    Mediation by the hour: There are all sorts of mediation for divorce. You can go a mediator that charges by the hour to conduct mediation on single issues that you can’t find resolution on. These mediation firms often do all sorts of alternative dispute resolution, from mediation to arbitration. They, often, will mediate many types of issues from neighbor disputes to divorce. The cost ranges around $175-300 per party, per hour.

    Mediation Only: There are other mediation firms that will conduct the mediation for you. At the end of the day, you will receive a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). You will be responsible for all the initial filings, the financial disclosures, and ancillary paperwork. You will need to file all paperwork and make sure all service of process is conducted properly. Some of these specialize in divorce, others don’t. Sometimes they have packages that cover the mediation and MSA preparation, sometimes they are completely done on an hourly basis. Even with a flat fee, this mediation is likely to run you between $2500 and $6000, depending upon the firm and the complexity of your case.

    Full Service Mediation: Divorce mediation cost is at its most efficient when you come to a full service mediation firm, like Pacific Coast Mediation. These firms, will generally specialize in divorce because they are giving you the red carpet treatment. Their prices include creation, filing, and service of all your paperwork. At Pacific Coast Mediation, our flat fees include everything. You are completely taken care of. This high end service is surprisingly affordable. It runs between $2000 and $6000 per person. Most clients will pay around $3000 per person.

    You know mediation is the way to go for so many reasons! Now you know why cost savings is one of them.

  • Getting a California divorce can be costly. You have been across from that colleague at lunch who was completely unprepared for their surging attorney fees. Who doesn’t have a friend who describes their California divorce as a pit they keep throwing money at? The divorce is the first stage. Just wait until you throw in your protracted custody battle. Your mounting costs can grow to astronomical proportions.

    Before we dig into the nitty-gritty. Let me just prepare you a bit. There is a whole range of ways that your divorce can go. Some of these are your choice and some of them require some finesse with your soon-to-be ex spouse. However, what you will notice is that you have power to make many of these decisions and keep your cost at a manageable rate, especially if you can both agree up front how you want the basics handled.

    What does a California Divorce cost

    1. Doing it yourself: The filing fees, alone, can appear daunting for some of us. In California, each county gets to decide for itself how much they want to charge you to file your divorce. The range is usually between $250 and $450. In San Diego County it will cost you $435 to file. However, don’t be fooled…it will cost your spouse another $435 to respond. Your total just rose to $870 and you both will still need to master the paperwork which can be overwhelming. As an attorney, most of my clients made the attempt to do it themselves. It didn’t work out so well and they found themselves in my office.
    2. Paralegal/Document preparation: I hesitantly place this second because for the full round of document prep, including the judgment, it can tie with the next option. This is when you and your spouse are in full agreement regarding every aspect of your divorce and you just want the forms filled out and your wishes memorialized, formally. This can be a great option….if you both agree. The cost usually ranges anywhere between $500 to $1500 and usually does not include that pesky $870 in filing fees. Also, you will most likely have to file all paperwork and serve necessary documents yourself.
    3. Mediation: Hello friends! This is your best option, by far. First, it is available to you whether you are in agreement or not. Mediators are trained to assist you in creating a future that you both feel good about. If you find a great firm, like Pacific Coast Mediation, they will be full service. That is, for the cost of the mediation, you will also have all documents necessary for a California divorce prepared, served, and filed for a flat fee. Mediation can run you around $3000+, per person, depending upon the complexity of your case. However, that cost usually includes the filing fee. The best part is that because you and your spouse reached the agreement together, people, generally, follow the dictates of it, as opposed to a judgment thrust upon them by a judge.
    4. Attorney fun: I say that tongue in cheek because up front, your attorney is likely to ask for a $5,000 retainer, maybe more. Then, they are going to ask for you to pay your own filing fees on top of that. That is when things get crazy. Attorneys make money on how litigious you are. That is, the more conflict and chaos in a divorce, the more they get paid. To be sure, most family law attorneys don’t want chaos for you. However, they are going to advocate for you in court. That costs money. And….you never know what the outcome will be. You will be forced to accept the ruling of a third party, the judge. The only power you have, in this scenario, is your pocketbook. Pick the best attorney and keep funneling money at them because you, likely, will blow through that retainer with the first court visit. Even then, you never know. I have seen the best family law attorney lose cases to the young guys, despite how many facts you have that support your position.

    In the end, my advice is to mediate your case. It is cost effective and works. Even if you think you and your spouse will never agree, you will be surprised. Make choosing the option of mediation, the first and most important agreement you reach, thus far.

  • In the recent California Court of Appeal ruling  Jeffrey D. Stuard, et al. v. Matthew Stuard the current schema to determine grandparents’ rights in California was reaffirmed. The crux of the case is that father’s parents have been given visitation. The court awarded them a 20% time share of their granddaughter, Riley. Father appealed the ruling on Constitutional grounds. He said that, 1. it discriminated against married and unmarried but cohabiting parents, 2. This order would have never happened if he just stayed married to Riley’s mother, Rebekah, and 3. his rights were violated when he was deprived the right to parent his child without finding him and Rebekah unfit.

    Guess what the court said about these grandparents’ rights?

    They got to keep their timeshare. After a lengthy and interesting discussion, they affirmed this part of the ruling. So are you wondering what they affirmed? Me too. So, here it is ~ the basic state of grandparents’ rights in California.

    California Family Code Section 3100 – 3104 governs grandparents’ rights in California, the applicable statute is 3104. To paraphrase, it says that a grandparent can ask for visitation. If the court wants to give them visitation, they have to:

    1. Find that there is a pre-existing bond between the grandparents and children and that it is in the child’s best interest to continue that relationship.
    2. Balance this benefit to the child against the wishes of the parent and their right to make decisions about their kid.

    In most cases, the grandparents cannot file for custody if the parents are still married. There are named exceptions in the code. They include that the parents aren’t living together, the whereabouts of the parent is unknown for a month or more, either mom or dad joins in with the grandparent’s request, the child doesn’t live with parents, or there was a stepparent adoption.

    Plus, there is a rebuttable presumption that the best interest of the child is to be with the parent.

    Well, that is a lot. The best advice is to mediate this. If you are involved in a custody dispute, this is where you can craft a visitation schedule that works for you and honors what is best for your child.

  • If you are involved in a divorce involving children and you have a desire to be an advocate in divorce for your child you need to read forward because the direct, straightforward route is not the way you may think. When you get in the arena of divorce and emotions and court, your advocacy may be taken wrong. The more you love, the more you can get the short end of the stick for you and your child.

    If I want to be an advocate in divorce for my child, how could things go wrong?

    1. Coaching: It wouldn’t be the first time that a precocious child got accused of being coached by one person or the other in a dissolution. The worst part of the entire thing is that the better educated your child is and the better able they are to express their emotions, the more likely they are to be accused of the dreaded coaching. The best advise to tell your child, male or female…young or old is to tell the truth.
    2. The Boob: Yes, your child could be playing the both of you. A divorce creates a situation where trying to be an advocate in divorce can put you in direct cross hairs for getting played. Your little guy is more savvy than you may realize. He or she may be playing you and your ex against each other. Don’t discount this possibility.
    3. Myopia: You may not be seeing the forest for the trees. No matter how much you think you are right and you know what is going on, your child may be acting for reasons you can’t even begin to comprehend. Seek, at every place to gain perspective. You may think your child is just being difficult when they are desperately seeking to protect another parent. Make sure you have the total story.

    If you want to be an advocate in divorce for your child, the best advice is to try to see things without you being the main character. It seems like you are the main character, you are getting the divorce. Yet, if you want to see things the way your child sees them, place them as the main character for a little bit so that you can feel the feelings, even  if they are odd and strange, that they may be feeling. Then, once you get the feeling of seeing through that new perspective, discuss your child’s reality with them. Honor their perspective and their feelings even if it is not what you want to hear. That sort of open perspective leads to compromises that can be hashed out in mediation sessions. Despite seeming harsh obstacles, mediation can bring about outcomes that work for the best of your family, no matter how unique.

  • I get it. I have a pet…not a dog or a cat but I love my bunny, Reggie, nonetheless. I would be sick if I lost him in some protracted divorce battle. Now, you are getting a divorce and you need to know about pet custody in California. What is going to happen to my pooch? Well, there are some very upsetting points and some points that will give you comfort regarding pet custody in California. Let’s start with the distasteful reality.

    Pet Custody in California is not looked at as custody, at all.

    “Why not?” you ask….well, because pets are considered chattel, or property. Courts are going to view your pet as any other non-dividable piece of property. That is, they will view the monetary value of your pet as an asset to be given to one party or the other. You don’t have custody rights to a piece of china or a diamond ring, and you don’t have them with your pet either. This also means that the same rules governing separate and community property apply. That is, if one of you owned the pet prior to marriage, he or she will likely be considered the separate property of that party.

    Is there any hope of arranging pet custody in California?

    I am glad you asked, because through mediation, pet custody can be your reality. That is, within the boundaries of your personally crafted Marital Settlement Agreement, you can arrange a custody and visitation schedule for your pet. When the document is agreed upon and notarized it becomes contractually binding. Even though the courts will rarely enforce pet custody in California, the negotiation process is often enough to bind the parties to their agreement. In the mediation context, there are likely to be many negotiated points on both sides. After a lengthy mediation process, both parties are generally loath to unwind the document they both worked hard to create. There is power in this hard work and that can only benefit you when you reach a firm decision about pet custody.

    So…if you have a pet, and are considering divorce, the better option for a chance of pet custody in California is to mediate. That way, you know you will have the future you create…including your beloved pet.

  • As an attorney who has worked in both mediation and in the court system, I have seen a lot of cases where one or both parties is leveling the charge of abuse at the other parent. Sometimes, it is clear cut and obvious, other times it may not be so obvious. Regardless of how obvious it seems to you, the court may not view the same set of circumstances you do as abuse, especially if your allegations involve spanking. What is certain is that you will have a battle royale on your hands trying to prove your allegations. Before you begin, and opt to go to court, rather than mediate, you may want to apply the test the California Court of Appeal handed down last year.

    What is the most recent spanking case about anyhow?

    The facts go something like this: A Los Angeles mom was spanking her child with a sandal…..chankla? and she was reported to the Department of Children and Family Services for physical abuse. The mother said that she only used the shoe to spank her child when all other means of discipline failed. When the dependency case was heard, the lower court said it was abuse. “Hitting children with shoes is not a proper form of discipline, and it’s physical abuse.” The court of appeal disagreed with the broad sweep of this bright line rule. Instead they adopted a test for spanking.

    What is this so-called spanking test?

    Well, before I go on…it can be applied to any form of physical or corporal punishment and is intended to guide the lower courts in their determination of whether an instance of discipline is abuse. So…here it is.

    For a punishment to be reasonable it must be:

    1. genuinely disciplinary
    2. warranted by the circumstances and
    3. not be excessive in amount

    So, before deciding that your spouse’s use of corporal punishment is abuse and getting into the battle of your life, it is helpful to know what rule the court is going to be using. Maybe this new spanking rule will make you more sure than ever that you need to proceed. Maybe, you will realize that what you really need to do is go to mediation.

  • You were going about your busy day and you were served divorce papers. If you didn’t know this was coming, you may be in a bit of shock and filled with a lot of sadness. If you were ready for it, simmer down and start reading. Don’t throw those papers in a corner and hope they will go away. Generally speaking, they won’t…and if you wait too long, you may have to unwind a default, which is a sticky and tangled mess. The next question you want to ask yourself is whether mediation is an option. You see, even at this late date, a full divorce mediation is still available. In fact, if you decide to mediate your divorce, you can do so at any time in this process.

    I’ve been served divorce papers and I agree, what do I do?

    This is the perfect time for divorce mediation. If you get to a firm like Pacific Coast Mediation, they will fill all necessary responses and sit down with both of you to formulate a Marital Settlement Agreement. Otherwise, you will be left on your own. What might that look like, you ask? Well you will need to file a series of papers in a specific order, the first is a response that will need to be filed in 30 days. The second set of papers to be filed are the financial disclosures. Finally, when you are served divorce papers, you will need to file a judgement packet,  complete with self addressed stamped envelopes.

    I’ve been served divorce papers and I don’t agree, what do I do?

    This is still a place where mediation works. In fact, that is what mediation is all about, resolving disagreements and creating a future that you both build. However, if you aren’t inclined to come to the table, you have to be prepared for the worst. First, you will need to decide whether you will hire an attorney or not. The next step to occur is that one or both of you will request temporary orders for support and/or custody. Then the fun begins. You should expect discovery (this is where you are required to produce all appropriate documents requested, including bank statements, tax returns, etc.). You should expect hearings and eventually a trial to decide the fate of your children and your property. However, most contested divorces end in a Marital Settlement Agreement, anyhow.

    If it were me and I were served divorce papers. I would skip the attorney. I would skip the discovery and hearings and trial and cut to the chase. Work out your mediated Marital Settlement Agreement and skip the hassle and cost!

  • When I pick topics for these blogs, I am always looking for timely issues that seem to crop up multiple times around me. Gender bias in the courtroom has appeared multiple times in the course of a couple days. Let me explain. First, I am doing my continuing education credits for the California BAR. I just listened to a great video on the elimination of bias. The focus was on gender bias in the courtroom, specifically. I watched, interested (wink, wink), like I do all my videos. However, when I saw an article a few days later about gender bias in the courtroom, I was convinced this was a timely and relevant topic.

    I am an attorney. I have been in the courtroom as an attorney and as a litigant. We are all human. We all come to the courtroom with our own set of biases that, hopefully, we are working like crazy to minimize. Sometimes this works out well and each party is heard and the decision is based solely upon the facts of the case, regardless of gender. Other times, the courtroom seems to be fraught with bias, and not just from the bench. As a litigant, you are already on edge when you are in court, believe me, everyone is. It is a tense place to be. The addition of gender bias in the courtroom adds to the tension.

    The story I ran across was from the ABA Journal. In this case, it wasn’t the judge who misbehaved, it was one Santa Barbara attorney to another. One attorney told another that it, “wasn’t becoming of a lady” to raise her voice. The judge, in all her glory took umbrage with this statement and sanctioned the attorney for the cost of the deposition, at issue, and an extra $250 to be paid to a Women’s BAR group. I love this. It just tickles me.

    So the big question…

    How do I eliminate Gender Bias in the Courtroom?

    The easiest, best, and simplest answer is don’t go to court. Mediate your dispute. Almost all disputes can be mediated today, even your divorce. Don’t go into a situation where another human being is fighting against their own biases to rule fairly in your case. Craft your own future through mediation.

    Beyond this easy solution, you are rolling the dice. Humans are….well, human. We all are doing are best. If you opt to litigate, just make sure that you model bias elimination and encourage your attorney to remain above board. Although, in the jaws of a fight, winning at all costs may seem like the right course. In the end, you want your ruling to be on the issues and the facts of the matter.

  • One of the few instances when divorce mediation is done cautiously is when there has been a pattern of domestic violence in the relationship. Mediation is based upon the notion that both parties come to a neutral, even table. Domestic violence creates a power imbalance in the relationship that makes mediation problematic, but not impossible. Recent updates in domestic violence law make it easier for the battered party to get and retain a restraining order, primarily because of this power imbalance. In a mediation setting, domestic violence of all sorts is needs to be guarded against. There is no room for belittling, intimidation, or coercion either within the mediation or behind the scenes. When you mediate your divorce, Pacific Coast Mediation  wants you to feel safe and  feel as if you both have equal power to form your future.

    California Domestic Violence Law Changes

    The appellate court, in California, handed down a couple decisions making it easier for victims of domestic violence to get and retain restraining orders. Domestic violence law recognizes that the stakes are high when a person is the victim of domestic violence. Two cases modified domestic violence law, in subtle yet important, ways.

    • Cueto v. Dozier: The facts are that Annette got a 2 year restraining order against Mike. Mike was prosecuted but acquitted for battery. Annette wanted to renew the restraining order, making it permanent. She said that Mike drove past her house on two occasions in violation of the restraining order. It scared her. The trial court judge wouldn’t do it. Annette appealed and the decision was reversed. The appellate court said that a restraining order could be renewed despite that there was no new evidence of abuse. The standard for judges for restraining order renewal is: “if, and only if, it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the protected party entertains a ‘reasonable apprehension’ of future abuse.”
    • Rodriguez v. Menjivar: When Beverly and Randy were dating, Beverly claimed Randy beat her when she was pregnant and was extremely controlling. Two times she sought counselling and ultimately got a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). However, at the hearing, the judge did not grant a restraining order and dissolved the TRO. The judge said that testimony about Randy’s control over Beverly was irrelevant. The appellate court disagreed. They said that abuse included mental abuse and this evidence ought to have been considered.

    In both instances of Domestic Violence Law updates, the court is recognizing the power imbalance created by domestic violence. In one, the court interpreted the law to allow the fear of the abuser to be the guiding factor in extending a restraining order. In the other, mental abuse was reaffirmed as actual abuse. An impressive set of decisions, to be sure. They display, perfectly, why you need to approach divorce mediation carefully. Pacific Coast Mediation has a system in place that takes this care. Contact them today to discuss if mediation is appropriate in your case.

  • Community property in California is defined as any asset acquired or income earned by a married person while living with a spouse. Separate property is defined as anything acquired by a spouse before the marriage, during the marriage by gift, devise, or bequest, and after the parties separate.

    So….I read the definition, What is community property in California?

    In layman’s terms, it is anything you bought or earned during the time you and your spouse were married and living as spouses. Ooooh, one more thing. Community Property in California is community property unless it is separate property.

    So…What is separate property?

    Separate property is property you bought or earned before you and your spouse were married or after you stopped living together. It is also property you got while married that was a gift or that you received as a beneficiary of a last will and testament. There are a few one off items, as well, that make it into this category, like a majority of student loan debt.

    What happens if a piece of property is determined to be community property in California?

    In California, community property must be divided 50/50. Of course if you opt to mediate your dissolution, you can construct any division of property and offset of debt scenario that makes sense in your situation. In a courtroom, outside of an agreement of some sort, you will not have this sort of freedom. Although the division is not in-kind….they don’t divide every asset down the middle….it is certainly not going to be the division you and your soon to be ex-spouse can create through mediation.

    When does community property in California end my spouses right to my income.

    That is the central argument in many a courtroom, “what is our separation date?” Your question is also the answer to why it is so hotly contested, whatever date you agree upon as  your separation date, is the date that community property is determined. Beyond your separation date, your earnings are your own. They are no longer half your spouses, as they were when you were living together. Unless, of course, you remain living together. Or, you have community property obligations..every situation is different and this is a great example of one, small, piece of what most people look at as minutia. It is a BIG deal in court. If you choose to litigate, arguing over when your community property rights end can be protracted.

    I built our family business myself, without any help from my wife. Why do I have to give her half?

    The reason is plain and simple: Community Property in California. Usually an accountant or analyst is brought in to value the business, assessing good will, as well as inherent value. If you choose to mediate through Pacific Coast Mediation, we offer the assistance of a Certified Financial Planner to help guide you to an agreed upon number or to an outside valuation expert. Bottom line is that you can construct how the business will be divided, or one spouse bought out. You have that power.

    I have a pension through my work, can we just mediate it as part of the settlement?

    Pensions and other retirement plans usually require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or Q.D.R.O. (pronounced Quad-Ro), even after the court has ruled, or you have agreed upon a mediated settlement. A Q.D.R.O. makes your retirement plan a party to the divorce and makes it possible for the plan to divide the pension pursuant to the terms of the court order. Whether you go to court or mediate, this will be an additional expense. If you are lucky enough to mediate through Pacific Coast Mediation, we can direct you to a professional who will prepare your needed Q.D.R.O. at a reasonable rate.

    What is Quasi Community Property in California? Is it treated different than community property?

    Quasi community Property is property that you acquired in any form while living outside of California. If you had been living in California when you bought the property, it would have been community property. Quasi community property is treated as if it were community property in California.

    I sold my house when we got married and used the equity as a down payment for our marital home. Can property be both community and separate property?

    It sure can, and this is were the waters get very muddy. This principle is called commingling and it is a common occurrence in real property issues as well as pension issues when a spouse started their job prior to marriage.

    Community Property in California can be simple and straightforward or can be fodder for endless, protracted litigation. The court time spent arguing about a separation date or trying to unwind commingled property is likely to be intense and costly. The good news is that through mediation, even the most complex cases are successfully divided without the tumult involved in litigation.

     

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