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Do you think it is crazy for a divorce lawyer to tell you to run away as fast as you can from other  divorce lawyers? After practicing law for 8 years I had my fill of divorce attorneys and how they manage to create tension and expense for their clients. Do you really think  your divorce lawyer is your friend who is looking out for you? This is a business and people are in business to make money. The easiest way to earn the most money is to make sure the divorcing couple is angry at each other so they both pay to litigate the obvious.

Getting divorced isn’t complicated if both of you are honest and are not playing games, like hiding property or lying about income. If you are decent people who just want out, then the last thing you need is a greedy lawyer encouraging you to fight by giving you false expectations of what to expect so that the case never settles.

Guess why one of the first questions a divorce attorney asks is whether or not you own a home, how much you owe and what you could sell it for. The answer is, in California the fees of divorce lawyers are protected by law, out of the equity in their client’s home. If you have equity before your divorce, you won’t by the time the case is done. No wonder cases go on and on for years. The lawyers know they will be paid when they slap a lien on your home and force a sale. Don’t be a sucker. Avoid these sharks if you want to protect yourselves and consider divorce mediation.

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With Mackenzie Phillips’ disclosure about an incestuous relationship with her father, expect a torrent of articles about the topic of child sexual abuse.  Sometimes it takes a public figure coming forward before the rest of us really start to pay attention. This is what happened when Rock Hudson came out of the closet and then later died of complications of HIV.

Hopefully, some good will come out of this latest bombshell, other than to sell Ms. Phillips’ new book. Unfortunately for far too many people engaged in divorce, false allegations of incest are made so that one side can get a leg up in a custody battle. Making one of the worst allegations any person could make against another and knowing it is false, shows just how insane our adversarial divorce process can be.

Mackenzie was 19 at the time the sexual abuse started, but I have been involved in cases where the children were younger, much younger. You never want to dismiss these kinds of allegations before being absolutely certain that they are false, which can mean both interviews and medical exams of the children.

Since the subject of sexual abuse of children is in the news, it might be a good time to review some of the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse.  Changes in sleeping patterns,  bed wetting, and children having nightmares or bad dreams on a regular basis can be tip-offs that something is going on.

If you have a child who has always had a sunny disposition and suddenly becomes depressed, irritable or angry, something could be wrong. Low self esteem, guilt and shame coming from a child who never exhibited those traits before could also be a warning to you.  Avoidance of certain people or places is another red flag. Sexual advances or instances of inappropriate touch can indicate a child has been exposed to sexual behavior.

A sudden drop in grades in school aged children is another possible sign of child abuse. There can be logical explanations for many of these signals, but taken overall, the more of the above mentioned signs you see, the more likely the child is being abused.

If the statistics are correct, one in four girls and at least one in ten boys are sexually abused in some way by the time they are 18, and it is  important to remember that these statistics reflect only reported abuse – what goes unreported is anyone’s guess. The facts also indicate that the overwhelming majority of abusers are known to the victims, and in fact, it is estimated that only ten to 15% of abusers are strangers while half of all assaults take place in the child’s home or the offender’s home.

It is no wonder that allegations of sexual abuse by a parent are taken seriously by the court. It is in society’s best interest that children are protected from abuse. But sexual abuse is not the only kind of abuse a child can experience. With half of all marriages ending in divorce, millions of children are caught in the middle when their parents battle over property, custody and support issues.

Very few divorce lawyers charge flat fees for their services, so the more a couple fights, the more money they shell out to their lawyers. Making false allegations of sexual molestation ensures a divorce case will go on for a long time, depleting the couple of funds and goodwill towards each other.

Children who duck the verbal bullets flying over their heads as their parents engage in a war of words are victims of abuse themselves.  To allow a lawyer to make wild, unfounded allegations against the other parent is inherently abusive to the children. Sometimes children arebeing abused and it is important to protect them appropriately from an abuser, but to escalate tensions by falsely accusing a parent of such an unspeakable act is monstrous in itself.

Mackenzie Phillips was a victim of her parents’ divorce, drug use and sexual perversions. It has scarred  her for life. The sins of her parents have been visited on the child, and now she is sharing her story with the world.  If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to think carefully about who you have children with before you bring another person into the world.

But there is also the lesson of being able to recognize an abused child when you see one.  Mackenzie Phillips must have manifested many of the above mentioned signs, and an alert and caring adult would have seen this girl was in trouble. Sometimes parents are so focused on their own pain, they don’t notice that children are suffering too, and with fewer coping mechanisms for that suffering than adults.

Get involved if you suspect something is wrong. Encourage parents to divorce peacefully without fighting in court so children are not caught in the middle of the familial equivalent of WWIII.

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When your children come to you with their tales of marital woe beware. There will be a great temptation to finance your child’s divorce, thinking that you are helping them get custody or more marital property but in most cases, hiring separate divorce lawyers is the death knell for any co-parenting relationship. Grandparents generally do not have rights to access their grandchildren in either divorce cases or when the parents are still together. Paying for your child’s attorney will be seen by the other parent as taking sides and when one parent “wins” custody, guess whose parents will get the short end of the child visitation stick? Because American courts give great deference to parents, allowing them to chose whom shall have access to their children, our own Supreme Court has held that “fit parents” are presumed to act in their children’s best interests. The state should not, therefore, “inject itself into the private realm of the family to question the decisions of those parents”. That means if the parents don’t want the grandparents to see the grandchildren, the parents choices will usually trump what ever “rights” the grandparents might think they have.

In the major grandparents rights case that made it to the Supreme Court, the father of the children had died. The grandparents had always had open access to the children but when mom remarried and the stepfather adopted them, the grandparents were no longer welcome to have much visitation, so the grandparents sued mom. One would think that the family of the dead parent would be given special consideration, but that was not the case. If courts are willing to cut off the grandparents in a situation where a parent has died, you can imagine how far grandparents get if the parents are just divorced.

A better course of action for grandparents to take when their children are getting divorced, is to be a peace keeper. Refrain from encouraging your child to hire the biggest shark in town. Believe it or not, very little good will come from escalating the emotional tension, which is the inevitable result of hiring separate lawyers. Each state has laws regarding property division and support. There is almost nothing to fight about if both sides are honest. As for custody, the last thing you want is court involvement into this area of a divorce. A far better solution when parents can’t agree on custody and are willing to leave it up to strangers to decide for them (lawyers/judges) is to use a stranger who is actually trained to get to the bottom of conflicts. Agree to leave all custody decisions to a family or child therapist, that way you can skip the lawyers, court and high legal bills in exchange for a fast and cost efficient solution.

Divorce mediation is the very best answer to the question of what to do when it is time to divorce. The couple can use one attorney instead of two. The attorney does not represent either side but is a great resource who can answer legal questions and help the couple negotiate an agreement and draft all the necessary paperwork. In states like California where the average cost of a contested divorce case is $20,000 per side, the cost of one mediator is a tiny fraction of the cost of a case that is fought in court. Any time you can cut lawyers out of a deal, you will save a lot of money. In divorce cases where children are involved, it is vital that they are not caught in the middle of their parents battle. Grandparents can give wise counsel to their own children by keeping the focus on what is in the best interest of the grand children. It is the rare case where kids are better off having limited contact with one of their parents. The best result in most cases is for the kids to be able to comfortably go back and forth between parents, but that is impossible after a bloody court battle. With many grandparents being the main source of funds for things like legal fees, they are in a powerful position to influence their own children’s decision as to how to proceed with a divorce. When grandparents understand what is at stake, they should act according to their own best interest by making sure there is never a war between the parents. That way the children are protected from a nasty court fight and their own access to the children is better protected.

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When a marriage ends, it is usually accompanied by intense emotions that too often result in terrible choices being made that end up hurting the couple and the children. You don’t have to be Gandhi, Buddha or any other kind of evolved spirit to have a “Peaceful Divorce,” but you do need to have the intention to do so.

Reality begins with language. 

What we tell ourselves, what we believe IS our reality. You can have any kind of divorce you want to have. You can tell yourself that he or she is a rat, pig, etc. who would never be reasonable enough to sit down peacefully and work out fair terms and that will be your reality.

As an alternative, you can have an inner dialog that will produce another result. It might sound something like this…

I am faced with a situation and I have a choice.

I can let my emotions run this thing, look for the most cut throat lawyer in town and go in for the kill or I can save my time, money and soul by avoiding court.

What options do I have that will make this process as pain free as possible?

How can I protect my rights and be fair to the other person?

I know everyone wants to get the best deal they can, so how can we set up a win/win?

The conversation you have with yourself and the informed choices you make determine what kind of life and experience you will have. You may be devastated by the news your spouse wants out. Maybe you are furious at what you perceive to be unreasonableness on the part of your spouse. You might be in a lot of different emotional places right now.

I know from many years of working in the divorce field that this is one of the hardest life transitions people face. The two of you are probably not getting along. Does it make sense to increase the conflict by hiring separate lawyers and spending precious time fighting when there is an alternative?

Think before you react.

What will serve you and the children (if you have any) best? The more money you can save, the better off you will be. The more you protect your co-parenting relationship, the easier your future life will be.

When divorce lawyers get involved in your life, things tend to get worse and not better. They bill by the hour. They have no incentive to calm you down and help you resolve your case quickly and inexpensively.

The more you fight, the more they get paid.

The end result is already pretty well known. Every state has support guidelines. Most experienced divorce lawyers can predict how property will be divided and when it comes to custody issues, who loves the children more than the parents?  Why would you even want strangers making decisions on how and who should raise your children?

Imagine the resistance that would arise in you if your spouse said,”I am going to do everything in my power to take the children away from you.

Now imagine what your response would be if they said,

We have a job ahead of us. We need to work together to raise these kids. The children need to be with the two of us as much as possible. We need to make decisions that are in their best interest.

Doesn’t that create a whole other reaction?  Remember, reality begins with language. How you discuss divorce issues with yourself and your spouse will determine the outcome.

Couples need help in navigating their way through the maze of divorce issues.

  • You need to know what the law is and what your rights are.
  • You need help doing all the many forms.
  • You need someone to help you negotiate the terms of the agreement but that does NOT mean you each need to hire your own attorneys.

In most cases they will create more problems than they will solve. The better answer is to find an attorney/mediator in your area who can calmly and peacefully work with both of you. There is nothing to fight about. Millions of couples have already litigated all the issues in your state. There are no legal mysteries that need solving. A lawyer/mediator can explain things to you and you can make informed decisions in a reasonable manner that saves you time, money and protects the children from being caught in the crossfire.

When both spouses are focused on getting out as gracefully as possible and have an intention to be fair and honest, miracles can happen. I do it for a living, so I know what is possible.

Peaceful divorce is NOT for everyone.

There are some people who are “high conflict personality types” but that is only about 15% of the population. That means 85% of the people are rational enough to see that they are better off avoiding the drama of court by working together. It is all a matter of taking a deep breath, calming down and analyzing the situation.

  • What is needed here?
  • What is the best way to do that?
  • What results am I trying to create?
  • How do I get there from here.

Once you start down the adversarial road by hiring separate lawyers and fighting in court, it is hard to turn things around. You only get one chance to have a peaceful divorce. Get informed about your choices.

I highly suggest you read Ed Sherman’s “Make Any Divorce Better!: Specific Steps to Make Things Smoother, Faster, Less Painful, and Save You a Lot of Money (Make Any Divorce Better!)”before you do anything. He has an amazing way of breaking down all the options so you can clearly see where you are and what to do next. If you have children it is so  important to protect them from a nasty divorce if you can avoid it and I believe most people can. If you believe that too, you are already on the right road.

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No one goes into marriage thinking they will divorce one day, but if half of all marriages end in divorce, as the statistics tell us, the chance of a couple staying together are about 50/50, which may be a good bet or bad bet – depending on whether or not you like to gamble.

There is only one sure bet about divorce, and that is this: hiring a divorce lawyer will only make things more expensive and nasty.  I have seen some rackets in my day, but none surpass the self-serving nut house that is our adversarial divorce system. It isn’t bad enough that you are losing a spouse, someone you loved once and probably depended on either financially or emotionally, but if you go the lawyer route, you are going to be fighting a war on two fronts.  You don’t recognize it at first, but after spending somewhere $10,000 or $1,000,000 on attorney fees, the smart person starts to see that the only people benefiting from your divorce are the lawyers.  Anyone who assumes their divorce attorney is their friend and is looking out for their best interest is a fool who will soon be parted with all their money.

“Who is this broad with an “Esq.” after her name slamming divorce lawyers?” you may ask yourself.  If you are wondering if I am a bitter divorcee or have some other dog in this fight, let me assure you I am the voice of reason on this topic.  I have never been divorced.  In fact I have been with my husband since 1985, but I am the child of a divorce.  I taught emotionally disturbed children for many years and for eight years I was a divorce lawyer in private practice.  I came to the law with a bias for only doing what was in the best interest of children, and believe me that is not the focus of most divorce lawyers.  I saw some of the most heartbreaking results in court.  I saw a young child’s life ruined when custody was taken away from the only parent the child had ever known and given to a harsh, uncaring parent who was a stranger – all because the childless, thrice-divorced judge was in a bad mood that day.  Many, many  times I saw lawyers walk away with more of the sales proceeds of a family home than their clients got, which, of course, financially devastated the family.  Much too often, I saw false allegations of sexual abuse used as a tactic for getting a leg up in a custody battle.

If you had a job that paid you by the hour, and the longer you took to do it, the more you got paid, what would be the incentive for wrapping it up quickly?  If you didn’t know when you were going to work again, wouldn’t there be a tremendous temptation to drag it out as long as possible?  Try to find a divorce lawyer who will take a case for a fixed fee.  The nice ones are afraid to do so because of the sharks.  There are aggressive lawyers who will litigate the obvious if they can get paid for doing so.  When a lawyer is interviewing a new client and finds out one of these greedy pigs is on the other side, they know they had better get a big retainer because the other lawyer will never let the case settle as long as they can keep their client angry and willing to pay for a fight.  It is easy to manipulate an emotionally vulnerable client; a common trick is to give the client false expectations regarding what their outcome can be, so that if a reasonable offer is made, the client will turn it down because they have been led to believe they are going to get more than they could ever get in court.  An experienced lawyer has a very good idea about what the court will do in most cases (that is, if the judge follows the law, which isn’t always the case).  Instead of encouraging a couple to fight, lawyers need to calm the waters, tell their clients what the court will most likely do and help them negotiate a fair settlement.

When a divorcing couple is highly emotional and “thinking” with their reptilian brain (fight or flight, impulses coming from the survival level), it is hard for them to be rational enough to understand they will actually get more by working together and cutting the divorce lawyers out of the deal completely.  Like the maze of the Medina, where you have to hire a guide to get you in and out, our court system is so complicated, with forms that are hard to understand and complete, some people just give up and stay in unhappy marriages rather than deal with it.  Unfortunately most people equate divorce with hiring their own lawyers, and having “their day in court.”  They then invest so much money in the fight, they end up with an intractable position necessitated by their investment, which makes the case even more expensive. The secret to beating the system is to agree to be honest about your property and earnings, act reasonably and work together to settle your differences.

Peaceful divorce is an idea whose time has come. If you want a sure thing, gamble on lawyers and judges – you will lose every time.  My money is on mediation.