Tips on How to Find the Best Family Law Attorney for You

Attorney Frann Setzer

by Frann Setzer, Esq.
MBA/Certified Family Law Specialist
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

Attorney Frann Setzer

Family law attorney Frann Setzer

It surprises me how many phone calls I receive from potential clients whose first question is, ‘what is your hourly rate?’  While I appreciate that legal help is not inexpensive, my experience is that receiving advice from a qualified professional is invaluable.

My tax professional charges a similar rate to an attorney. While she is not the least expensive accountant, she has saved me thousands of dollars.

Remember when you are speaking with a family law attorney for the first time, you are in fact interviewing each other to see if it is a good fit.  Money should not be the only criteria in your hiring decision.  Rather than start by asking an attorney’s hourly rate, you need the answers to the following questions first:

  1. Expertise.   Does the attorney you are interviewing have solid credentials?  Is he or she certified as a Specialist by the State Bar?  Does family law comprise 100 percent of his or her practice, or does he or she practice in several other areas of the law as well?  Does the attorney have other degrees, such an MBA, a master’s degree in taxation or a financial credential? While well-credentialed, experienced attorneys invariably charge more than those who are not, the quality of the advice received is often vastly different.  As with my tax accountant, paying for good advice can translate into thousands of dollars saved.  Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  2. Philosophy.  Attorneys are people too!  Some are more aggressive, some are more passive.  How often does the attorney you are speaking with litigate?  Is he or she trained in Mediation?  Is he or she trained in the Collaborative process?  When presented with a problem, would this attorney suggest filing a $5,000 motion with the court, or would he or she first pick up the phone and call opposing counsel or write a letter to try to solve the problem?  Certainly at times it is necessary to litigate, but litigation is usually the most contentious and expensive route to take to solve a problem.
  3. Chemistry.  Your family attorney is someone who you are going to be ‘living with’ for a period of time.  Do you communicate well with this person?  Does your attorney understand your concerns and suggest solutions with which you are comfortable?  Is your attorney able to explain the legal issues to you in plain English?  Having a certain amount of chemistry is necessary in order to create a feeling of trust that this person is acting in your best interest.
  4. Comparison Shop.  Quite a bit of information can be found on an attorney’s website.  Even more information can be gained through a personal interview.  While many attorneys charge for a consultation, it is money well spent.  You will gain a sense of who this person is, the type of office in which he or she works and most important, you will be able to assess whether the hourly rate quoted is a good value.  You should also receive an initial professional opinion about your case.  See at least two attorneys.  Remember that consulting with an attorney does not obligate you to hire that person.
  5. Billing Practices.  Should you decide to consult with an attorney, ask about his or her billing practices.  Exactly what does he or she charge for? Does staff complete some of the work? Staff work costs less money per hour than the lead attorney.  You should receive a retainer agreement from an attorney you are considering hiring.  Unless you have an emergency situation, take a day to read that agreement and be sure you understand the services provided and how they are charged.  If you do not, do not hesitate to ask questions. Attorneys vary more than you might think on how they charge for services and the services that they provide.

Selecting the right attorney to represent or consult with you can make all the difference in the experience you have during dissolution or other matters, the amount you spend in legal fees and in the outcome of your case.  Unless you have an emergency situation, take the time to make a well-considered hiring decision.

Don’t Trash Talk Your Ex: Staying Civil After Divorce

Family conflict and stress

Among the many significant benefits of collaborative divorce is providing a framework for respectful, civil discussion between spouses about difficult issues. By remaining civil, emotional stress is lessened on everyone in the family, especially the children.

Once the divorce is final, parents need to continue those respectful communication practices as they work together to raise their children. The positive aspects of collaborative divorce can be unraveled quickly when children witness their mother and father speaking harshly about one another, even if the conversation isn’t directed at the children. Conflict and the family stress it creates benefits no one in the long run, no matter how justified you may feel at the time.

Marina Sbrochi  is a dating coach who works with people returning to the dating scene after a divorce. She offers her advice about refraining from “trash talking” your former spouse. Sbrochi’s endorsement that reinforces our collaborative divorce philosophy of respectful communication continuing well after all of the legal details are final. Read Sbrochi’s sensible advice here.

 

Hildy Fentin named President of Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Falcon Valley Group
619-997-2495 / gayle@falconvalleygroup.com

(SAN DIEGO) – Family law attorney and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mediator and collaborator Hildy Fentin has been named President of the Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers for the 2014-2015 term. Fentin is the first attorney named to this leadership role whose practice is limited to Alternative Dispute Resolution. Fentin is Immediate Past President of CFLGSD and a valued member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego.

Hildy Fentin, Collaborative Family Law Group of San DiegoThe AAML, founded in 1962, is recognized as the most prestigious national family law organization in the U.S. with more than 1,600 Fellows in the United States. Academy Fellows are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law. To be represented by an AAML Fellow is to be represented by a leading practitioner in the field of family law.

Fentin has extensive experience in various alternative dispute resolution methods, including mediation, Collaborative Divorce, and settlement conference judging. She is often brought into cases to facilitate settlement because of her history of success in finding creative solutions.

“This honor is meaningful to me because it represents a significant shift in thinking about how best to resolve family law disputes,” said Fentin. “It was not so long ago that the only accepted approach to divorce was the traditional litigation model. Now divorcing couples have the option to engage in a consensus-oriented, collaborative approach which is a more dignified and respectful process for everyone involved. It reduces emotional stress and keeps decision making in the hands of the parties, rather than handing their future over to the courts.”

The mission of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego is to transform the resolution of family law issues through respectful, collaborative processes that protect the integrity and health of family relationships and eliminate the need for families to resort to litigation. That is why Fentin has devoted significant time and effort to the growth and development of CFLGSD.

“My goal in any legal matter is to educate and help guide parties to a fair resolution and avoid stressful, lengthy and expensive litigation,” said Fentin. “My reward is when they reach a comprehensive settlement in a peaceful and respectful manner.”

Fentin is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California; Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; and immediate Past President of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego. Fentin is a recipient of the Judge Norbert Ehrenfreud Family Law Award (“Norby Award”) for dedicated and meritorious service to the Family Law Bench and Bar, awarded by Family Law Judicial Officers. She has extensive training and experience in negotiation, collaboration and mediation.

“My appointment to this AAML leadership role recognizes the significant impact of Alternative Dispute Resolution and its growing acceptance in the legal community.”

About the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

CFLG San Diego’s members work together to learn, practice, and promote collaborative processes for problem solving and the peaceful resolution of family law issues, with an eye toward preserving the emotional, as well as the financial, assets of the family. Its goal is to transform the resolution of family law issues through respectful, collaborative processes that protect the integrity and health of family relationships and eliminate the need for families to resort to litigation.

CFLG is online at www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com, and LinkedIn.

 

Six Tips for Separating Emotions from Economics in Divorce

Financial Infidelity and The Money Trap

by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®, CDFA 

They say that a bad marriage is like a game of cards. You start out with two hearts and a diamond – but end up wishing for a club and a spade. When those feelings surface during a divorce, it leads to unproductive conflict and often results in a less than optimal settlement.

In divorce it is important to focus on the real problems to come up with real solutions. If spouses are at war, they are likely to see each other as the problem and the divorce as the solution. But they won’t get to true resolution until they recognize that simply isn’t true. The real problem is how to divvy everything up in divorce, and divorcing spouses won’t arrive at the best solution for their family until they collaborate on resolving their issues by working together, not against each other.

No matter how much spouses despise each other, they often equally despise spending money on a divorce battle, so even though they are on the outs they may be willing to work together to settle matters and keep the costs down by staying out of court.

When you are going through a contentious divorce, the key is to avoid letting uncertainty whip either of you into an emotional tizzy. The more frenzied your emotions, the longer the proceedings and the more costly the divorce. Collaborative divorce can be a Godsend in reaching optimal resolution at a reasonable cost.  In collaborative divorce, you’ll have all the professionals at the same table, working with the same facts, and engage coaches to keep everyone on track. That keeps uncertainty and miscommunication down, which helps everyone focus on the issues that are most important.

The job of the professionals in collaborative divorce is to help clients figure out how to divvy up the assets and debts so that each spouse emerges from divorce with a fair share of the pot that will let them begin anew. Here are six tips the divorcing spouses can use to separate emotions from economics:

Don’t let guilt rule you. “Please release me, let me go,” pleads the country song, but don’t give up everything to buy your freedom. Your spouse will still be unhappy that the marriage is ending, and you’ll be unhappy when you find yourself impoverished by your foolish gesture. The needs of each person are important, and the goal is to reach the best agreement possible as you balance those needs.

Don’t give in just to get it over.  When going through divorce, carefully consider your current needs and your needs in the future. You can’t depend on your soon-to-be-ex have your best interests in mind, and you can’t depend on your attorney to know exactly what is best for you and your family. Don’t try to shortcut a divorce. The only way out is through, and it will take your conscious involvement to reach a resolution that will work for you.

Don’t make nice to get him or her back. It’s all right to hope against hope that your divorce will end in reconciliation, but don’t bend over backward to make it happen. Stand up for yourself and get your share. If you successfully reconcile, and some couples do, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t, you’ll still be able to take care of yourself financially.

Leave revenge at the door. Legally, it doesn’t matter who did who wrong. Revenge is costly, and funding a wild rampage by not giving an inch is bound to turn out badly. You won’t win every battle, no matter what, and if you stubbornly stick to your guns despite all reasonable offers to settle, who knows, you might even end up paying part of your spouse’s attorney fees.

Don’t succumb to threats, or threaten your spouse. Money and power are emotionally linked, but in divorce it isn’t smart to try to use money to control your spouse and get your way. If you launch a full-blown court battle and argue every financial issue, be assured that most of what you can’t agree on will end up being split between your attorneys, with a sizeable amount going to the financial professionals. That is money that could be used to fund your family’s future if you stay out of court.

Focus on problem-solving, not fighting. Don’t let meetings with your ex turn into posturing to show who is in control or how smart you are. Settling your divorce is the problem you confront, and it won’t get solved through fighting. You can’t get everything you want in divorce, so figure out what is most important to you and let the rest go. You’ll end up with a better agreement, a less tumultuous relationship, a happier family, and a healthier future.

More Women Are Paying Child Support and Spousal Support

When a female celebrity making big money paid out spousal support, it made headlines: Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Janet Jackson, Jessica Simpson. Now the trend is trickling down.

Jennifer Lopez is among many high earning women celebrities who have paid out spousal support. Photo: Fox/American Idol

Women are breaking professional and societal barriers at a tremendous rate today. Women professionals, entrepreneurs, military and organizational leaders are no longer considered unusual.

Just as gender stereotypes are breaking down in other areas of American life, they are breaking down in divorce outcomes. If the wife makes more money than her husband, she faces the real – and fair – possibility of paying spousal support. If a spouse of either gender gave up a career or worked less hours to be the primary parent, it doesn’t matter whether this was mom or dad, the stay-at-home spouse is likely to receive spousal support, and possibly child support if he or she continues to have primary or in some cases even shared custody.

In circumstances that are atypical of the norm, using the Collaborative Divorce approach to seek a fair and equitable outcome without preconceived assumptions can be a wise choice.

Read more here about this family law trend in a column published this week in Communities Digital News by CFLG San Diego member Myra Chack Fleischer, lead counsel with Fleischer and Ravreby in San Diego.
 

 

Five Tips For Successfully Negotiating Your Divorce

by Michele Sacks Lowenstein, Attorney, California State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist, Lowenstein Brown, A.P.L.C.

Trying to negotiate a divorce in a conference room with either a mediator or two attorneys is hard work. However, the result can be worthwhile if you bear in mind that you are a parent forever and the story of your divorce will, ultimately, be your child’s story as well.

An important component of successful negotiation is the use of language during these negotiations. Words express how we think about and see life. The words we use are symbolic of our perspective on life. Some people may wonder why the use of language factors so heavily into these negotiations. In my experience most people going through a divorce don’t want to end up in court. They do, however, want to feel that they have been heard by the other person and efforts were made on both sides to address each party’s issues and concerns.

Consider that when people have filed for divorce they are already at a point where they are unable to communicate effectively and are probably unable to communicate effectively about anything. Participating in divorce negotiations requires people to do something they probably haven’t done in a long time; they must listen to each other in a new way where they no longer jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying.

It’s not easy. In fact, it is hard. However, it can be done. And, it can be done successfully so long as each party is aware that they can each frequently press the other’s “hot button” without even meaning to do so.

So, here are five tips for the successful discussion and negotiation of a divorce.

1.         Stay Away From Polarizing Language.

Using the terms “custody” and “visitation,” while accurate, tends to draw battle lines. Expressing the child sharing plan in terms of “I want to have custody and I want you to have visitation” will certainly cause the other parent to begin to focus on the terms “custody and visitation.” The focus, in fact, should be on a parenting plan that works for the child and not on the terms. Parents who focus on working out the times the child will be spending with each of them rather than arguing over the terms “custody and visitation” will be more successful in their negotiations. And, being more successful in the negotiating process means that these parents will ultimately be more successful in their co-parenting post divorce. Ultimately, the parents are more likely to stay out of court, which causes less stress to the children and to them. So, everyone comes out ahead.

2.         Frame the Issues in a Non-Combative Manner. 

I have been in a number of negotiations where we have reached an impasse on an issue and have decided to move onto another issue. Unfortunately, someone may say “We can fight about that later,” when the non-combative way of phrasing this is “We’ll put this on our list to discuss later.” It may seem small, but framing issues in terms of having to be fought out later rather than discussing them makes a huge difference in the mindset of the parties who are experiencing the divorce. People have already had their share of “fights” and don’t need to be gearing up for another one.

3.         Engage in Interest Based Negotiations Instead of Position Based Negotiations.

Positional based negotiations are adversarial as the “other side” or “opposing party” is seen as an opponent. (Again, labels play a large part here). Reluctantly, a concession will be given. Reluctance leads to resentment and this, of course, results in either the negotiations breaking down or the parties litigating issues in the future. Also telling someone that you are not going to change your position is not conducive to reaching resolution as it only causes each party to dig in their heels. Interest based negotiations seek to find an outcome that is mutually acceptable to both parties. Of course, neither party can generally meet all of their goals and objectives but it is important that each party work  with his or her professional team to set forth realistic goals and objectives and see if a solution can be fashioned which will benefit both parties.

4.         Don’t Refer to Your Soon to Ex in the Third Person.

Sometimes a person will refer to his or her spouse as “he” or “she” rather than using the other person’s name. While it is understandable that doing this is part of venting anger and frustration, referring to someone in the third person as if they aren’t even the room only serves to create additional conflict because that person will feel they are being diminished. People who feel their feelings are being diminished are not likely to be able to act in a constructive fashion to resolve issues.

This  applies especially to lawyers who tend do this or, even worse, refer to the parties possessively as in “your client” or “my client.” This is very de-personalizing.

5.         Don’t Curse, Please.

It should be evident that using four letter words during a business meeting is unprofessional and disrespectful. However, it is amazing how many people actually do swear during negotiations. Using curse words will not bring resolution to any issues but will only serve to cause people to focus on the fact that “them is fightin’ words.” Learning how to express oneself not only allows for improved communication but also provides for a better understanding of one’s own feelings.

As Margaret Thatcher once said: “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. And watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” Good advice for everyone.

 

Collaborative Divorce Method Mirrors Reality, Replacing Fear With Relief

by Meredith G. Lewis, Esq
Certified Legal Specialist-Family Law
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

For the first several years of my family law practice, I represented clients who were looking to the judicial system to make decisions regarding their children, finances and property.  These clients felt it appropriate to provide a judge who didn’t personally know anything about them with complete control over their future and that of their family.

A release of such control never seemed natural to me.

As I slowly transitioned my practice to only Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), I saw a much higher rate of satisfaction with the dissolution process among my clients.  Until 2013 my ADR practice focused mostly on mediation. At the suggestion of my friend and colleague  Shawn Weber, CFLS, I took the Collaborative training.

The training showed me that the Collaborative process and its outcome better reflected reality.  In the artificial environment of a courtroom, a judge is limited in his or her decisions by the Family Code and case law.  However, these code sections and court opinions often do not allow a judge to mirror reality.

I instantly realized during my first Collaborative case that it is a process which understands the needs of the parties.  The key moment of this realization was during the meeting addressing the issue of spousal support. Instead of plugging in numbers into a computer program to come up with an artificial support payment, we reviewed in detail each individual’s monthly budget, and allocated the combined net income appropriately.

This process insured each spouse’s necessary expenses were met, and even allowed some discretionary expenses to be covered.  The spousal support number was based on reality, and each person walked away from the meeting feeling confident he or she could financially survive post dissolution.

Best of all, their fear about the future was replaced by a sense of relief, which resulted in having control over how their lives would progress.

The team approach of the Collaborative dissolution was an invaluable tool for working with this family. As in any case, each had their own attorney for legal advice, but both also had the benefit of a financial expert providing knowledge and insight, and a mental health professional to address their emotions during the process. These are two key components which are often missing from the traditional divorce process.

The ultimate agreement and outcome of the case was one that in fact mirrored reality, allowing each individual to have control of his or her future – control that was never handed over to the impersonal judicial system.

Developing Diversity in Divorce Goal of Statewide Conference April 25-27

CPCal working to meet the needs of the modern family

Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR
619-997-2495 or gayle@falconvalleygroup.com

 

(SAN DIEGO) – Collaborative Divorce professionals throughout California will focus on broadening the reach of the Collaborative model to an increasingly diverse array of families at its statewide conference April 25-27 in San Francisco, California.

A team of ten members from the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego will take a leadership role in the conference, including attorneys, financial specialists, and mental health practitioners. They include Julie Mack, attorney/mediator and President of CFLG San Diego; attorneys Adryenn Canton, Hildy Fentin, Julia M. Garwood, Meredith Lewis, Frann Setzer, Nancy Taylor, Colleen Warren, and Shawn Weber; and financial advisor Ginita Wall.

“Our model offers a way to meet the needs of non-traditional families in the legal system,” said Mack. “It allows for flexible, respectful solutions to common family law challenges involving marriage and divorce. We strive to address the legal and psychological factors affecting a wide range of families.

“The Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego is eager to let people know we offer them a range of choices for legal, financial, and mental health services all with the ultimate goal in mind of preserving the health and well-being of the family, however the family model is defined for them. The Collaborative model is especially well suited to addressing issues that aren’t always typical and often prove challenging in the court system.

“We urge families struggling to address these issues to give the Collaborative Process a chance. Even if they are skeptics, they have nothing to lose by giving our alternative a try,” said Mack.

The collaborative process is being used in divorce and family law, domestic partnerships, same sex marriages, employment law, probate law, construction and real property law, malpractice, and other civil law areas.

The Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego (CFLG San Diego) is a non-profit group of legal, financial, and mental health professionals trained in the Collaborative Process offering an alternative to litigated divorce.

CFLG San Diego’s members work together to learn, practice, and promote collaborative processes for problem solving and the peaceful resolution of family law issues, with an eye toward preserving the emotional, as well as the financial, assets of the family. Its goal is to transform the resolution of family law issues through respectful, collaborative processes that protect the integrity and health of family relationships and eliminate the need for families to resort to litigation.

CFLG is online at www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com, and LinkedIn.

 

 

Divorce (Without The Court): Reasons To Choose Collaborative Divorce

The Collaborative Law Institute of Texas recently held its annual conference in Dallas. As part of the conference, a panel of collaborative divorce practitioners participated in a discussion on KERA Public Radio in North Texas. It is an illuminating discussion we found worth sharing with you. The discussion identifies three main reasons people seek a Collaborative Divorce.

Please listen to the discussion at this link. Do you agree with the reasons presented in the discussion? What is your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

How Divorce Affects Your Health

by Craig B. Grether, Ph.D.  
Clinical Psychologist, Collaborative Coach and Past-President of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

The Stress Effect

Divorce ends what was supposed to be our most intimate life-long relationship. It is one of the top ten stressors on all life event stress scales, ranking close to the loss of a loved one and serving a jail term.

The stress of marital separation and divorce can be acute, (short-term) or chronic, (long-term: greater than six months). The health problems from separation and divorce are both psychological and physical. These effects are more severe for people who separate and divorce in their 30s and 40s and less severe in older adults.

Short-term effects may include:

(1) Difficulty sleeping
(2) Loss of appetite
(3) Inability to concentrate
(4) Digestive problems
(5) Decreased immune system functioning
(6) Increased secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone)
(7) Elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure (hypertension in men)
(8) Smoking relapse among prior smokers
(9) Increased alcohol use/abuse
(10) First time cannabis use

Most adults are resilient and cope successfully with the stress of divorce and the short-term effects.

However, almost 20% of divorcing adults experience long-term effects without recovery four years post-divorce. In addition to the short-term effects, the long-term effects may include clinical depression and an increase in the number of diagnosed medical illnesses.

The incidence of psychological and medical illnesses are more prevalent for divorced people of all ages compared to those who are continuously married. Divorced men and women have the same overall number of health problems but men’s problems are more medically severe compared to women, while women have more psychological health problems.

A Healthy Divorce

Divorce does not have to take such a toll on the psychological and physical health of the divorcing adult. In the Collaborative Divorce process, the negative health effects of divorce can be reduced by working with Collaborative Divorce coaches.  These are specially trained licensed mental health professionals who provide a variety of coping strategies, some derived from behavioral medicine, to address the health effects of divorce.

These strategies include:

(1) Direct physiological regulation through mindful meditation and relaxation techniques
(2) Cognitive (mental) refocusing and reinterpretation of life stressors
(3) Reaffirming personal values and redirection of life energies
(4) Healthful life restructuring including exercise and proper nutrition
(5) Social support outreach to family, friends and community

For divorcing adults with children, a Child Specialist, another licensed mental health professional, is available to support the children and be their voice throughout the divorce process.

Collaborative attorneys can help reduce the stress on divorcing adults by ensuring that clients will not have to endure the cost and stress of legal proceedings and litigation. Financial specialists complete the Collaborative Team by empowering clients intellectually through an understanding of their current and future financial status.

Contact the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego at (858) 472-4022 with your questions about the Collaborative Divorce Process.