California was among the first states to adopt “no-fault” divorce, replacing a system that insisted a marriage could not end without a showing that one party had committed some culpable act, like adultery, abandonment or, in California, cruelty. Under the old system, every proceeding was adversarial, and it was something of an open secret that the parties often perjured themselves to obtain a divorce decree. In the words of California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, writing in dissent two years after the state adopted the no-fault approach, the process was “a melancholy charade.”
The acceptance of “irreconcilable differences” as sufficient grounds to end a marriage was a great step forward, but, contrary to some expectations, it did not necessarily make the process easy, either emotionally or legally.
At Seeley Family Law Practice, our practice is devoted to family law. Our experience tells us family law has only grown more sophisticated over the years, with an increasing need for expertise in both courtroom skills and substantive legal knowledge. For all that, the outline of the process can appear straightforward.
In California, a divorce proceeding begins with a “Petition for Dissolution” of the marriage, and the marriage is ended by way of trial or by agreement of the parties. There are a number of ways to reach that conclusion, including settlement/ non-litigation, mediation, and litigation (private or public court). An experienced family law attorney will be able to help their client decide which process is best suited for his or her case. Often a case will involve litigation, settlement and mediation at different points in time in the case.
Like any legal matter, an action to dissolve a marriage can be settled by a negotiated agreement between the parties at any time during the case. In fact, the majority of cases settle, but that does not mean settlement is necessarily straightforward.
For one, a settlement agreement or stipulated judgment generally does more than just end the marriage. It usually addresses the other difficult issues that accompany a divorce: matters of custody and visitation, questions of child and spousal support, and the division of assets and debts.
Second, the success of settlement negotiations often depends on whether the parties can stomach the risks and costs associated with litigation. In the negotiation of marital dissolution cases, the next step is trial on one or more issues, but not all family law attorneys litigate. Some attorneys practice strictly in the area of ADR and collaborative law.
At Seeley Family Law Practice, we encourage settlement and work hard to help our clients get the best settlement possible. At the same time, we are willing and able to go to trial if settlement discussions drag on or become too costly. We are also able to recognize those cases in which it is necessary to obtain temporary orders from the court on one or more issues before a global settlement can be achieved.
In mediation, a neutral third-party mediator meets with the parties to resolve one or more issues. The mediator does not advocate for either side, serving instead to facilitate resolution and, when necessary, to explain the law to the principals. Generally, family law attorney mediators require or at least encourage their clients to be represented by counsel in the mediation process. Our attorneys often serve in this consulting capacity, advising clients as they go through the mediation process and reviewing any agreements that are reached.
Litigation (in Private or Public Court)
When parties decide to litigate their disputes they place the outcome in the hands of the family law court. It is not uncommon for parties to have a short cause or long cause trial on one issue and settle the remaining issues in their dispute. At Seeley Family Law Practice, we come to family law with significant experience in the trial of civil and family law cases.
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