On March 17, 2010, two years ago, I blogged about court closures. Since that time, nothing has improved; in fact, Los Angeles County is going to experience more layoffs and court closures this year. At this point in time, even family law courts – some of our busiest courts – are scheduled to close in the downtown courthouse. Trial dates are being set a year from the time the parties request a trial date and hearings for temporary custody, support and attorney’s fees take months to be brought to resolution.
It is not uncommon to wait in the courtroom from morning until afternoon, to get time from the judge hearing your matter. This is not because the judge fails to work hard. It is because of the volume of cases, the reduction in court resources to hear those cases and the priority given to certain types of cases (domestic violence, custody and cases where an interpreter is needed).
The wheels of justice are grinding to a halt. Lives are coming to a standstill as people wait for a resolution from the courts. What can be done?
While the courts are working hard to change, the system is big and complex; it is as hard to turn as the Titanic. Change is slow. Therefore, if parties in a family law dispute want resolution, they need to rethink their often emotional need to “have their day in court.” Parties need to consider, or reconsider, alternative means of resolving their differences, such as through mediation, collaborative divorce or working with resolution-oriented attorneys. Here is summary:
Mediation: In mediation, the parties, with the help of a trained mediator, negotiate directly with each other to reach an agreement on all aspects of their divorce or other family law matter. Couples discuss and resolve issues such as the division of property, parenting arrangements, child support and spousal support.
Collaborative Divorce: Collaborative Divorce promotes respect among the parties and keeps the parties, not a judge, in control of the process. The parties sign a written agreement not to go to court and work with a team of collaboratively trained lawyers, coaches, child specialists and financial professionals to reach a settlement that both sides can live with. Although Collaborative Divorce involves a team approach, this model usually saves time and money compared to litigation.
Resolution-Oriented Attorneys: This is not so much about a particular process, but rather about the philosophy and skills of the lawyer hired. Some lawyers understand how to strategize a case and work proactively toward resolution; others do not. While the parties in divorce often are angry, resolution-oriented lawyers do not reflect or encourage that anger; instead they help both sides transition through their anger to reach a conclusion to the divorce or other family law matter that yields a win-win situation for everyone involved.
When thinking about what kind of divorce or family law matter you want for yourself and your children, decide if you are willing to spend the next two years of your life in conflict while spending your children’s college tuitions to get to a resolution. If you are not willing to do either of these things, consider the alternatives to time-consuming, costly litigation in court.