Three Big Challenges In Family Law
The legal profession and courts have a lot of motivated and intelligent individuals who are good at what they do and who work hard to help their clients through difficult times. However, there are three significant limitations in the system that are beyond the control of the individuals within it. If you are planning a divorce, you should be aware of these limitations before you seek legal help.
1. Budget Cuts Hit Family Courts Hard
In California, and in many other states, dramatic cuts have resulted in severely reduced court services to the public in all departments and, in particular, have taken a considerable toll on the family courts. Unfortunately, the chances are that if you do end up having to go to court for any reason, it is likely going to be in this hard-hit area of family law.
As an example, in the last five years the California judicial branch alone has been cut 1 billion dollars, and General Fund support of California’s court system has been reduced by nearly 65 percent. Most other states have experienced similar cuts since the recession.
2. Too Few Lawyers are Trained in Family Law
While divorce does have legal implications, it has many more complexities that are financial and emotional in nature. This makes it difficult for lawyers, particularly those practicing family law, to provide their clients with the help they need to properly resolve relevant issues for a family in crisis.
In law school, the training provided is general and covers a wide array of subjects. Furthermore, it is not unusual for a practicing family law attorney to have not taken any specific courses in family law. To make things even more difficult, lawyers are often not well trained in the skills most often utilized in their day to day practice, such as client interviews, negotiation, counseling, etc. Law school curriculum emphasizes learning the law and making arguments, it does not spend much time (if at all) teaching students how to conduct interviews and negotiate terms, a must have for reaching a divorce settlement.
Unlike other professions, there are very few readily available internships or residencies that focus on such training. Thus, many family law clients get attorneys who, though well trained in crafting arguments and doing legal research, aren’t well versed in how to communicate and listen to their clients in order to help resolve their issues without going to court and battling it out.
3. Not Every Judge is an Expert
Most people would expect that once a case goes to court, that a qualified and knowledgeable judge will handle the matter. Unfortunately, too often judges themselves do not have the training or experience needed to handle family law matters competently. To apply to be a judge in California, a lawyer must have practiced for 10 years, have a clean record, and be recommended by their peers. There are of course a number of other factors that are considered, but these are the minimum qualifications. Most California Judges are appointed by the governor (the rest are elected) and once the appointment is made, they are assigned by the presiding (head) judge of that county to a particular courtroom. From that point onward, they are often rotated every few years.
New judges often do receive a brief education at judge school as to how to perform in their new role. However, once completed and assigned, they are expected to learn that department’s area of practice on their own, often borne out in the courtroom itself. Therefore in California, a judge in family court may not have practiced family law as an attorney, and might have nothing more than a reference guide to rely upon when hearing cases while serving on the bench.
With these three major challenges, it is especially important to consider all your options if considering divorce. You can work with a couples’ counselor to discuss how to resolve things; you can work things out with your spouse/partner in mediation; you can hire attorneys for consultation only; you can choose to go with a hybrid between collaborative law and mediation like Wevorce; or you can fill out legal forms with an online service.
Although it is not always a choice to get a divorce, how you go about it will probably be the most important decision you will make once you’ve started down that road. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all world when it comes to the options available today for divorcing couples. You no longer have to wage battle in court and risk a final settlement that could be destructive to your family with the only true winners the two lawyers hired. Nor do you have to leave your fate in the hands of a complete stranger who may or may not understand the complexities of family law.
You are empowered with the opportunity to start this painful process in a way that might save you unnecessary litigation, stress, and possibly even money. By carefully considering and choosing those who are most qualified to help, you can keep a difficult journey under control and reach a sustainable resolution that is in your family’s best interest.