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Budget Cuts Imperil Access to State Courts

photo by s_falkow via PhotoRee

Across the nation, state court systems are facing severe budget cuts that may result in a delay of justice for many.  Because so much of the budget of the court is personnel, staff reductions are one of the only options. California has been no exception. In their frantic effort to stem the tide of red ink in Sacramento, legislators have cut $350 million from the state court budget, with more cuts to follow. A local newspaper is calling it “Courtmageddon.”

For someone contemplating braving the courts to get a divorce, the news is grim. Twenty-five of San Francisco’s 63 Superior court chambers have been shuttered. Two hundred of 480 employees will be getting pink slips. “It will take a year and a half to get a divorce in San Francisco and to get a child custody order. If you file suit, we won’t do anything with your case for five years,” San Francisco Superior Court spokesperson Ann Donlan said. Unfortunately, Los Angeles County may not fare much better. Right now, it is common for a lawyer in Los Angeles to face an eighteen-month delay when filing an order to show cause. That can be catastrophic if the matter concerns custody of children, visitation, or any number of other sensitive issues.

Getting on with one’s life is paramount, and a lingering, costly battle in court is the last thing anyone wants. It simply stretches out the pain, multiplies the cost, and hurts your children.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. Collaborative Divorce offers a different, and less destructive, path to reconstituting the family. Ron Supancic, a seasoned litigator and expert in alternative divorce strategies, is recommending collaboration as a sensible alternative to the embattled and clogged state courts. The professionals and resources of The Law Collaborative can make the journey shorter, less traumatic, more equitable and leave more goodwill and cooperation than traditional divorce.

For more about the benefits of Collaborative Divorce, click here.

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: The Problem with Court

This is the fourth and final installment of Honest, Blunt, & Brilliant: Interviews with Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear. This week she talks about some of the problems with California’s family law courts.

“Family courts have been the stepchild of the judicial system all over the world for all of history. They don’t receive the percentage of trial court funding proportionate to the number cases, complexity of cases, importance of cases to individuals involved or the importance of the wellbeing of families and children to the society as a whole. The caseload and the budgets do not compute.”

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Missed Parts 1, 2 & 3? Here they are:

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: “A” Stood for Alternative
Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Child Development
Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Custody Matters

Don’t miss another episode! Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes.

Learn more about Leslie Ellen Shear at

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Custody Matters

Ron and Robert had the opportunity to interview Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear at the Pepperdine Law School Consensual Dispute Resolution seminar in 2010. Leslie Ellen Shear is a graduate of UCLA Law School, a California State Bar Board Certified Family Law Specialist and Certified Appellate Law Specialist, and she’s the author of numerous published opinions. Ron and Robert have known her for over twenty-five years and she is one of their most respected colleagues. Honest, blunt, and brilliant, Leslie Ellen Shear is a true powerhouse.

This week Attorney Shear finishes her conversation on child development, then goes on to discuss move-away cases, frequency of contact between children and parents, and the current problems in the California Family Law courts.

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Missed Parts 1 & 2? Here they are:

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: “A” Stood for Alternative
Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Child Development

Don’t miss another episode! Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes and tune in next week for the final episode in this four-part series, Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: The Problem with Court.

Learn more about Leslie Ellen Shear at

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Child Development

Ron Supancic asked Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear what steps parents can take to insure that their children are not harmed by the divorce and she answered,”They can take a deep breath to begin with.”

In part two of this four-part series, Attorney Shear describes beautifully the emotional process a couple goes through while divorcing, what their children go through, and what parents can do to help their children get through it.

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Missed Part 1? Here it is:

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: “A” Stood for Alternative

Don’t miss another episode! Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes and tune in next week for Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Custody Matters.

Learn more about Leslie Ellen Shear at

What Does Assembly Bill 939 Mean For You? (Part 2)

Assembly Bill 939 lays out major changes to California family law, including changes to the laws surrounding child testimony. While it’s important to acknowledge the positive effects some of these new laws will surely have, Ron and Robert are left wondering whether anyone has considered the children. What’s going to happen to children who are called to testify against a parent in a divorce case? How do we know children won’t lie to protect one parent over the other? What about the trauma caused to children who are forced to choose between parents? How will these new laws affect today’s children later in life?

These are just some of the questions raised in today’s episode of Ron and Robert on Divorce. Listen now and tell us what you think.

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Missed Part 1? Click here to listen to it now.

What kind of divorce is right for you?

Early in my family law practice I discovered that the easiest divorce to handle was the one in which the couple had been separated for two to three years, were working together collaboratively to parent their children, had divided most or all of their assets, and were coming in to see me simply to have a concise agreement drafted.  Typically they’d be friendly and respectful of each other.

These couples knew what worked for them and stuck to their deal. I was unfailingly impressed by their unanimity with regard to a genial, civilized conclusion to their marriage.  In these cases it was usually only necessary to counsel them about possible opportunities to save taxes, or to divide property in a way that might be more equitable.

It is rare to meet newly separated couples who are masters of communication and collaborative parenting.  It is usually quite the contrary.  In most cases, the couple is so caught up in rage that they fail to consider the needs of their children.  They confuse differences in parenting style with who is right or who is wrong.  The right way to parent is with consensus and agreement.  Children do not grow up and do what their parents tell them.  Children watch their parents and grow up to do what their parents did.  Parents that model rational, mature, adult behavior will produce children who act pretty much the same.  One challenge in our multi-cultural community is the variety of parenting strategies that abound.  Parents in harmony may have difficulty reaching agreement on which strategy is most effective.  Parents in conflict find that task impossible to achieve.

Dr. Bruce Derman and I have created a tool that can help you determine whether or not you are a candidate for collaborative divorce.  It’s the Pre-Divorce Survey.  You can find it on our website at The Pre-Divorce Survey will assist you in finding out how many issues there are, and where you are on the anger management scale. We have learned that if you and your spouse can answer every question on that survey in the affirmative, it may be possible for the two of you to simply sit down with a paralegal and write up a deal.

The Pre-Divorce Survey is not an end unto itself.  It is a point of departure on the journey of divorce.  It may act as a signpost.  If the conflict quotient is high, the couple will need extra help.  If it is low, the case may be relatively simple to complete.  Typically, when a case is impeded by psychological and emotional issues, these issues will cause great pain and drive costs excruciatingly high.  The good news is that emotional interventions are available.  Today there are alternatives that may give even the most conflicted individual an opportunity to find an effective intervention, provided the parties involved enter into the process with honesty and integrity.

If you would like to take the Pre-Divorce Survey, click HERE.

Interview With A Superior Court Judge (Part 4 of 4)

“Clients should listen to their lawyers more, and the people they know at Starbucks less.” – the Honorable Judge Thomas Trent Lewis

Family Court does not get adequate resources. There aren’t enough judges, there aren’t enough clerks, there aren’t enough courtrooms. Family law makes up a huge percentage of judicial filings, but it receives a very small percentage of judicial resources. Additional judicial resources is just one of the recommendations made by the Elkins Committee, a two-year taskforce study that came out last October because of concerns regarding access and fairness that came about in the case of Elkins v Superior Court.

Judge Thomas Trent Lewis, a sitting Superior Court Judge with over twenty-eight years of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, is one of the advisors to the people on the Elkins Committee. Listen in as he talks with Ron and Robert about the Elkins Report, case management, early neutral evaluation, mediation, how divorcing families can save resources, why litigation is the wrong path to divorce, and who should try marriage counseling before filing.

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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
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Interview with a Superior Court Judge (Part 2 of 4)

Thomas Trent Lewis is a family law attorney, a sitting Superior Court Judge, an author, a writer, and a teacher.  As a Certified Family Law Specialist, he was in the trenches for over twenty-eight years working with families, advocating for children, and was then elevated to the bench by the governor as a Superior Court Judge with a family law assignment.

Until the Honorable Judge Lewis came along, most family law judges came from criminal law and had no clue how family law worked. When Justice Lewis came to the bench he brought a wealth of information and experience along with him. Today he’s one of the most sought after judges in Southern California. Listen along as this veteran family law professional talks about his experiences in the courtroom.

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Interview with a Superior Court Judge (Part 1 of 4)

Ron and Robert welcome special guest Thomas Trent Lewis, a sitting Superior Court Judge with over 28 years of experience as a family law attorney. Listen as these veteran family law professionals discuss their experiences in the courtroom. (Podcast #49 – Part 1 of 4)

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Themes of Experience, 2

Children feel pulled by love and loyalty during pitched battles between their parents. And parents regularly compete for their loyalty. Consequently, a step in one direction means risking the displeasure of the other parent as well as a betrayal of one’s inner loyalties. Some children bravely maintain their neutrality and suffer the sense of isolation from any source of parenting. Others find that so unbearable that they take sides, losing the affection of one parent for the sake of having at least the other.

Children of divorcing parents are also angry. Wallerstein and Kelly found that many children have temper tantrums and start hitting. Older children are more verbal about it. The anger is aimed at both parents. Its expression is given license by the shabby example of parents who exhibit loudly and clearly that direct expression of intense anger is no longer unacceptable in that family. And it is motivated by the children’s perception that their parents’ choice to divorce is a selfish act that failed to consider the children’s needs or wishes.

All of these emotions considered, the greatest danger faced by a child during the divorce of his or her parents is not the unhappiness he or she feels, or the measure in which he or she feels it. It is instead that the disruption of the family will inhibit the child’s steady development in life toward becoming a whole and mature person. This may happen either as a result of slowing the child down or speeding the child up. It cannot be attributed directly to or equated with unhappiness, however.

Unhappiness is a normal response to divorce. It should make you want to comfort your child, but it shouldn’t cause you alarm. True developmental impairment is reflected in depression and regressive behavior that endures over a significant span of time. Perhaps the children most vulnerable to impairment are those between the ages of three and six. Psychologists have learned that it is during this stage of life a person undergoes his or her most significant psychosexual development. The need for the nurturing presence of both parents for a child in that age bracket is so strong that the prolonged absence of either one of them can have devastating effects.

No matter how angry we are at our spouse or our ex, we’ve got to put our children first. What is best for the kids? What do the kids need? How can I make this easier on my children? These are the things we must ask ourselves when dealing with our own emotions. A divorce coach or other licensed mental health professional can help teach communication skills and provide other tools that will help divorcing parents maintain a relationship that is conducive to the well-being of the children.