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When Stars Collide

14-05-15 Newsletter_Header_Experts_In_Court

Madonna and her ex, Guy Ritchie, are locked in a transatlantic custody battle over their 15 year-old son Rocco. With cases filed in both the USA and the UK, even the courts were in dispute until a judge in London approved Madonna’s request to withdraw her UK filings.

Before doing so however, the British judge joined his American counterpart in suggesting the celebrity parents try to settle things outside of court stating, “It would be a very great tragedy for Rocco if any more of the precious and fast receding days of his childhood were to be taken up by this dispute. Far better for each of his parents to spend that time enjoying… the company of the… young man who is their son and who is a very great credit to them both.”

The judge continued, “I renew, one final time, my plea for the parents to seek, and to find an amicable resolution to the dispute between them.” But the conflict continues and Madonna and Ritchie are scheduled to appear in a New York court on June 1st.

In California, parents are required by statute to meet with a court appointed child custody mediator before they can ask a Judge to rule on custody issues. As a result of a program my father Ron was instrumental in implementing in Van Nuys in the late 70s, volunteer lawyers are also available to assist parties in finding mutually agreeable solutions before court. That mediation program was so successful that it was eventually implemented in most Southern California counties.

Another California twist on this case is Rocco’s age. With the enactment of Family Code Section 3042, Judges are now required to consider the custody preferences of a child over 14 years old when issuing a decision. Children under 14 can still express their preferences but the court can disregard them because the legal standard is “best interests of the child.” In California, if 15 year old Rocco said he wants to spend all his time touring with mom and hanging out with her groupies, the judge might not grant his wish. But the judge must explain in the ruling what their considerations were and how they affected the decision.

Hopefully Rocco’s parents take the judge’s recommendation to heart: a parenting plan they design is far more likely to fit with their lifestyles and values than anything a stranger in a robe can impose. Some Judges in Los Angeles won’t even make orders regarding holidays, instead warning the parents that if they cannot reach an agreement between themselves and counsel, the court will impose sanctions. At The Law Collaborative we strongly believe that parents know what is best for their children. Leaving it to a judge in a custody proceeding, or leaving it to a probate court when a parent dies is rarely “best” and always more expensive and destructive to the family. Siblings forced through probate sometimes never speak again.

Parents owe a duty to protect their children during divorce and avoid creating conflicts for them after death. Using mediation or Collaborative Law during divorce and preparing a proper estate plan can help avoid unnecessary drama, cost, and alienation. Please feel free to call me if you want to discuss anything in this article.

Ty Supancic works with his father Ron at The Law Collaborative to help families avoid crisis

Ty Supancic, Esq.
The Law Collaborative, APC
(818) 348-6700 F: (818) 348-0961

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.

Creating a Dialogue

Over the years we’ve had many many people tell us that divorce is worse than death.  And in some ways it is a death.  It’s the death of an identity.

When people come together in a marriage, they create a third entity.  He’s not who he was anymore, he now becomes what she adds to him.  She’s no longer who she was, separate and apart from him, she becomes who she is with him.  The two of them create this third relationship, and the success of the marriage, the longevity of the marriage, the durability of the marriage is a direct function of the amount of time that people put into cultivating, creating, adding to and enlarging that third entity.  When that entity dies, when it is destroyed, when it is broken through a breach of trust or a horrible misadventure, it’s devastating.  It’s devastating to the person who has put their everything into the relationship and it’s devastating to the children.

There is a legal divorce and there is an emotional divorce. The key is to understand that what you’re going through is different than what the legal process is.  But you have to understand the legal process to be able to get through it.  The purpose of this blog, and of the Ron and Robert on Divorce Podcast, is to provide tools, education and information to people who are going through the crisis of a divorce.

How do you know if you need a lawyer?  What are the proper forms to file to get a divorce started?  Can you do it yourself?  How much does it cost?  What are the rules for fair fighting?  What if your spouse is hiding money?  What about the kids?  What is collaborative law?  Do you have to go to court?  We’ve answered all these questions on our blog and in our podcasts, and now we want to start a dialogue with you – what do you want to know?  What are your questions?  Send us an email and we will answer your questions on our radio show or on our blog.  We won’t use your name, your identity will be protected, but it’s important to know that there are remedies, there are solutions, there are steps you can take, precise protocols you can follow to make your entire divorce easier.  You are not at the mercy of the California Divorce Industry.  You can take this opportunity to empower yourself.  Write to:

Ron@TheLawCollaborative.com
Robert@TheLawCollaborative.com

Please keep in mind that we cannot give legal advice without a signed Retainer Agreement, but it is our mission to provide information, education, knowledge and support.  Thank you for allowing us to be of service.

Click the play button below to listen to Ron and Robert’s latest podcast:

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The Third Wednesday

Although it may be one of the best kept secrets of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the LACBA/SFVBA-sponsored Third Wednesday Voluntary Settlement Conference Program is designed to turn the misfortune of the current budget crisis into an opportunity to settle cases.  Each family law department in Los Angeles County may assign up to two cases each month to the VSC program, which provides three hours of free mediation on the third Wednesday of each month in the private office of an experienced family law attorney serving as a voluntary settlement officer.

In the event that a case has not been resolved after three hours of free mediation, counsel is encouraged to retain the services of the volunteer mediator to resolve any remaining issues. The program, which commenced in February 2010, had incredible success in March.  Five out of seven assigned cases were completely settled, and a sixth is still engaged in peaceful mediation with a volunteer mediator.

If you’re going through a divorce in Los Angeles County and you’re afraid you’re headed to trial, ask your attorney about having your case assigned to the VSC program.  You’ll be glad you did.

Gale and Jack

If you’re contemplating divorce and you answer most of these questions affirmatively, you need to take a good hard look at yourself.  It may be time to admit that you’re partner isn’t the problem, and divorce won’t solve anything.  It will only add to your problems and if you have kids, the divorce could do them irreparable harm.  Find a good therapist, start couples counseling, and refocus your energy on what you can do to save your marriage.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the answers to those questions are not so positive.  Gale was the mother of an infant child.  She and Jack had been married less than two years.  In those two years he had gotten heavily into drugs, and for the last year he had been dealing.  When Jack got high, he got physically abusive to Gale.  When I met her, she still carried the traces of her most recent black eye.

“I’m really involved in my faith and my church,” she explained to me.  “So, I’m not eager to be divorced.  But my pastor told me I should come and talk to you.  What can I do?”

The law can help a person like Gale get some leverage with her husband.  A judge could, on proper request, make an order that would give her immediate, temporary relief by imposing emergency restraints on Jack.  Jack would have to appear in court to explain his conduct.  He would have to comply with the temporary restraining orders and he could be ordered to begin paying Gale support money.  Those restraining orders would tell him he was not allowed to live in or even come to the front door of her apartment.  They would tell him he couldn’t harass Gale in any way, in person, by phone or by email.

I sat and explained all of that to Gale.  Then I continued, “If he disobeys any of those temporary restraining orders, he faces the possibility of arrest and imprisonment for contempt of court.  And he’ll also have to show cause why he shouldn’t have to pay for my services to you and for the court’s costs.”

“No kidding?”
“Not one bit.  Women across the country are faced with the same predicament you’re in. And, if they’ve got the courage to stand up to their husbands, the courts are ready to stand with them.”

I had known, almost from the moment she walked into my office, that Gale was not a woman who was used to being a victim.  She had not come to me looking for safety and she didn’t have any sentimental notions that Jack was going to change because of his love for her.  Instead, her agenda was entirely straightforward: She wanted to stop getting beat up and she wanted to help her husband make a change if that were possible.

Gale signed the requisite documents then and there.  I took them to the court the next morning and they were served on Jack that afternoon at his job.  Gale had his bags packed and waiting for him that evening.  A sheriff’s deputy stood by while Jack picked them up.  Then he was gone.

Read the rest of the story here…

Fair Fighting

We are pleased to announce that we are celebrating our One Year Anniversary as “The Law Collaborative!” Although Ron and Robert have been practicing family law for a sum total of more than fifty years, we are excited to celebrate the First Anniversary of The Law Collaborative, LLP, formed by Ron and Robert with the stated aim of ‘Bringing Peace to the Legal Process.’

As a celebratory token, we offer you some insight on Fighting Fairly.  Is there a such thing?  There is.

The Seven Rules for Fair Fighting

1. No physical violence or verbal/emotional abuse while engaged.

2. No cursing, name calling, or vulgar language.

3. Agree to take turns.  Listen, take notes, and do not interrupt.

4. No lying or exaggeration, as in “You always…,” or “You never…,” or “I’m the only one who ever…”  Such statements are useless, untrue and frustrate problem solving.

5. Use the Time-Out, rather than walking out of an argument. If you need a break because you’re getting too emotional to think clearly and observe the Rules, ask for a break and agree on a time to resume. Maintain civility and decorum at all times.

6. No ultimatums or threats. For example: “This has to stop, or I’m calling your mother about this!” Don’t threaten as leverage to win the argument.

7. No bringing up the past; keep the conversation looking forward.

Remember, the point of Fair Fighting is not to win, but to respectfully discuss issues with your partner until you are able to reach some understanding and achieve a fair solution.

Also, we are very excited to be hosting our first Second Saturday Divorce Workshop for Women this Saturday, May 8th, 2010.  Ronald Supancic, Attorney at Law, will be discussing the options for divorce.  Renee Leff, LMFT, a featured speaker, will be addressing the emotional issues in divorce.  Irene Smith, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, will be discussing the financial issues within divorce.  The cost of the workshop is only $45.00 if you pre-register, and $50.00 at the door.  Call our toll-free number to register! (888) 852-9961 or email IG@TheLawCollaborative.com.

Vintage Law Collaborative

Mary Anne Loughlin and Patrick Greenlaw interview Ron Supancic for CNN’s DayWatch in 1991. The topic? Divorce and property settlement in California. There’s even a reference to the old classic film, War of the Roses.  Check it out!

The Law Collaborative – Ron on CNN from The Law Collaborative on Vimeo.

The Seven Options for Divorce: Number Seven

Alec Baldwin wrote a book last year called A Promise To Ourselves, decrying “the corrupt California divorce industry” (his words).  He describes a nightmare divorce that lasted eight years and cost over three million dollars, after a ten-year marriage to Kim Basinger.   That is the seventh option:  Litigation.

A few years ago there was a case all over the newspapers.  A short marriage; a two-year-old child.  Dad was voluntarily giving Mom $50,000 a month in child support, but the mother wasn’t satisfied.  Mother wanted $350,000 a month in child support for the two-year-old.  Why?  Because Dad could afford it.

The couple spent over a million dollars – each – on the Order to Show Cause Hearing.  At the end of the day, after hearing all of the evidence and testimony, after concord jets and race horses and all the other evidence put in for a two-year-old child, the judge raised the support from $50,000 a month to $60,000 a month.   A hundred thousand for a million.  That’s litigation, straight up, all the way.

The good news is that you have options.  You don’t have to spend your life’s savings on legal fees or spend years fighting in court.  It’s your money, it’s your family, it’s your choice.

Option 1:  The Kitchen Table
Option 2:  Mediation
Option 3:  Collaborative Divorce
Option 4:  Arbitration
Option 5:  Negotiation in the Shadow of Litigation
Option 6:  Rent-A-Judge
Option 7: Litigation

The Seven Options for Divorce: Number Four

The fourth option for divorce is Arbitration, which is quite different from our first three options.  The Kitchen Table Divorce is casual, creative, quick and inexpensive.  Mediation is a cooperative effort between individuals to reach a mutual agreement based on consensus and compromise.  Collaborative Divorce provides you with a team of professionals that rally and support you, ensuring that all your needs are met.  Though Arbitration is similar to mediation, it is more like litigation in that the parties present their respective positions, evidence, testimony and witnesses to a trial of fact.

Arbitration is a settlement technique in which a third party reviews the case and imposes a decision that is legally binding for both sides.  The arbitrator may be a retired judge, an experienced trial lawyer, or some other professional selected from a panel of competent arbitrators, such as the American Arbitration Association.  Arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory and can be either binding or non-binding.  The principal distinction between mediation and arbitration is that whereas a mediator will try to help the parties find a middle ground on which to compromise, the (non-binding) arbitrator remains totally removed from the settlement process and will only give a determination of liability.

Arbitration is most commonly used for the resolution of commercial disputes, but it is desirable in divorce cases when agreement cannot be reached but the parties still wish to save the costs and expenses of litigating through the usual judicial system, which has built-in delays and attendant increased costs.  The Los Angeles County Superior Court sponsors an arbitration program and a “Rent-A-Judge program wherein retired Superior Court judges are available as arbitrators, or will sit as judges on a private basis.  But we’ll talk more about Rent-A-Judge in a later post.

Option 1:  The Kitchen Table
Option 2:  Mediation
Option 3:  Collaborative Divorce
Option 4:  Arbitration
Option 5:  Negotiation in the Shadow of Litigation
Option 6:  Rent-A-Judge
Option 7: Litigation

In Plain English

Two children are in the kitchen fighting over an orange.  Their father walks in, sees what’s going on and decides to put an end to it.  He grabs the orange from their hands, puts it on the chopping block, cuts it in half and gives half to his son and half to his daughter.

Both children burst into tears.  Astonished, the father turns to his son and says, “Johnny, why are you crying?”
“I wanted the whole orange!”  Johnny says, sobbing.
“You can’t have the whole orange, there’s only one orange.  You have to share it with your sister.  Stop crying.”  Then he turns to his daughter and says, “Suzy, why are you crying?”
Suzy sniffles and says, “Daddy, I didn’t want the orange at all.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I only wanted the peel.  I need it for an icing recipe for a cake I just baked.  But I have to have the whole peel.”
The father scratches his beard, thoughtfully.  “You only wanted the outside of the orange?”
Suzy nods her head sadly, a fat tear dripping from her chin.  “Yes.”
“Can Johnny have the inside of the orange?”
Her eyes widen and she bounces on her toes.  “Yes!”
“Johnny? Will you give your sister the orange peel if she lets you have the inside of the orange?”
Little Johnny’s face brightens and he clasps his hands together.  “Yes! Of course! I didn’t even want the crummy old peel!”

***

The truth about litigated divorce is that the judge doesn’t have the time, the inclination or the imagination to find out what your interests are.  When you get a traditional, litigated divorce, you get distributive bargaining.  The judge is following the law.  He’s lead by the rules and the statutes.

With Collaborative Divorce, as well as with mediation or The Kitchen Table Divorce, there is creativity and imagination.  Your wants, your needs, and your fears are heard, acknowledged, and understood.  Your spouse’s wants and needs and fears are heard, acknowledged and understood.  It’s impossible to be angry or hateful towards someone you understand.

You went into your marriage with love.  If you’re getting a divorce, you have the opportunity to reorganize your life with love.  It’s your choice.