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Most people walk into marriage with very limited understanding of what California family law is all about.  I keep a copy of the family code on my desk and I ask clients, do you have a premarital agreement? Most of the time people say no, they didn’t want to bother with that, they thought it was off-putting. What people don’t realize is that California has written a premarital agreement for you and it’s more than eight hundred pages long. If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a big surprise.

Listen to the newest podcast from Ron and Robert on Divorce — if you have questions, they have answers.

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Eggs Benedict and Case Law

Woody Allen tells a story about his friend, Eggs Benedict.  See, Eggs had a problem.  He thought he was having a heart attack because he was having chest pains, and Woody was having the same problem in the same chest area.  So he said, why don’t you go to the doctor, you pay the $25 for the medic, and you tell me what happens! And Eggs says, OK, and goes to the doctor.

A few days go by and Woody doesn’t hear a word from Eggs.  So he picks up the phone, he calls his friend’s mother and he says, Where’s Eggs? And she says, You haven’t heard? He died. Woody hangs up the phone, runs to the doctor, spends $100, gets all these tests and the doctor says, You’re fine. And Woody says, well I just don’t understand it. I have all the same chest pains that my friend had, I should be dead! So he calls up the mother and says, I just don’t understand it. Eggs said he had a chest pain, he went to the doctor, and he died. And the mother says, I know, it’s just awful. He was walking down the street, he’d just been to the doctor and the doctor said he was fine, and then he was hit by a bus.

The law is nebulous. It’s an entangled web of gray area and it changes all the time, so what you get is not necessarily what another person gets.  As lawyers it is our job to look at the facts carefully, we have to see what’s different in your case.  Just because your friend got a divorce last year and got the house doesn’t mean this year you’re going to get the house. The law is a flowing ebb and tide in water. It’s intangible.

Family law is codified in California and there are new cases all the time. How do people find out what the law is if they want to do it on their own?

Unfortunately, lawyers and legislature have made it difficult to do that. There are some areas of law that are black and white, but most areas of law are grey. When you have something like custody, where the best interest of a child is at stake, it’s not a question of who’s the better parent, it’s a question of what’s the best interest of the child? What is that standard? There are hundreds of cases that tell us that. And for as many cases on one side of an issue, there are the same number of cases on the other.

For a look at some recent cases, click here.

Trends in Family Law

People are astonished to learn that when Ron started practicing law in 1970, the family code was maybe a quarter inch of pages in the California Civil Code.  In the 1980’s the Family Code was two or three hundred pages.  Today it’s 850 pages and growing.  It’s about three inches thick and we get new statues twice a year.  We get new cases, which interpret the code, almost weekly.  Family law is one of the most highly litigated areas in civil law, and one of the most often appealed.  So it’s hard to say what the law is. You can say what it was. You can say what it is today. But who knows what it’s going to be tomorrow? That’s why we need Certified Family Law Specialists who can look at the law and give us an idea, not only of what the law is, but what the trends in the law are.

What are some of the current trends? One thing everyone’s talking about is, what is the future of a young child? If you have young children, the real issue is the movement of people. The economy is definitely changing where people are living. We have people moving to where they grew up or where they have the most family available to assist them. We’re seeing a lot of cases where a parent has to move for financial reasons, and in Los Angeles, even a move across town can completely disrupt a visitation schedule.  If you have to go court because you need to move ten miles for work, it’s up to the judge to decide whether or not the move is in your child’s best interest.  So in some cases the laws have to change to accommodate the current situation and your lawyer needs to know what the most recent changes in your favor are.

We’re seeing exponential growth in what is considered an asset. Thirty years ago it was a mere expectancy to have a pension plan. Today, it’s a major asset and can be missed if you’re not careful.  The same is true for insurance policies. Where once an insurance policy was just a term life policy, it now has some kind of value to it. It never had a value before, but now we can look at it and there are ways to value it.  Another area would be electronics and websites and artificial rights. When you own a copyright or trademark or patent, or you own software or you own music, it’s worth something now.  Once upon a time it wasn’t worth a lot, but look at Michael Jackson. Not a lot of cash flow, but an incredible amount of earning potential in a catalogue of music. We’ve both handled those kinds of cases where someone comes in and they have to value something that’s very difficult to value. It takes expertise outside of even the best lawyer to sit down and run through a catalogue of what those residual rights are worth. You have to have trusted neutral experts who can give you the best valuations.

When Ron started practicing in 1970, mothers always got custody, in every case. The only way a father could get custody was to prove that the mother was unfit. The mother had to be unfit. That law lasted through the eighties. It was taken out in 1976 but the judges continued to follow it as though it were there. It wasn’t until 1982 that we got joint custody. That was a huge change. We’ve seen huge changes in the law, but we still see disparities.

The Real Cost of Ending a Marriage

“It takes two or three years to process the emotional agenda (of divorce) and lawyers who aren’t trained in this, that don’t understand this, are adding gasoline to the fire when they align with the emotional agendas of their clients. A lot of transference and counter-transference takes place. The lawyers bring their own personal agendas to the case…

What we’re learning now is that divorce is really a mental health issue, more than it is anything else. If we can bring mental health professionals into the equation early on, we can make a huge difference in terms of saving time, saving money and more importantly, protecting children.”

— Ron Supancic, as interviewed by Karyn Foley during a 2007 Calabasas Author’s Night.

Calabasas Author’s Night – The Real Cost of Ending a Marriage from The Law Collaborative on Vimeo.

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.