Why are family law cases in California so complicated?

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Harold J. Stanton - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Harold J. Stanton

Located in Woodland Hills, CAStanton Law Corporation

Woodland Hills, CA
Phone: 818-647-1803
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Family law issues involving divorce, child custody and property division tend to be complicated because they are fact-driven and divorcing parties often dispute what the facts are. In so doing, the parties frequently miss out on opportunities to resolve issues most efficiently.

Some cases must be litigated, especially if the other side has dug in on a certain position. And certain issues, such as custody disputes or dividing interests in a business or intellectual property, can be particularly difficult. In appropriate circumstances, however, negotiating a mutually acceptable solution or using a retired family court judge to mediate the issues may be the best way to get the result you want.

Consulting with attorneys who can educate you fully on your options is therefore critically important. It can give you the clarity of mind to cut through the complexity you are encountering and move forward with confidence.

Factual Disputes In Traditional Litigation

The traditional divorce process is based on adversarial litigation in which facts are frequently disputed. Each party has a lawyer and possibly a separate set of experts. Each side marshals facts trying to support its position, often leading to battles of the experts that prolong the conflict.

To be sure, litigation is necessary in some cases. This is especially true when a party is intransigent or cannot be trusted. For example, in a custody dispute one parent may be demanding sole custody, even when that does not seem warranted to the other parent.

Litigation may also be needed because an issue is so difficult to resolve by other means, such as a parent’s desire to move a child to out of state or a complex dispute about business valuation.

Overall, however, adversarial litigation makes the divorce process more complicated because it is inefficient and polarizing. It can aggravate and extend arguments between the parties, lead to unnecessary costs and be unnecessarily harmful to children. 

Alternative Approaches For Divorce Resolution

Fortunately, in many cases it may be possible to resolve divorce issues most effectively through an alternative means such as negotiation or mediation. Factual disputes that often occur in traditional litigation may be overcome, for example, by hiring a common expert to handle issues such as property valuation. With this common factual basis, negotiations for a mutually acceptable solution can be greatly facilitated.

Using a mediator is also potentially a very effective approach. Granted, it isn’t always possible, because both parties must agree to mediation. And sometimes an ex wants to mediate because they think they are in a power position or can hide things. But in appropriate circumstances, mediation can help you reach mutually acceptable common solutions without the expense and conflict of polarizing litigation.

Finding a mediator both parties can trust is of course critical. Using a retired family court-judge is a good way to establish this trust and set the mediation process up for success.

Another possible way to resolve divorce issues in California is called collaborative law. In that process, each party has his or her own attorney and those attorneys must withdraw if an agreement is not reached. Using this approach can be a big disadvantage, however, if the other side is not being reasonable.

Complex Custody, Business Or Intellectual Property Issues

Even when using the most effective process to resolve them, divorce cases can be complicated because of the nature of the issues involved.

In custody cases, the emotions alone can make resolution of the issues very challenging. Sometimes your ex may have good reason for taking a contrary position. In other situations, he or she may merely want what they want – even if doesn’t really fit with your interests or your child’s.  

In high-asset cases, property division issues can also get quite complex. Dividing business interests, intellectual property and other complex assets requires sophisticated legal and accounting know-how.

For example, consider the issue of determining the community interest in a business that was a spouse’s separate property and has appreciated in value during the marriage. Making this determination requires applying the correct valuation method.

In California, however, more than one method can be used to do this. One, referred to as Pereira method, looks at whether the appreciation in value is principally due to the role played by a spouse in growing the business. Another approach, called the Van Camp method, looks at whether the growth is due to more general market factors. 

No bright-line rule governs which one applies. Indeed, in a given case, over a long marriage, a hybrid of the two approaches could even be in order. This makes the issues very factual and case-specific, which means it is very important to get counsel from attorneys with knowledge of how to resolve disputes of this type.

What Do You Want Your Future To Look Like?

Finding the right approach to avoid or resolve factual disputes is key in family law cases. That is why at Stanton Law Corporation, we are committed to educating clients fully about the various options and likely outcomes. Time after time, we have seen how this helps people clarify what a desirable future looks like.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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