How to Make Divorce Faster, Cheaper and Smoother

Getting Divorced in Southern California

First, the good news.

“The vast majority of divorces are actually managed pretty efficiently and routinely,” says family law attorney Steven A. Mindel, the managing partner at Feinberg Mindel Brandt & Klein in Los Angeles.

Now the bad news: Some divorces go south. Fast.

Mindel’s four points

How to avoid a bad divorce?

  • Instill trust. “Even though people are getting divorced—and they’re very angry with each other, potentially,” says Mindel, “or they feel guilty because one is having an affair, or maybe they’ve just lost interest with each other, you have to have trust in order to reach a settlement.”
  • Disclose accurately: “Your assets, your debts, your relationships with other people, where you’re going to be on vacation with your children—those kinds of things.”
  • Fulfill your promises. “Specifically with parenting plans. … If you say you’re going to pick up your child every Wednesday at 4:00 in the afternoon, then you have to pick the child up every Wednesday at 4:00 in the afternoon.”
  • Be flexible. “You have to bend a little and you have to be a little bit generous.”

Phillips’ three points

Stacy D. Phillips—whose Los Angeles firm, Phillips Lerner, is merging with Blank Rome in July—wound up in family law because she wanted clients “with a heartbeat.” She, too, has recommendations for clients to make the divorce process go smoothly. Among them:

  • Get a good therapist.
  • Start assembling financial documents.
  • Keep your mouth shut, particularly on social media.

“I’m very direct,” she says. “I tell [clients] it’s the most important negotiation or trial of their lives, and they really need to focus and communicate with us.”

She adds, “One of the things I say in the beginning is, ‘Are you sure you want this? I’m happy to recommend a therapist for both of you to try to save your marriage.’ I’ve succeeded in that a number of times.”

Scott’s alternative

Then there’s the mediation route. Tara Scott has been practicing for more than 14 years, and recently opened her own eponymous firm that focuses on mediation—in which couples agree to settle out of court.

“It’s [just] me and the parties,” Scott says. “We sit in the room, we hash out a deal; it takes a couple of sessions. I do all the paperwork for them. Then it’s done. It’s obviously much faster and much cheaper. It doesn’t work in all cases, but it works for a lot of people.”

She says about half of her clients have consulting attorneys, but—most of the time—the attorneys don’t come into the mediations. They simply advise and review the judgment afterwards.

“To go through a heavily litigated divorce is incredibly expensive,” she says. “It can wipe out even relatively affluent people.”

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