Monday, April 27, 2015

Self-Help in Divorces?!?!

(Marin Co. Superior Court/Frank Lloyd Wright Building)

               It might not make me popular with some people to write about "self-help" in the legal field and certainly I am not advocating anything Shakespearean, however, I firmly believe that not all legal matters need lawyers. 
               Unfortunately often during divorces, emotions are running very high and self-help -- or a "do it yourself divorce" -- isn't really a viable option.  Sometimes, however, the parties are quite amicable and can actually work quite well together -- they simply want a divorce.  In these cases, self-help might be an alternative.  In other cases, one or both parties might not be able to afford legal representation and thus they utilize self-help options for financial reasons.  (Many counties do offer low income programs that allow people to hire family law attorneys for a very reduced rate; for example I participate in the "Moderate Means" program in one of the counties that I practice in.)
               Please note that I am not suggesting that your case can be resolved by using "self-help" and I am not suggesting that you shouldn't seek legal counsel -- I am merely providing some general information to consider.  If you think you might be interested in learning more about self-help in a California divorce, the sites listed here might be useful. 

  • -- This site has basic information for the State of California; it contains many helpful links and a lot of information that can be useful to walk people through their own divorces. 
  •  -- This link is for residents of Contra Costa County, and includes information on residency requirements, and basic definitions, and FAQs.
  •  -- Nolo Press is a respected publisher of legal self-help books (across many areas of law); for sale from Nolo, and the resources are also be available in some libraries.
  • Many counties have self-help centers at the family law courthouses -- check your county for specific information. 
               I am not recommending that people hire or do not hire attorneys to help them; that is a decision that only the parties can make and in some situations, it might take a consultation with an attorney to determine if it would make sense to proceed without attorneys.  When a party is representing herself or himself it is called in propria persona or in short, in pro per.

DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this blog is to provide general information.  Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.  If you wish to seek legal advice about your matter, you should search out an attorney of your choosing.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Shared Custody Dogs (& Other Animals)

               It might sound like a joke, but it's not.  Pets are a part of the family and a growing number of divorce cases involve custody of a family pet.  Just as the kids go back and forth, so too Bruno, the family dog, might travel between households.  I'm not going to say that mom and dad love the dog as much as they love the kids, but the dog is loved and the dog gives love and comfort, which can be very helpful in easing the stress and emotional pain that comes with most divorces.  
               Not only do the family pets help spread the love, but they also represent consistency and can function sort of like a security blanket from the past -- embodying fond memories of the pre-divorce household.  Moving between mom's house and dad's house might feel strange and new to the children at first and having the family dog with them lends a familiar aspect to the new household.  The routine of taking Bruno out for business, scooping Bruno's kibble, and scratching Bruno's ears helps bring something "old and known" into the new household. 
               Even in the absence of human children, sharing a pet can make sense when both "parents" have strong relationships with the beloved animal.  Most people love their pets and have strong bonds with them -- why else put up with fleas and mud on the carpet??  A breakup between the "parents" doesn't mean they stopped loving the dog....
               In any shared custody situation it is good to have a set arrangement -- an agreed upon, written, schedule lets everyone know what the "rules of play" are.  Some tips to get started:
  • Determine if both parents want -- and can have Bruno -- in their home
  • Think about any special needs that Bruno might have -- i.e., is the dog old, does he need unfettered yard access, can he do stairs, etc.
  • It can work really well if the family pet is on the same schedule as the children -- when Jimmy and Judy leave mom's house for dad's, Bruno goes with them
  • Decide how veterinary care will be paid for, both routine and emergency or extraordinary expenses
               In California pets are not covered by the family code sections that govern custody of children, nor are they strictly "property" as they used to be characterized.  For example, Family Code section 6320(b) provides that the court may grant a protective order that includes a pet. 

               Just like other issues that arise when there is a family breakup, if possible it is best for everyone to strive for amicability and cooperation instead of fighting.  When it comes to custody of Bruno, if you and your ex can't come to an agreement, maybe it's best to find a new dog....

Friday, April 10, 2015

Moving Forward....

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

               A powerful and unavoidable component of divorce is change.  When the divorce is over, you will no longer be the spouse of the person you married (often that person no longer seems to exist -- but that's the topic of another blog post!).  There will be a multitude of other changes as well, from enormous to very small; (e.g., financial, sharing/not sharing of kid duties and household chores, co-parenting versus parenting together, suddenly having more than sixty seconds to be actually alone, not having to replace the cap on the toothpaste, etc., etc.). 
               Even if you are the person who sought the divorce, there will likely be some part of you that will resist the deluge of changes.  Resistance might occur on an unconscious level.  And, whether we are aware of it or not, we expend a lot of energy trying to avoid changes.  
               I am  not going to try to convince you that you will be better off after your divorce is over -- I think if you were unhappy in your marriage, if you have been struggling through the divorce, you will be happier after, but really, that's a personal, subjective characterization.  Nor am I going to try to tell you that you should pretend there aren't major changes happening in your world -- "Yes, it's true -- the changes wrought through divorce are colossal!" 
               What I am going to try to get you to believe is that even with huge, life altering, modifications -- even with "bad" changes -- new and unexpected things will come into your life that will be good.  Even wonderful.  Change means movement and since we can't actually move backwards in life, it means moving forward.  Moving forward really does open doors that we cannot dream might exist when we are trying so hard to cling to the past...even when that past has already slipped out of our grasp....And this brings up the practical reality: the changes are happening anyway...I guarantee you will have much more energy for the life that you are entering into if you can let go of the life that you are leaving behind....