Divorce, Dissolution of Marriage

Divorce is probably the most emotional and dramatic event somebody will go through. From a legal standpoint a divorce, also known as a Dissolution of Marriage, is effectively a division of a family’s assets and liabilities, an allocation of time as it relates to the minor children. It is also a process by which the spouse who is in the least fortunate financial position has an opportunity to receive financial support from the other party in the form of child support to help with the cost of raising their children and/or spousal support to help sustain them for a reasonable length of time.

As family law attorneys, we understand our clients are going through a very hard time in their lives and our goal is to aggressively, yet cost effectively, represent them in a manner they can get in and get out and move on with their lives. For that purpose we try to balance the need to be done as quickly as possible with the need to do a thorough job to get the best result possible.

Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce
Contested divorces are cases in which the spouses have a disagreement when it comes to some issues, example: how the house will be divided, who will have the children and when, etc… In an uncontested divorce however, the couple has come to an agreement on how they will resolve these matters. Uncontested divorces are more streamlined, and therefore they can be completed much faster.

Complex Family Law Cases
A client can have little to no asset yet have a highly complex case because children are involved and there is a litigation around custody. For example one parent may live in France while the other lives in Orange County, we could have an international custody battle in such case. Another example is a domestic violence issue that relates to custody. A third example is a move-away case in which one parent may want to move out of state to join their family because the other parent is not providing enough support.

Executive Divorce, Orange County
There is a very specific way to manage high-asset divorces. A standard divorce where you have one house, two kids, and perhaps one 401k plan will be different from handling a case where there couple has high and/or complex financial assets.

To represent such clients effectively requires unique knowledge and experience. At Stabile & Moshtael, many of our clients have high assets and/or are high income earners. We have knowledge of taxation law along with a very solid grasp on financial issues; we have a deep understanding of property issues such as title issues; over the years we have developed the connections and relationships with the appropriate financial experts a client can hire to help with the computation of income analysis, standard living analysis, marital balance sheets, and more; we have specific knowledge on discovery, there are specific discovery tools and motions to file which you would not utilize in a standard case.

Divorce Time & Legal Cost
How long a divorce will take to complete is simply unknown at the beginning of the process. The same is true for how much a divorce will cost. Every case is different and there is no way to know with certainty. For example assume a divorce case which is uncontested, both parties walk in and the divorce attorney can only represent one. In such case the family law attorney may offer a set fee, but 99% of the time (at least with reputable family law attorneys) the client will be charged by the hour. The fees are a function of time and since no one knows how long a divorce will take to complete, by consequence it is impossible to answer with how much the legal process will cost the client. Divorce attorneys can control their conduct, and the conduct of their office, they can also have limited influence on their client’s conduct, however they cannot control the opposing party and their lawyer. Every time the opposite side takes a legal step, they need to respond.

Often time clients will have inconsistent visions. They will want to hire an aggressive lawyer, yet they want the lowest legal fees simultaneously. As a client who wants a practice and aggressive attorney should be prepared to spend more money, and expect their fees to be higher than normal because they are going to be on a more accelerated path as opposed to moving at normal pace.

Our goal is to always complete the divorce as quickly and thoroughly as possible, however many factors can reduce the pace of the process including the fact that judges in Orange County are usually overworked. You can ask for a trial date and the Court can set it 5 months from now. In this case the time it takes to complete the divorce is no longer a function of the attorney, or the client, or the opposing party, but simply a function of the court system being backed up, which in a way forces people to settle.

At Stabile & Moshtael, one way in which we help our clients financially is by setting up a monthly budget. We send our clients an email every month in which we advise our anticipated legal costs for next month based upon what has been occurring in their case and what we expect to do the following month. This is just an estimate and we ask our clients if they are comfortable with the budget.

How to Hire A Family Law Attorney

Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster. Some days are ok, some are bad. Combine impatience and emotions and you have a recipe for making many bad decisions. Some people will be under the proper type of care with a therapist, but many times they won’t be. One of the person that will be the closest to them during these moments is their divorce lawyer and this family law attorney can be the one person they will yell at all the time because that is the only person they can find. They are going through a lot and begin to rely increasingly on the lawyer, therefore it must to be the right type of relationship.

Gut Feel
It has to feel right on both sides. The family law lawyer should want to help and know they can help their client. The client has to want to work with their divorce lawyer and trust their skills.

Localized Knowledge
There are many family law lawyers, but one attribute you want to know is the extent to which your attorney knows the local courthouse, how many cases are in that county, how familiar are they with judges, the local procedures of the courthouse as opposed to the California procedures or the county procedures. Also relevant is the relationship your attorney has with other divorce attorneys because lawyers are human beings and unfortunately some will not put their personal issues aside in order to do what is right for their clients. A case that could be settled outside of court may turn into an expensive litigation not because the client and their spouse cannot come to an agreement, but because their attorneys won’t.

Every attorney will have some minimal knowledge of the law but you will want to look for someone who has ten or more years of experience. This will give them enough time to mature as an attorney and to understand the practice of law.

You will want an attorney who specializes in Family Law and moreover you should ask what areas of family law they specialize in. For example at Stabile & Moshtael some of our attorneys are extremely well versed with divorce or family law case with Complex Financial issues, while other attorneys are expert with Custody and International Custody issues.

It is also very important to find whether they practice family law only or do they mix it with Business Law, Workers’ Comp or other practice areas. You want to work with an attorney who focuses on Family Law exclusively. Regardless of what an attorney says, if they practice more than Family Law, you want to find another firm to work with.

Size of the Firm
Do you really need to go with a big firm. Probably not, they have multiple layers of people and every person who touches the file will be reflected on your monthly bill. This model means you are going to run out of money before you get anywhere near the end of the case. You won’t see much progress and when the money is out they will nicely throw you in the street. You want to find a small to mid-sized firm with attorneys and a staff that have a lot of experience from big firms who are not afraid of going against the big companies but they won’t charge you the same type of rate. On the other hand we do not recommend one guy without a receptionist or support staff.

Trial Experience
Most family law lawyers are good at negotiating agreements because most of the time they are able to settle outside of court. By consequence most are not comfortable inside the courtroom and they are not good divorce trial attorneys. They do not have the practice experience of civil litigation lawyers who are doing Procedure every day, show up in front of a judge and stick to the Evidence Code or the Code of Civil Procedure which are the legal weapons lawyers have available to them to ensure things are done in order in a specific way and they are predictable.

When hiring a family law lawyer, you want to hire someone who has no fear with respect to going to court and knows the Evidence Code and the Code of Civil Procedure needed to conduct a proper trial. You do not want someone who is going to just bill and convince you that you are going to win everything yet force you to settle a case at the last minute because they are afraid to go to trial.

At Stabile and Moshtael we are ready to trial any day of the week. We are not afraid to tell the other party their deal is unfair and we can go in front of a judge if they choose not to be fair.

This does not mean we do not try our best to settle the case, but rather we have the skillet to go to trial if we cannot settle. You need divorce attorneys with this ability otherwise you are doing yourself a disservice and forcing yourself to settle because your lawyer is not comfortable with the idea of going in front of a judge and fighting for you.

Plan of Action
When we say analytical we mean someone with a plan of action. At Stabile & Moshtael we seat with our clients and do case plans. We ask them what they hope to achieve realistically and we make a plan of action. Once agreed upon we go down the list and begin to check items off.

Look at their rates at see if it is consistent with other attorneys in your city.

More Attributes To Look For
You want your lawyer to be analytical, organized, responsive. The biggest complaint about lawyers is they are great at taking money but they are not good at return phone calls. At Stabile & Moshtael we make it a point to work on everything people do not like about attorneys. We respond to our clients within a business day whether they email, call, text, fax us. The attentiveness one puts into the file, how quickly they get back to you, how organized they are, how responsive they are, how critical they are are extremely important attributes of a great family law lawyer.

Divorce planning Attorney

Many lawyers do not offer divorce planning because people do not see it as being a very honest way of approaching things. If you are divorce planning the concept is that you can anticipate an event that will occur well in advance of it happening, which may be illegal. In California, a husband and wife have fiduciary duties to each other, they are treated like business partners under the law. The Law took all relevant rules that applies to a business and profession code and applied to the family code. Therefore a husband and wife are not supposed to lie to each other, or steal from one another, they share everything and disclose everything to one another as partners. This implies even if you are doing a divorce planning and being somewhat secretive about it, you need to meet your fiduciary duties which cannot be violated while you are divorce planning. Usually divorce planning focuses on financial planning. It is a financial plan, a set of recommendations being made to the client to better manage certain portions of their finances without breach of duties so that by the time they go through a divorce they are not in as bad a financial shape as they would have been without the plan.

Divorce planning when you earn more than your spouse
When determining spousal support, a judge will look at the standard of living of the couple for the previous 2-5 years. Therefore if the couple is used to having the biggest house on the block, the latest cars, buying expensive dinners, in divorce planning the spouse would be advised to slowly adjust the amount of money they are spending in anticipation of a divorce. Income is another component the judge will look at. Hence, delicately, the spouse will take certain actions to adjust their income. For example they may be working overtime to keep a certain standard of life; they would be advised to rethink the amount of hours they are working before they are forced to continue doing so after their divorce. Another example is having debts that are not in writing, say a spouse borrowed money from their sister. During divorce planning they will be advised to have a signed document proving the debt. Another good reason for divorce planning is to run a hypothetical divorce and find what sort of financial situation one will be if they had a divorce presently. That is if the numbers provided are correct and if they were in a divorce today, this is the amount of money they would have to pay in spousal support, child support, attorney’s fees, what will most likely happen to their pension, savings, etc…

Divorce planning when you earn less than your spouse
The above assumes the person who is inquiring about divorce planning earns more than their spouse. However what if the person who is inquiring earns less and has limited control over the funds. They cannot easily increase their standard of living and the other party is not very likely to fully disclose all their financial assets. Divorce planning will be a set of recommendations to prepare for this event by taking several steps including: taking a snapshot of the couple’s financial situation so that later on when the divorce is filed and the other spouse wants to be dishonest they can be caught because we would have the proof. We work with forensic companies that work with the District Attorney, they will take a digital snapshot of computers and every digital storage device where important information may be hidden. For example a business owner may want to go and change their profit and loss statement. Having a digital copy of the original document can be prove they were tampered with. Similarly to the above example a good reason for divorce planning is to run a hypothetical divorce and find what sort of financial situation one will be if they had a divorce presently. That is if the numbers provided are correct and if they were in a divorce today, this is the amount of money they would have to “receive” in spousal support, child support, attorney’s fees, what will most likely happen to their pension, savings, and more.