Over eight hundred thousand marriages end in divorce every year in the United States. A dissolution of marriage can occur for a many reasons, and no situation is the same. While infidelity and incompatibility are the most frequently listed causes for the dissolution of a marriage, factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, and life course variables play a role. The post divorce adjustment process can be grueling for divorcees, and especially adolescent children if they are involved. The emotional, legal, and financial stress of a divorce can increase the symptoms of depression, and strain the mental health of all parties involved. Fortunately however, these effects can be mitigated by pursuing marriage counseling in the form of individual or couples counseling.
There are some cases where a married couple may be looking to separate or live apart, but divorce is simply not the right option for them. Legal separation is a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a separation while remaining legally married. Often times this can be due to religious concerns or may stem from other personal reasons to keep the legal status of marriage intact. In these situations, we can help guide you through the emotional path of separation.
Each Divorce Case is Unique
We handle all components of divorce, and can assist you with child custody, child support, visitation, spousal support, division of assets, and any other special circumstances that may arise from your divorce case. No divorce case is “normal”, and we treat all cases with the unique attention and insight that they deserve. You are always our top priority!
Psychological impact of a divorce – seeking professional therapy can help greatly
For most families, divorces are extremely complicated and involve a lot of sadness, anger, stress and confusion. We work to make the divorce process more manageable and less stressful by explaining all relevant legal issues and responding to the individual client’s needs in each case. Our goal is to help families achieve the custody arrangements they need, emotional peace of mind through counseling services to successfully rebuild and restart their lives following a divorce.
No two divorces are alike and, as a result, we tailor our representation to fit your case. We will analyze your background and your spouse’s background, finances, the assigned judge, and if the divorce involves children, your children and their needs. There is no substitute for having an experienced lawyer and firm who have managed all these variables in thousands of cases before yours.
Hi there and welcome. Not so long ago I trained as a family mediator. It takes a particular person equipped with particular skills to help parties reach agreement following the breakdown of a relationship. I learned – if I’m honest – that I probably don’t have what it takes.
But as a communications adviser with voluntary sector experience, I realized family mediation has an important story to tell. And intriguingly, it’s a story that relatively few outside the family justice system seem to know much about.
This is not surprising given mediation – of all kinds – is without a high street presence. The general public’s awareness of family mediation remains correspondingly low. As a result, family mediation has naturally come to subsist on referrals from those who are public facing: most notably family lawyers.
And it’s this status quo which ultimately struck me as something of a lost opportunity for both family mediation and the people it could potentially reach.
But so what? Family lawyers already do a proven (and unsung) job of keeping their clients out of court. Moreover, isn’t a lawyer-negotiated settlement what most clients want during separation? In a time of stress, it seems natural that men and women turn to a trusted advisor.
Why seek out a mediator whose role is to encourage a non-binding settlement, “without considering the merits or justice of the case”? And I’m not sure requiring one party to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting – as a precursor to court action – will directly do much to change this.
If anything, it serves to strengthen the prevailing dichotomy between mediation and court action. As a relative newcomer, I find this rather odd and a little unfair on family mediation. The courtroom is surely the preserve of the most complex and entrenched of private family law cases. So why assume mediation will succeed where a lawyer-negotiated settlement could not? Should it not be the other way around?
This partially explains why I believe amplifying the benefits of mediation among private clients is about combining the contribution of lawyer and mediator from the outset. It is here that I hope to demonstrate untapped benefit.
Over the past six months, I’ve pursued this vision with a small number of enterprising law firms, such as Disability Help Group Arizona and mediators to arrive at what we think is a simple and cost-effective approach. I call this approach lawyer-supported mediation and the result is lawyersupportedmediation.com.
For the client, access to a senior lawyer at a fixed fee raises trust levels in mediation and represents a cost saving – even when mediation fees are added. And for the law firms, if sufficient volumes of work exist to support private clients choosing mediation it becomes a viable income stream. Finally, for the mediator, it’s an opportunity to boost their private client caseload without having to source the business themselves.
Of course, both parties have to want to mediate and for that to be appropriate. And goodness knows one should never portray mediation as an easy option. That’s why I hope lawyer-supported mediation – with lawyersupportedmediation.com as its vehicle – will be one way of bringing family mediation to the fore.
Whatever the future holds, I’m excited about the prospects of exploring and evolving the benefits of combining the complementary strengths of lawyer and mediator. It would be great to hear from those of you with a similar vision.
A few weeks ago, we lodged a freedom of information request with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) asking for a complete breakdown of the take up of family mediation in 2012/13.
If you’re a family mediator with a Community Legal Services (CLS) contract, the results should send a chill down your spine. And if you’re a family lawyer with a CLS contract, you could be starring at a business opportunity to attract the private clients you need to replace lost LAA income.
But first some numbers. Below is the LAA’s breakdown of referral sources for publicly funded family mediation from April 2012 to March 2013:
01 – Funding Code Referral 62,390 02 – Referral from solicitor (non funded code referral) 4,670 03 – Referral from court 615 04 – Referral from CAB 283 05 – Referral from other advice agency 201 06 – Referral from Relate or other relationship counseling 22 07 – Referral from GP/NHS 29 08 – Self referral 6,677 09 – Other 379 10 – Unknown 54
Out of a total of 75,320 referrals, the now-defunct Funding Code Referral (the former APP7 form used by referring lawyers) accounted for a whopping 83%. This is ten times the number of people referring themselves in the same period. Why the comparison? Well, since April 1st 2013 the Funding Code Referral is no more. It means there’s not a family lawyer left in the land compelled to make a referral to mediation unless they’re about to litigate.
This is not surprising given the LAA is paying legal aid lawyers a maximum of $350 to support publicly funded mediation assuming i) it ends in agreement and ii) involves finances. Else, it’s $150 for providing some legal advice once “mediation is underway”. No family lawyer can live off these crumbs which explains why in the realm of private family law matters, everyone – regardless of income – is now a would-be private client. Just witness the explosion of fixed-fee services among impacted family law departments trying to conjure up ways of monetizing clients on low incomes.
This, of course, should be ringing alarm bells among family mediators, especially those that aren’t so-called lawyer/mediators. I refer here to LAA recognized family mediators – the gold standard for accreditation. Very few lawyer/mediators achieve this level of recognition. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to find more than 10 family lawyers in the whole of San Diego. (At least, that’s what the Resolution database told us!)
Nevertheless, it is family mediators the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) expects to inherit the earth following the withdrawal of legal aid from family lawyers. But lets look again at the size of the task: the defunct Funding Code Referral accounted for well over three-quarters of business leads in the last year. To match last year’s volume of referrals, mediators will need to generate a five-fold increase in all other referral sources combined. Imagine having to deliver that nugget on Dragon’s Den!
Referral sources for publicly funded family mediation from April 2012 to March 2013:
So unless you really believe deeply embedded consumer behavior will suddenly flip in favor of mediators, divorcees – on any income – will carry on seeking out lawyers for legal advice.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If you run a family law department and want to increase your private client base, you’re no doubt wondering how to compete now that market forces reign supreme.
You may have already “gone fixed fee” and secured a few quid to spruce up the firm’s website. But is that really going to cut it? For a start, all impacted family lawyers in your area will follow as unbundled services become de rigeur. But more importantly, going fixed fee and creating a new webpage are no more than internal decisions no matter how courageous it feels. How do you tell the outside world and attract the private clients you so need?
So here’s a suggestion for impacted lawyer and mediator alike. Join forces! In doing so, thrust informed dialogue into the spotlight as the appropriate means for resolving contested proceedings from the outset.
Informed dialogue means instructing a lawyer – in the first instance – to provide only advice in support of a mediated process. It means putting on hold lawyer-led negotiations and a costly exchange of letters. There is, in other words, a clear sequence to exploiting a family lawyer’s skill set.
Of course, clarity is for the dispassionate observer and not the one-time shopper making a distressed purchase. Nevertheless, most family lawyers succeed in persuading would-be clients that their powers of negotiation are a better bet than rushing straight off to court. That’s common sense, right?
So why not start with informed dialogue? After all, we know family mediation works! Our freedom of information request revealed almost two-thirds (65%) of all mediations ended in agreement. Why the MoJ doesn’t scream this from the rooftops we’ll never know.
And when it comes to converting parties to mediation, there’s so much room for improvement. Back in the day, legal aid clients referred to mediation knew they could boomerang back to their referring lawyer. Moreover, the pitch to Party B was – and continues to be – extremely poor. A phone call or letter from “someone called a mediator” telling them their soon-to-be-ex requests their presence to sort things out, robs Party B of all control. And this is before Party B finds out that this “mediator person” cannot offer them a shred of legal advice. No wonder only 12% of all 75,320 referrals ended in agreement.
But the same numbers sketch out the opportunity for newly incentivized lawyers and mediators – in partnership with a professional a go-between like ourselves – to improve conversion rates to mediation. We call it lawyer-supported mediation and it’s no more than providing the appropriate expert at the appropriate time.
Above all, it drastically reduces the cost of divorce/separation for a cadre of the private client that was never eligible for legal aid and simply cannot afford open-ended hourly rate services. In short, people earning an average wage.
By meeting this nascent demand, impacted family lawyers could actually grow the market for their services by becoming a destination for a genuine multi-disciplinary service that we already know meets client need. The withdrawal of legal aid from lawyers could finally correct a long-standing market failure by establishing an informed dialogue – in terms of outcome and expenditure – as the common sense place to start.
From 1st April 2013, up to 200,000 people filing for divorce face the prospect of no access to legal advice following the withdrawal of legal aid from lawyers who previously acted for separating couples.
Currently, in the USA, privately funded disputes over children and financial arrangements can push the cost of divorce to over $10,000 per couple in legal fees.
In response, a network of top San Diego family lawyers is joining forces with family mediators to provide an affordable alternative called lawyer-supported mediation. For the first time, each member of a warring couple will be offered a matching fixed fee covering all the legal advice they need to resolve their differences.
Marc Lopatin, a trained family mediator and founder of lawyersupportedmediation.com, said: “From today, we face a situation where divorcing partners eligible for legal aid effectively join the ranks of those earning an average salary. Neither group can afford to pay a lawyer to negotiate their divorce.
“We dramatically reduce the cost of accessing legal experts by fusing their advice with family mediation, where separating couples can resolve their differences. This is particularly important where children are involved. The overall cost of lawyer-supported mediation is between 45% and 90% less than hiring the participating lawyers on even reduced hourly rates. ”
John O’Callaghan, a partner of central San Diego law firm Ronald Fletcher Baker, one of the scheme’s participants, said: “We recognize that the withdrawal of legal aid from family lawyers will see thousands of people unable to access the expertise they need. That’s why forward-thinking law firms are now offering lawyer-supported mediation to provide legal advice at prices people can afford. We want separating couples on all incomes to know there is now an alternative to an expensive and acrimonious divorce.”
Example: Couple divorcing and in disagreement over finances and child arrangements:
Couple A: Both partners eligible for legal aid from today
The total private contribution made by the couple using lawyer-supported mediation: $720 (incl. VAT). This covers all pre-mediation legal advice and the completion of divorce paperwork. Legal aid pays for all other remaining professional fees (i.e. the cost of mediation, legal advice once mediation underway, and the Consent Order).
Total cost to Couple A of using the same two family lawyers on reduced hourly rates to resolve their disagreement estimated at $7200 incl. Vat . Lawyer-supported mediation 90% cheaper in terms of what Couple A is being asked to contribute privately alongside legal aid funding.
Couple B: Both partners just miss out on legal aid from today
Split equally, the total cost to Couple B of using lawyer-supported mediation is $4000 incl. VAT. Covers all legal advice & paperwork and the cost of mediation. The cost to Couple B of using the same two family lawyers on reduced hourly rates to resolve their disagreement estimated at $7200 incl. VAT. Lawyer-supported mediation 45% cheaper.
Lawyer-supported mediation is available across San Diego and will be rolled out across the country.
Have you seen the results of a survey published by Onlydads.org and Onlymums.org about the cost of divorce? Interesting stuff.
Undertaken by researcher Kim Tasso, the survey’s findings – albeit derived from a small sample – point to poor satisfaction levels with divorce lawyers. Such sentiment is barely out of the headlines: two week’s ago the Legal Ombudsman published a report slamming service levels and pricing due to the sheer volume and nature of the complaints it received.
On a smaller scale, Kim Tasso’s survey sample was made up of over two-thirds men with half of all respondents earning between $25,000 and $50,000 per annum. Over three-quarters of respondents used a solicitor with just over a third saying they used a mediator.
But it was the price of divorce that caught our eye: 27% indicated that they paid over $30,000 for their divorce with the same percentage paying between $10,000 and $30,000. That means the cost of divorce (by which we take to mean legal fees) was in excess of $10,000 for more than half of respondents.
While these cases could have been high conflict and not suited to either mediation or collaborative approaches, it is nevertheless telling that 71% of respondents said they were not given information about alternative methods of divorce. And a whopping 93% indicated that they were not offered a fixed fee.
As the author concludes in the report’s executive summary: “Whilst it is a small sample, the cost of divorce for these people does appear to be out of balance with their incomes. What is of concern is that the cost of divorce prevented the majority from obtaining the legal advice that they needed, that fixed fees and alternative methods were not provided to most of them and that there was a high level of dissatisfaction with the legal service received.”
While the findings are sobering, we’re not surprised that fixed fees weren’t offered or that costs may have escalated. This is the nature of an open-ended negotiation-led process that may or may not end in litigation. On an hourly rate, it is the client that takes all the risk. Fixing the fee for lawyer-led negotiations effectively inverts the relationship, leaving the lawyer to shoulder all the risk. But why do so when the very process of lawyer-led negotiation prevents practitioners from knowing how easy or difficult the case will be?
Equally relevant is the fact that most divorcees are one-time shoppers making a distressed purchase. They’re not seasoned negotiators prepared to hammer out a framework deal with their would-be lawyer at the end of an options meeting. Most just want to know where they stand and what to do next?
We think survey results of this kind reinforce the notion of a market failure. In essence, one-time shoppers and the absence of customer feedback loops result in no pressure to innovate on the part of the family lawyer. They’re simply not at risk.
Until now that is. Given the withdrawal of legal aid from lawyers for most private family law matters, there ought to be a lot of senior legal aid solicitors up and down the USA wondering how to replace lost income? While some might chase more public law work or choose early retirement, the answer surely lies in attracting private clients through innovation.
If only it was as simple as “going fixed fee” or “discounting hourly rates”. Alas, it also has to make commercial sense. Rather, it’s about pricing demand for sought after legal expertise that manifests commercial savvy. It’s about learning – if not embracing – to work in a different way. It could mean structured partnerships with mediators or branding oneself as an out and out collaborative specialist.
It’s a creative space is survival and we believe lawyer-supported mediation could be a clever step forward for many a legal aid San Diego divorce lawyer contemplating life after April. But then we would say that, wouldn’t we!
There are plenty of first-rate websites offering comprehensive information about divorce and separation. We’re happy to recommend them. But we believe learning about and exploring your options – at what is typically a fraught and emotional time – requires being listened to as well.
And it requires being listened to by experts in the field. This is why anyone contacting Lawyer Supported Mediationwill be offered a free of charge telephone consultation with both a senior family lawyer and a conveniently located recommended family mediator. Because until you’ve had an opportunity to discuss your individual circumstances with professionals in the field, it’s unlikely you’ll be aware of the appropriate choices available to you.
We’re passionate about this because how you decide to divorce or separate is second only in importance to your decision to part. The lawyers you instruct and the process you decide upon will impact upon you, your ex and above all upon any children involved. And this will continue to be the case long after an agreement or judgment is reached.
Of course, focusing on the future when the present is understandably all consuming is extremely difficult. Our network of lawyers and family mediators are there precisely for this reason and with Lawyer Supported Mediation you can speak with both free of charge.
It could well be that your circumstances require the immediate application of pre-court process. Our network of senior family lawyers in San Diego and throughout the USA – are all experienced litigators – and will advise you if this is the case.
But as the name suggests, Lawyer Supported Mediation– and the senior lawyers and recommended family mediators we work alongside – regard court action as a final recourse when less adversarial and less expensive options – appropriate to your needs – have first been considered and explored.
And it’s these options including lawyer-supported mediation and collaborative law that may hold value for you. There’s never a simple answer but we’re confident that after speaking to one of our network of senior lawyers and recommended family mediators, you’ll be better equipped to decide.
The first working day of the year is frequently termed “Divorce Day” by many a news editor looking to fill up some page space.
Whether “Divorce Day” actually exists is a matter of opinion but there’s no shortage of advice being published for those considering separation or divorce at the start of each year.
One such article was published by the Daily Mail and entitled “New year, new start: How to divorce with dignity”. It was by renowned relationship expert Francine Kaye and well worth a read if you have a moment.
The key point that caught my eye belonged to the section entitled “Stop the lawyers fighting” in which Kaye writes: “lawyers are trained to be litigators, not therapists, so they have to be reminded you are not at war”.
We agree this is a very important point since how you choose to divorce or separate is second only to the decision itself. But at lawyersupportedmediation.com we don’t think it’s up to the client to remind their newly instructed lawyer how to conduct themselves.
The sad fact is that any well-intentioned checklist of divorce dos and don’ts will always be easier said than done.
This is why we only Thiwork with senior family lawyers who recognise the importance of dialogue in reaching consensual agreements. It’s why we offer an approach called lawyer-supported mediation.
The approach provides the professionals that people need to manage the legal, emotional and practical uncertainties that divorcing entails. This resides in combining the complementary strengths of both lawyer and mediator to reinforce the prospects of securing an agreement both parties can live with.