If today, you were to walk into department L-67 of the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange California, where the Honorable Judge James Waltz presides over a heavy family law calendar, you would notice on the wall a framed quote by Abraham Lincoln, who before becoming President of the United States of America, worked as an attorney. The quote reads:
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
I wholeheartedly agree with this quote. Generally speaking, settlement is the preferred manner in which to resolve all family law disputes. Settlement in family court is best for several reasons. But, I will only list a couple.
First, parties that settle their cases get through the divorce process quicker. The average divorce in California is said to take more than one year to be finalized. Family Courts are also notoriously busy and overcrowded. Disputed matters can take months to be heard by a Judge. Yet, I have settled very complicated cases in a matter of weeks from the initial client interview. I have also seen basic cases drag on for years.
Having a skilled family law attorney is essential to negotiating a fair and equitable settlement agreement. The attorney will help you to identify the issues, how those issues are impacted by the law and what positions are reasonable in terms of settlement. The attorney also ought to know your Judge and his or her leanings based on prior experience. Armed with that knowledge, you then can make an informed decision and can more effectively “choose your battles”.
Second, parties that settle their cases also spend less money on their divorces. Family law attorneys bill by the hour. The more work an attorney does on your behalf, the more you will pay them. However, an experienced family law attorney’s guidance and advice can save you more than just money. Use your attorney’s time with great discretion. Do not waste your retainer fee on whimsical matters. Remember, every action you take in Family Court costs money. Every petition or response has a filing fee. So does every request for order, or notice of motion, absent certain exceptions. There are also process server fees, expert witness fees, fees to obtain information through discovery, etc. Simply stated, every step you take (or don’t take) in Family Court will cost you money, so pick your steps carefully. Do not stop because you may sink. Follow the direction of a wise and able attorney. You will get through the divorce process sooner and will spend less money doing so.
However, settlement is not always possible. If every medical issue could be resolved without invasive surgery, no one would ever go “under the knife”. There are some issues that are not appropriate for settlement and require immediate legal “surgery”. For example, where an immediate threat of harm exists to the parties or their children, such as where domestic violence, substance abuse, or kidnapping has occurred, the most appropriate course of action is to seek immediate orders of the court. Or, if your spouse takes an unreasonable position that is unsupported by the law or facts, and you would get a better deal from the Judge, than the matter ought to be litigated. Again, an experienced family law attorney, especially one with extensive litigation experience, who knows the Judicial Officer presiding over your case, will be able to guide you through the decision of whether to settle or litigate.
President Lincoln’s counsel to “discourage litigation” is sound advice. He was Commander in Chief during the Civil War, the bloodiest war America has ever known. Yet, he accomplished peace as soon as it was possible. In his first inaugural address President Lincoln stated: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”