ALTERNATIVES TO “going to COURT”
Starting the divorce process is never an easy decision to make.
There is actually an alternative for divorce – mediation.
This option may not be the best choice for everyone, but there are pros and cons to using mediation instead of divorce.
Advantages of mediation are:
✅ It allows couples to stay in control and make the best arrangement for their family
✅ Discussions about challenging topics like child custody, asset division and spousal support, happen in a low stress environment, and the mediator can recommend creative resolutions
✅ The compliance rate tends to be higher for those who choose mediation because the spouses come up with the plan together
✅ It’s less expensive than going to court
Disadvantages of mediation are:
❌ It’s not a good option for couples who are not willing to disclose information about assets or if they refuse to compromise
❌ It’s not recommended if there’s abuse in the relationship. Court proceedings offer a better layer of protection.
❌ It’s also not a good choice if either spouse is battling addiction, because that can affect reason and judgment
So while mediation is less expensive and complex than divorce and litigation, it’s only beneficial to certain families and situations.
Courts are NOT the place to be
Courts are unpredictable and hard to navigate, even with a good lawyer by your side, she says. Divorce and custody proceedings can drag on for months, piling stress on clients and their children, and draining families financially. Even then, there are no guarantees that clients will get what they want in court, Shulman explains. Judges, like all humans, have blind spots, biases, and bad days. Taking a case to court means leaving critical, life-impacting decisions to the whim of a judge, and losing control over the outcome, the attorney says.
“People’s perception of judges comes from television, and that is not real. I tell my clients not to watch any legal shows, because those are based on fantasies,” says Shulman, who has practiced family law in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for more than two decades.
“People expect the judges will be unbiased, well-tempered, knowledgeable, experienced, and wonderful people. That’s not realistic,” she added. “Judges are not your friends, they don’t know you. By insisting on litigation, you allow a complete stranger to dictate your life.”
Going to court almost always adds costs and time to divorces, according to Nolo, a leading publisher of legal information online. In a nationwide survey, the company found that divorce cases settled out of court take an average of 9 months to complete, while cases that go to court last almost 18 months and require thousands more dollars in attorney fees.
Shulman believes strongly that the best way to handle family law matters, whether it’s a custody battle, surrogacy, or entangled divorce, is most often through a mediated settlement. A skilled family lawyer can negotiate a compromise that both parties can live with, reducing unnecessary stress and expense, and allowing clients to quickly move on with their lives, she says.
That tactic is especially pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, it can take upwards of six months to get a hearing in Los Angeles county, Shulman says. Additionally, judges are frequently assigned to family law courts even if they have little experience or interest in the field, she adds. For many judges, family law is a stepping stone to something bigger. It is also not unusual for family law judges to make decisions not supported by actual evidence or the Rules of Court, Shulman noted.
Although some cases do require litigation, such as those involving domestic violence, going to court should be a last resort for most people, Shulman says. Sadly, some people do decide to pursue litigation simply to “get their day in court,” even though it’s not necessary. Others are persuaded to go that route by attorneys driven by personal of financial motivations that don’t reflect the client’s best interests, Shulman says.
“If there is a chance to settle the case, settlement is always more productive,” Shulman says. “You don’t want to litigate every single issue. You need to find a compromise you can live with.”
Maya Shulman is the founder of Shulman Family Law Group, and represents clients in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties dealing with issues of family law, including divorce and custody. She is adept at handling complex matters, including move-away cases, interstate and international family law, surrogacy, adoption and assisted reproduction technologies.
Shulman studied medicine at the Medical Academy in Latvia, earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Brooklyn College in 1995, and her Juris Doctor from the University of West Los Angeles School of Law in 1999. She is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and California, before the Supreme Court of California, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and the U. S. Supreme Court.
Highly regarded for her legal skills and experience, Shulman has been recognized as a Southern California Super Lawyer every year since 2014, and as a Southern California Rising Star for 2004 through 2014. In addition to English, she speaks Russian, and understands Hebrew and the Slavic languages of Eastern Europe.