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Steven H. Marcus: Status, stuff and firefight issues: a divorce overview

It's The Law

Posted: September 23, 2010 6:23 p.m.
Updated: September 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

At first blush, the process of divorce can seem incredibly daunting. For skilled practitioners, however, the questions are quite routine, even if the answers for each unique case and set of facts are not. 

A case takes on a life of its own when a party to the divorce insists on using the process to either payback a spouse for all of the perceived wrongs of the marriage, or to use it as a way of vindicating the righteousness of their positions throughout the marriage, making the process expensive and painful.    

Setting the tone of your divorce early is one way of setting the tone for all future dealings with the other parent of your child(ren). Lawyers that very willingly go into the process looking for a “scorched earth” trial, are more likely looking to line their own pockets than provide you with dispassionate and well reasoned legal advice.  

Yes, sometimes a hard line is warranted, but hardball tactics should be reserved for those issues or cases where the other party is acting in bad faith.

From the standpoint of mechanics, there are only three parts to a divorce in California, making the process of divorce is relatively simple. The divorce process includes a discussion with your lawyer about components of the process I like to call “status, stuff and the firefight issues.”  

“Status” is the simple procedure of the judge taking you from married persons to single persons. 

The next issue, “stuff,” is all about the property rights of the parties.  Those property rights might include real property, such as a house, or personal property, such as cars, boats, planes and retirement accounts. Each party had some stuff when they came into the marriage, bought stuff while married, and may have purchased additional stuff since separation.

Most procedures for dividing the stuff are based on a fair and equitable division of the assets.     

 The last of three parts are “the firefight issues.”  These are the issues where there is the greatest possibility of there being an explosion.  They include the two K’s: kids and kash ($k).  Put another way: “How much is leaving him/her going to cost me, either in time with our kids, cash out of pocket, or both?” 

 The three parts do not need to be solved simultaneously, or even within the same year. Frequently, there are cases where the parties, with a little assistance from their lawyers, have been able to resolve one or two of the parts and need only spend their money, time and energy on resolving the remaining part.

Some parties resolve those issues that are the immediately pressing, and elect to resolve one of the parts at a future unspecified date.

If you’re considering a divorce, be leery of the attorney that either is too afraid to take the hard line when warranted, or seems overly eager to go after your spouse with everything in the arsenal from the very start. A well-seasoned practitioner accounts for the simple fact that every divorce has its own personality, and responds to the individual concerns of the client.  

Good legal advocacy is a combination of knowing when to finesse the deal and when to hit the other side with every remedy available. No two cases are identical, and no two clients have the exact same goals for their case. 

The very best approach is to plan for your divorce to simply be a matter of problem solving. If you check your emotions at the door, and do your very best to focus on moving forward instead of winning the fights of the past, you may very well end up with a reasonable resolution at a reasonable cost. 

It also never hurts to get a little “pre-divorce” information. If you’re considering a divorce, pay an attorney for a one-hour consultation and use that time to develop the best problem-solving plan you and your attorney can devise long before the first legal document is ever needed. 

Steven H. Marcus, Esq., has been practicing in the Valencia area for the past 14 years, and focuses on Family Law and Business Defense litigation matters. He can be reached at (661) 251-6000.  Mr. Marcus’column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association.  Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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