Each spouse may hire a lawyer to represent them in their divorce. Whether a person is negotiating a settlement or presenting a case to the court he or she needs a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney to get the best result. In contested cases, lawyers represent one spouse in the traditional attorney-client relationship, which may involve trial or result in a negotiated settlement.
Most family law cases settle and the odds for settlement are better if the facts and documents can be proven and disclosed. Family law cases can also be bifurcated. This means that only the disputed issues are litigated and the remaining issues settled. Common issues requiring litigation are child custody and visitation, spousal support, separate property contributions to community property and the value and character (community or separate) of a family business.
Whatever the disputed issues are, if at all possible the client should have an attorney to present their dispute to the court. This is because litigation involves rules of evidence and procedure that lawyers are trained to apply. For example, what witnesses should testify and how can their attendance at trial can be arranged. What exhibits should be presented to the court and how is that accomplished. Finally, are there any agreements that can be reached before trial which will shorten the amount of time in court and reduce the cost of the trial.
Depending upon the issues, expert witnesses may need to be hired. Commonly used experts in Family Law cases are custody evaluators, real estate appraisers, business appraisers and vocational counselors. It is also common for the court to appoint neutral experts to promote the cooperation of both parties and to hopefully reduce the need for litigation after receiving the expert’s opinion. If a party disagrees with the opinion of the neutral expert, he or she can always hire their own expert to present further opinions on the disputed issue.
The parties to a trial will usually request a Statement of Decision. This requires the Judge to give his or her reasons for how they decided the case. The Statement of Decision is then transferred into Judgment which is prepared by one of the parties and signed by the Judge. In only a very few cases are Judgments appealed to a higher court. This is because appeals are expensive, take a long time and are only intended to correct legal mistakes which affect the outcome. The fact that a party disagrees with the Trial Judge’s decision is not enough for a successful appeal unless the Trial Judge abused his or her discretion (A very difficult argument to win). Avoiding appeals is another reason why a client should have an attorney present their side of the case to the Trial Court.