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An experienced San Diego divorce attorney would tell you that going to trial and testifying before the Judge can be one of the most terrifying and costly experiences of your life. Statistically, in San Diego Family Law Court, having a trial to settle all of your issues is not common and may be able to be avoided using techniques and strategies.
Some issues are more discretionary, such as the parenting plan and physical and legal custody, while others are not such as child support under the guideline. It is very important to analyze each of the issues individually. While, of course, it is always preferable to have a global settlement as soon as possible, some issues may require more time than others. If a disagreement on where and with who and what times the children will spend with each parent, then a mandatory mediation with Family Court Services is required and a court hearing and this process may take 2-4 months. Issues such as date of separation or termination of legal status may require a bifurcated separate trial. Also, it is possible to have a partial settlement of as many issues as possible and then litigate any which are not agreed to.
Mediation: This is a process where both spouses and parents are represented by the same attorney. This is beneficial since there is only one attorney fee paid by the community and mediation is confidential and less adversarial than litigation. The disadvantage is that this is an adversarial procedure and what is beneficial for one spouse may well be detrimental to the other spouse.
One prime example is support. The payor, almost always, wants to have the lowest payment possible. The payee, again almost always, wants the highest payment possible. If no agreement is reached in mediation, the mediator cannot represent either party so a disadvantage is that two attorneys will have to be hired meaning three attorneys and not two.
It is possible to have a partial judgment and then have to litigate the remainder and all agreements are preferable since these decrease conflict and less expensive and much more expedient than trial.
Mandatory Settlement Conference: In San Diego Superior Court in the Family Law Division, the Judges will set a mandatory settlement conference before a trial, procedurally, except in limited circumstances.
This is with a Judge Pro Tem who may be a Judge or an experienced family law attorney who assists the Court for settlement. Statistically, the vast majority of cases settle at the MSC so this is a strategy for resolution which would not require a trial. There is a Brief which must be completed and all Exhibits and documents attached and the legal positions enumerated. The Briefs are sent to the Settlement Conference Judge and Opposing Counsel prior to the mediation. There is no cost from the Court for this service.
Alternative Dispute Resolution: This involves a retired Judge [in most instances] who assists with resolution per California or by agreement. A benefit of this procedure is that you can ask the Judge questions and speak, in many cases, privately. This is not possible at trial or with the Judge assigned to your case in Court. There is an additional cost for this but it is [normally] much less expensive than a trial.
Doppelt and Forney, APLC has experience with Mandatory Settlement Conferences, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Trial and can refer you to a mediator as their law firm does not practice in mediation. A free in-person or virtual consultation up to 30 minutes at their law office can be scheduled by calling 800-769-4748. You can discuss with a California licensed attorney your individual case and discuss which of the above strategies is best for you as an alternative to a trial. Whether your case is in East County, South Bay, North County or downtown San Diego, they have experience with all aspects of family law cases.