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All About Mediation

If you feel you have exhausted all of your resources in trying to negotiate the settlement of your dispute with another party, you may find mediation to be the most efficient and painless way to solve your problems. Mediation is a quick, fair, private, and relatively inexpensive way to handle a civil dispute. Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) where disputing parties of a lawsuit collaborate with a third party or mediator to settle the dispute. The overall goal of a mediation is to bypass the expense and time involved with further litigation by settling the lawsuit early in the process.

The Mediator

The mediator assists disputing parties better understand and communicate their interest along with their legal and practical choices. Simply put, mediators help both parties:

  • communicate more effectively
  • examine practical and legal options for settlement, and
  • come to a mutually agreeable and acceptable solution of the problem.

Stages of Mediation

Even though mediation isn’t as structured as the court process, mediation is typically more formal than most people assume. The typical mediation process involves the following six stages.

  • Mediator’s opening statement.  Is when the mediator conducts an introduction and explains the rules and goals of the mediation.
  • Disputants’ opening statements.  Is when each party explains the dispute, how they were affected, and their own proposed solution. During this time, you aren’t allowed to interrupt another person when they are speaking.
  • Joint discussion.  Is when the parties converse directly about their opening statements. This discussion allows the mediator to determine which issues should be discussed.
  • Private caucuses.  Is when each party meets individually with the mediator to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their position. Through one or many private caucuses, the mediator also discusses new settlement ideas for each party.
  • Joint negotiation.  Happens when the mediator brings both parties back to negotiate directly.
  • Closing.  Is the end of the mediation when the mediator puts their provisions in writing as the parties listen if an agreement is reached. Both parties may be asked to sign the summary of the agreement, or the mediator may suggest they take the summary to their lawyers to review. When an agreement can’t be reached, the mediator reviews the progress and advises the parties to meet later, schedule arbitration, or court proceedings.

Benefits of Mediation

Overall, mediation has several benefits over other forms of litigation, which include:

  • Confidentiality.  In most cases, what you say in mediation cannot be divulged outside of the proceedings.
  • Saves money.  In most cases, mediation is significantly less than litigation or other forms of fighting.
  • Quick settlement.  Mediation sessions are typically scheduled a few weeks to a couple of months from when it’s requested. Sessions can typically last anywhere from a few hours to a day, depending on the case.
  • Mutually satisfactory outcomes.  Since mediation requires both parties to agree, the outcome is typically more satisfactory and has a higher compliance rate in contrast to decision made by a third party, such as a judge.
  • Customized and comprehensive agreements.  Since mediation settlements can address both legal and extra legal issues, the agreement can include psychological and procedural issues. In addition, parties can specifically tailor their settlement based on their individual situation.
  • More control and outcome predictability.  By negotiating your own settlement, you will have more control over the outcome of the dispute and be able to better predict losses and/or gains.
  • Preservation of relationship.  Since many relationships must continue after the resolution of a dispute, mediation offers a way to preserve a working relationship. In addition, mediation can enable an amicable termination of a relationship.
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Posted by on August 21, 2014 in Mediation

 

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When Can a Parent Expect to Stop Paying Child Support?

when-can-a-parent-expect-to-stop-paying-child-supportAlthough California’s Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is usually strictly thought of as an enforcer of court orders outlining child support payments, DCSS does much more than that to help parents and guardians.

The Department of Child Support Services helps to establish paternity, change or enforce court-ordered child support payments and change or enforce a court order for health insurance and medical payments.

 

Department of Child Support Services 

The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) in California helps parents and guardians get the financial support they need to take care of their families.

Specifically, the California Department of Child Support Services makes sure that financial as well as medical support that’s been ordered by a court supports families and children.

Child support agencies throughout California work with the Department of Child Support Services to ensure that parents and guardians within the 50-plus county network that DCSS works through are taken care of.

 

Purpose of California’s Child Support Payments 

California ensures that the party making the child support payments and the party using those payments are supporting the welfare of the child.

The state of California takes child support payments seriously. Laws protect you from unpaid, court-ordered child support payments as well as repaying back support.

Child Support Modifications?

The child support payments you receive could be modified if you’ve had a significant increase or decrease in income. Other factors like your custody percentage changing or having another child could affect the amount of child support payments that you receive in California.

If, for instance, one parent went back to work and started earning significantly more than the other divorcee, and the other parent spent more time with the kids, then the amount that each parent paid in child support could conceivably be readjusted to take into account these new factors.

Any Financial Changes? File Right Away. 

It’s important to bear in mind that alterations to child support payments only occur after the lifestyle changes (e.g., one parent’s income increase) are brought to the court’s attention. In other words, you can’t expect to get retroactive compensation.

The above example dealt with an increase in income for one parent, but the same rules apply to a parent or guardian losing a job. You need to tell the courts that you’re unemployed for child support payments to get lowered or possibly eliminated.

It’s important to make another filing as soon as your financial situation changes. Seek out an attorney to help you reduce your child support payments if your income changes significantly, and especially if you’re making child support payments and have recently become unemployed.

 

How is Child Support Calculated? 

Child support in California is figured out based on each parent’s or guardian’s income as well as how much time each parent or guardian spends with the child.

Other financial factors that could impact child support payments include any mortgages that each parent holds or the total cost of child care.

Believe it or not, judges working in California’s legal system rely on a computer program to calculate monthly child support payments. That said, each parent works with an attorney specializing in family law to determine how the parents’ income and other personal factors impact future child support payments.

Child support payments apply to just that – children. At age 18 the support payments should cease. And remember, it’s the parent’s responsibilities to make another filing if his or her income changes.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Child Support

 

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The Cost of Divorce

Once you’ve made the decision that your marriage is irretrievable broken, you will likely consider moving onto the next step. For most, the next step is seeking a legal divorce so both parties can move on with their lives as separate, individual people, rather than a couple. the-cost-of-divorceFor those just beginning the process of a divorce, one of the major questions that come up is whether or not a divorce is expensive. The answer isn’t as cut and dry as some may hope. Some divorces are simple, quick, and relatively inexpensive, while others can be rather long processes that can cost an exorbitant amount of money.

Types of Divorce

In the state of California you can file for divorce in one of three ways. You can either file for a summary dissolution, an uncontested divorce or a contested divorce. A summary dissolution is the quickest form of divorce, and in most cases the cheapest. Generally, a summary dissolution is only granted to couples who have been married for five years or less, and do not have any children together. An uncontested divorce is granted to a couple who have agreed to the terms of the divorce outside of court. In this case, the divorce proceedings simply include the filing of appropriate forms and paperwork before the divorce can be granted. The price of an uncontested divorce simply include the price of court fees, and any legal counsel you may have obtained for the purpose of filing.

Finally, a contested divorce, is a divorce in which one party or both parties fail to agree to the terms of the divorce. In these cases, outside mediation has not worked, and the divorce terms must go before a judge to be finalized. Contested divorces are the most expensive type of divorces, and in some cases, can take several years to finalize.

The Price of Divorce 

In the state of California, a couple who wishes to obtain a summary dissolution can file for relatively cheap. Lawyers do not have to be involved in this process, although it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer prior to filing, or to get help during the filing process. In most cases, paralegals can help with this type of paperwork. The filing costs for a summary dissolution, in most counties in California, is between $300 and $450. In San Francisco, specifically, this type of filing costs court fees of $450.

An uncontested divorce can be obtained by simply filing the necessary paperwork and appearing for any court hearings that may be scheduled. Hearing are generally not necessary in this type of divorce, and hearing are usually granted for free. The filing costs for an uncontested divorce is roughly $450 in most counties in California, including in the San Francisco area. Similar to a summary dissolution, it is important to speak with a lawyer prior to the filing of divorce papers, to ensure you are protected during the process.

Contested divorces can become extremely expensive because the court fees and attorney fees associated with them add up quickly. According to recent statistics, the average contested divorce can cost upwards of $20,000. The cost of these divorces are directly attributed to the attorney fees and the court fees associated with multiple hearings, as well as mediation meetings, and other associated attempts to come to an amicable agreement between the parties. A divorce can be contested on the ground of finances, child custody, or the division or property.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Divorce

 

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The Effects of Divorce on Children

the-effects-of-divorce-on-childrenRecent research shows that when divorces occur especially early in a child’s development s/he will have a harder time later connecting with parents. If divorce occurs when a child is between the ages of three and five children show a high level of feelings of insecurity towards one or both parents than if the child had experienced the divorce when s/he was older, and perhaps in a more resilient position to handle the trauma of a parental separation.

Attachment Theory: Specific Versus Diffuse Insecurity 

The basic tenet of attachment theory is that an infant, or very young child, needs to have a healthy relationship with at least one parent, usually the primary caregiver, to have healthy social and emotional interactions with others later in life. Although parents are justifiably concerned about how their divorce will subsequently impact their children, research tends to show that children later in life only have a problem with fostering a relationship with their parents, rather than their peers and others.

That is, there’s a prevailing theory in psychology and in the public consciousness that children of divorce will suffer negatively in all their adult relationships because of an early divorce. This is not what research in attachment theory and divorce actually shows, however.

Research from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that insecurity among children of divorce is selective rather than diffuse. This means that children of divorce don’t later have problems with all of their relationships into adulthood (peer, employee-boss, romantic, etc.) but rather children of divorce only struggle with forging a deeper bond with their parents. This makes future relationship problems specific to their parents rather than diffuse across settings and individuals.

Childhood Versus Adolescent Response to Divorce

Other research shows that children younger than age nine and adolescents from nine to around thirteen respond to divorce in fundamentally different ways. Although the lifestyle challenges for children and adolescents alike can be similar – e.g., trips from one household to another and only rarely experiencing both parents together – can be a challenging way to negotiate middle school and eventually high school.

It is very interesting to note that if a child under age nine experiences a divorce the tendency is for that child to have an increased dependence whereas with an adolescent the pattern is the reverse, and the tendency in adolescents experiencing divorce is towards independence. It seems that younger children tend to show more of a regressive reaction to divorce whereas older adolescents tend to react in a more aggressive and independent way to parental separation.

Coping Mechanisms in Young Children 

Very young children tend to buy into the narrative that mommy and daddy are going to reconcile and that divorce isn’t as permanent as it is in reality. It is difficult to convince some children under age nine that divorce is a lasting situation and that these lifestyle changes (e.g., being shuttled between mom’s house and dad’s apartment) is how things are going to be from now on. Some psychologists worry that a parent’s unwillingness to be direct and honest about the finality of the separation could exacerbate a child’s false hope of a parental reconciliation.

Young children, moreover, may exhibit the following symptoms in their inability or unwillingness to accept the divorce for what it is:

–  Excessive crying, moping and tantrums

–  Fear of Separation

–  Bed wetting or unconcern with caring for self

All of these symptoms serve to re-garner the parent’s attention. This is in line with the regression that young children of divorce can show – the underlying pattern is towards greater dependency.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Effects of Divorce

 

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How Child Support is Determined

In California, child support is predominately determined by two factors. The first factor is each parent’s monthly net disposablehow-child-support-is-determined income. The second factor is the percentage of time per month that each parent provides care for the child. This is commonly referred to as the “J factor”.

Income. A parent’s disposable monthly income includes formal sources of personal revenue that are taxed by the state of California and the federal government as well as non-traditional sources of income. Types of income include the following: wages, commissions, tips, bonuses, self-employment earnings, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, interest, dividends, social security, pensions, lottery winnings and money from rental properties. The amount that a parent must pay each month for child support is partially determined by the percentage of the couple’s combined income.

Deductions. Child support has more determining factors than just the couple’s earnings. Certain payments and expenses are reduced from these sources of income. Typical deductions include taxes, other child support payments, other child care expenses, healthcare costs, job search expenses, home mortgage payments, required contributions towards retirement and union dues. It is important to note that other child support payments must be court ordered or they won’t be eligible as deductions. Also, the parent must actually be making these child support payments for the money to qualify as a deduction. Parents will not be allowed to deduct subsequent child support payments from their income.

The Calculation. After all the sources of income and eligible expenses and payments are determined, the net disposable monthly income can be calculated for each parent. The court uses these figures along with the percentage of time that each parent spends caring for their child to determine the exact amount of child support payments. Courts expect that a parent who spends more time with the child will incur significantly more expenses. It is quite common for parents, attorneys and the court to run calculations according to the above guidelines and come up with completely different figures. This happens because each party has their own personal opinions as to how much time each parent spends with their child, the number of exemptions claimed by the parents, what sources of income actually exist and which ones are taxable.

These discrepancies are exactly why parents need legal representation. A family law attorney will be able to protect your financial interests and help you keep your emotions separate from your financial and legal concerns. Remember that child support payments will extend all the way until the child turns 18 years old. This means that there is the potential for enormous child support costs over the long haul as well as the opportunity to re-calculate monthly child support payments throughout the years.  An attorney will be able to negotiate with the judge to ensure that certain information is included or excluded from child support calculations. These calculations are run by a complex computer program known as the Dissomaster.

The key to obtaining an acceptable outcome from the Dissomaster’s calculation is to convince the judge to either allow or disallow key pieces of input from being entered into the Dissomaster’s calculations.  To put it bluntly, judges have the power to shape child support payment determinations.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Child Support

 

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