Should you have a Marital Settlement Conference?  5 Reasons it’s a bomb.

The language in family law is so deceiving.  A marital settlement conference (MSC) is not a conference and it is not even a pleasant meeting.  The MSC is just as deceiving as the phrase family law itself.  It sounds friendly, but it really is one of the worst industries that developed in the 19th century and a MSC is no different.  It is not family oriented and there is no mediation involved in a MSC.  Family law’s mission statement should be something like this, “Judicial process to rip families apart physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.  Diminish all dignity of parties involved, especially if it’s a contested divorce.  If there are children, ignore them as much as possible and focus all attention on what the parents want versus what is best for the children’s upbringing, best interest of the children doctrine is only used to be politically correct.”  Family law courts truly do not care about anyone, everyone is a number.  Knowing what family law truly is, try to avoid a marital settlement conference bomb and agree to settlement outside of court, see an attorney for legal language and get it notarized.

There are valid reasons why the marital settlement conference is a bomb.  It is costly.  It is inconsequential. It is long.  It is unstructured.  It is surprisingly legal.  However, there are many things that occur in family law that are shockingly legal, so the MSC is no different.

Take note of the 5 reasons the MSC is a bomb:

#1 It is costly: If both the petitioner and respondent have legal representation it is going to be a hefty bill.  Attorney fees can cost anywhere between $150 – $450 per hour.  That’s $3,600 in one day (an MSA can take 2-4 hours) and there’s no guarantee an accurate decision will be reached.  Attorneys ARE NOT mediators, I REPEAT, attorneys ARE NOT mediators.  Very few attorneys will be conscientious with how they are spending your dollars – yes, every time you are with them they are spending your money.  Once a tentative decision has been reached during the discussion period or attorney manipulation fest, the judge will go along with whatever the attorneys say whether it is accurate or not.  Emotions are intense during this period so neither the petitioner or respondent are thinking clearly – the attorneys take advantage of the situation.  Remember that’s why attorneys are in family law to begin with, they are good at manipulation, they like competition and they have a real knack for confusion especially if it benefits them (disguised as a benefit for their client of course).

#2 It is inconsequential: No final decision is reached.  The MSC does not mean an automatic marital settlement agreement or final divorce decree.  Even the hearing itself cannot be used to finalize asset division with any organization or bank.  The MSC does put negotiations on the record; however, without a signature NOTHING is final, especially if the information is inaccurate.

#3 It is long:  The discussion period happens right before the hearing.  At the hearing, everyone goes before the judge and the attorney(s) will read what was agreed to during the discussion period.  Remember the discussion period is a session of back and forth of no real resolution so near the end both parties are pressured to decide on some aspects of the case whether the decision is in both parties’ best interest or not.  Attention fatigue occurs quickly after 18 minutes to an hour of intense discussion, so neither party is in a state of verifying all the information that is being tossed back and forth after 2-3 hours of discussion.

#4 It is unstructured: Every attorney goes about this their own way.  Each party is supposed to submit an MSA brief which outlines what is supposed to be reviewed and decided on; however, this brief is purely procedural rather than followed.  Asset division should have a template division for common assets and there should be zero confusion as to where and what should be divided in a community property state, but that is not the case.  There is in fact, no structure which allows the attorneys more leeway to do their own thing inevitably adding to the stress of the situation instead of making it better.

#5 It is surprisingly legal:  This is the biggest bomb indicator of them all.  It is legal; however it shouldn’t be legal to have a MSC without a final divorce decree attached or at least some neutral party mediating the discussion and verifying all information.  If the MSC is filled with inaccurate information, the MSC becomes useless and those inaccuracies must be addressed later which takes more time and more money.

It is uncertain how family law exists as it does.  There are many unhappy divorcées from the process; however, everyone complains, but nothing seems to be done.  Many complain about the outcome of their divorce and very few take the time to dissect why the outcome came about and even less go to their senators to get laws changed or to put laws in place.  Whatever you do, AVOID the marital settlement conference.  If you can convince your broken half to go through mediation to get EVERYTHING decided, do it.   The MSC is a costly inconsequential long unstructured process that’s unfortunately legal; stay clear of the bomb.

6 Things a Divorce Attorney Won’t Tell You

If you can manage it, get through your divorce with as little family law industry personnel involved as possible.  Almost every person that works in the family law industry and even your friends will say, “you need an attorney!”  Newsflash, they don’t REALLY know and if they work in the industry, they have ulterior motives.  Your friends, family or co-workers only tell you, you need an attorney because it seems to make sense.  Initially you feel you are at a disadvantage if your estranged spouse has an attorney and you do not, if you’re working full-time and you have children you will probably have to get an attorney if the children are with you most the time; however, if you have a good support system and your work schedule is flexible, explore representing yourself or filing online.  If you find you must start talking with attorneys you need to be aware of these 6 topics that fly under the radar:

#1 The attorney will not tell you to go without an attorney, it conflicts with their livelihood.  An attorney knows the system and the divorce system is designed to make money. If you hire an attorney, you still use your time and energy to explain everything to your attorney.  Additionally, you must review all paperwork they prepare, because your signature is required on every form.  Whether you are the petitioner (the person who filed for the divorce) or the respondent (the person responding to the person who filed); an attorney will not grasp your position as much as you.  Every state has rules and regulations on how they do things, your divorce will follow those rules and regulations; you will not be the exception because you hired a good attorney.

#2 The attorney will not tell you they don’t care directly.  It’s unimaginable that people can become so calloused; however, they probably did not start out that way.  The system grooms people to become desensitized to your situation.  It’s only natural.  Family law people put on a caring façade to gain your trust (there are some exceptions, but few).  The more people they’ve worked with, the less caring they typically are.  There is no way they could face their work day without that hard shell, because to be good at what they do, they must manipulate the other side and manipulate you too.  Remember they are also charging you an arm and a leg at the same time whether you can afford it or not.  Married celebrities, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, discovered this late in the game according to Vanity Fair and finally decided to go with a private judge which minimizes attorney and media manipulation, plus keeps things private from the public.

#3 The attorney will not tell you your story DOESN’T matter to the court.  This is huge!  If you already have an attorney you are already somewhat familiar with the preparation that is required to file the paperwork or forms with the court.  The first declaration forms go to great lengths to set the backdrop behind the reasons for the divorce.  Hours upon hours are spent by you and your attorney to arrive at a reasonably true story.  If you don’t have a caring attorney, the attorney will input drama where needed and hyperbole to make the story more compelling so the judge finds it interesting to read.  What’s worse is that these lies are never refuted at the hearing.  The story is filed as fact and then the other person can submit their own declaration (link example is from California) refuting the lies, but there is no consensus.

#4 The attorney will not tell you the judge will make an order or decline making an order as they see fit regardless of your attorney’s performance or the damages that accrued in the relationship.  The judge sees numerous cases a day, you are just a number.  If the judge had a bad morning and you show emotion, 2 strikes against whatever you think is a fair compromise.  All the while, your attorney sits there helpless and you paid them to sit there helpless.  Every hearing has an objective set by the judge or opposing council, so if the situation that is rectified before the date on the court’s calendar you cannot replace that objective with something else.  The date is removed from calendar and if there’s another topic that needs to be addressed you or your attorney must file a motion to put it back on calendar.  What does this do?  It prolongs the divorce and keeps the legal tab open.

#5 The attorney will not tell you to always show up in court or the other side will have the advantage.  This is a common-sense scenario.  From the judge’s perspective if you didn’t take the time to appear in court you automatically have less authority and skin in the game even though you sent your attorney to represent you.  If you truly don’t care, this could work for you, but if you truly do care, always appear in court.

#6 If you live in a liberal state and have children, judges & attorneys do not follow “best interests of the child” doctrine.  Shocking I know!  Family law is like the Wild West.  There are very few absolutes and all kinds of grey area.  For the court to care about the children in an abusive situation, the spouse in question MUST have a criminal record and/or the abuse must be verified by a professional 3rd party.

Think twice before seeking an attorney to file for divorce.  If you loved your spouse at least for a moment during your marriage, save yourself the stress and heartache that comes along with the attorney representation package.  The judge in every divorce case bases their decision on previous case decisions and if the judge breaks the law and favors the other side unjustly you can appeal.  If you think your spouse will get an attorney, seek advice from an attorney, but talk to many, because if you go with a calloused one you’ll be in for a long haul.