The Latest in Family Law: A Conversation with the Expert
To discover the latest updates on trends, legislation and best practices in the world of family law, we sat down with Dana Lowy, an expert family law attorney and founding partner of Meyer Olson Lowy & Meyers.
What are the most meaningful recent changes to family law and policy in California?
Probably the ability to have court hearings held online because of the pandemic. That certainly comes with pros and cons. While it wasa necessity during the pandemic, there is and was always the possibility of technical problems. Even more importantly, it is important for Judges to see the clients, and it is important for the clients to feel that they “have their day in court,” which just isn’t the same over a computer.
How has COVID affected family law litigation? Are those changes temporary or do you think they are here to stay?
In my practice, COVID has impacted family law litigation in three significant ways. First, we are very busy because couples’ relationships were either strengthened during their extensive time together or, asI have seen now that things are more open, many couples are separating after recognizing that they are just not happy together. Second, getting into court during COVID was very difficult, even for cases filed before March 2020, and it was very difficult to have your hearing conducted in a timely manner. The court system tried very hard and did an incredible job, during very difficult circumstances, but many cases were delayed. Third, with people who did have the financial ability, we were able to conduct hearings, trials, and depositions by way of Zoom, and we were able to hire private judicial officers to preside over cases with the same force and effect as a public court.
As we move deeper into 2021, what are the family law hot issues to be aware of?
It will be interesting to see how appearances in court by way of the various electronic means will continue. There have been a number of modification of support cases filed during periods when people’s incomes declined during COVID; now, we will see how that income fluctuation impacts the court rulings as people return to work or have the ability to return to work.
What’s the first thing someone should do if they believe they are heading toward a divorce?
Definitely get legal advice. Consult a family law attorney. Information is power. I can’t tell you how many people I have met over the years who have never signed, let alone reviewed, a tax return, or have any idea of the amount of money in their bank accounts.
If two people absolutely cannot live together any longer, is it ever a good idea NOT to divorce?
No.I often hear about couples staying together “for the kids.” Kids are both intuitive and resilient. A couple isn’t doing their kids any good by staying in an unhappy marriage, which means an unhappy home. That does not provide a “good role model” for their kids fora happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship.
Who really determines how assets are divided in a divorce?
Ultimately the judge, if the parties are unable to resolve these sometimes very complex issues through attorneys and other professionals.
When should someone file legal separation instead of filing for divorce?
In my experience, there is rarely a reason to file legal separation instead of divorce. All of the paperwork and requirements are exactly the same (i.e. dealing with property division, support, and custody), with the exception of the termination of marital status. The only three reasons I have seen in my practice are as follows: (1) based on someone’s religious beliefs; (2) to maintain health insurance if someone has a serious health issue and wouldn’t be able to obtain comparable coverage; (3) for emotional reasons and a party just can’t make that final cut. However, it only takes one party to make it a divorce, rather than a legal separation.
How often are divorces mediated?
It depends on the couple. Because a mediator is hired not as an advocate for either party but in order to help the couple come to an agreement together, the couple has to be on the same page, and the two parties need to share the same goal and understanding of their need to compromise their respective positions in order to come to a mutual agreement rather than litigation.
How has social media affected family law, if at all?
Oh, social media can have a huge impact. You can’t take back those photos or comments. The emotional impact of social media can directly impact howa party will react, for example in the middle of settlement negotiations. Ifa party is getting close to settlement, and the other party shows up on social media out partying or with an alleged significant other, those settlement negotiations can be easily derailed, not necessarily for legal reasons, but definitely for emotional ones.
How long does it typically take to get divorced in California?
It takes at least six months to dissolvea party’s marital status; however, all other issues can be done sooner than that or sometimes take a much longer time, depending upon the complexity of the matter and the parties’ positions.
What keeps you up at night as a family law attorney?
Strategizing in my head about the specifics of my clients’ cases. They are all different, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to my clients, and I care about them. Preparation is key so I am constantly reviewing scenarios in my head, especially before their hearings in order to always have a contingency plan because I learned early on always to expect the unexpected. With that said, no one can predict 100% of the “what ifs.”