Every now and then you will get a call from a client asking for a referral to a divorce attorney. Like all referral situations, a recommendation can have serious repercussions if the work isn't done properly or the parties don't like each other. You can win or lose big depending on the outcome. You want to steer your client in the right direction but just don't know who to trust with your most precious resources, your reputation and your clients.
The words that you are about to read will shock you. I am a divorce attorney yet I advise people to stay away from divorce attorneys if at all possible, and in 85% of the cases it is not only possible, but necessary if the couple is to get out in one piece. Everything you can imagine about how awful divorce court is, is true. I have never seen such a racket in my life. I have been a family law attorney since 1996 and after being a litigator for 8 years I just couldn't stand seeing emotionally vulnerable people manipulated so that the attorneys could make more money. I walked away from a successful law practice and have done nothing but mediation for the past 4 years. I am not saying that all divorce attorneys are sharks who will eat the young of their clients, but the adversarial system creates this win/lose battle where attorneys end up throwing gasoline on a fire by acting as "zealous advocates" instead of trying to find a fast, fair and economic solution.
With half of all marriages ending in divorce, many of us were children of divorce. What was that like for you? I hated being caught in the middle of my parents fighting. It doesn't serve parents to be encouraged to fight and let's face it, if you refer a client to a divorce attorney a couple of things are going to happen. In California, where the average price of a divorce, when both sides have attorneys, is $20,000 EACH, your client is going to lose a lot of money. If they are parents of minor children, there is going to be damage to their co-parenting relationship that comes from a court fight. By the time the case is done, most people hate their own lawyers and how do you think that is going to reflect on you since you are the one who referred them in the first place.
If you want to help yourself and your client, you will find the best mediator within driving distance and establish a relationship with that person so that your clients get first priority. The best person to do divorce mediation is an experienced divorce lawyer. Too many therapists or paralegals are doing divorce mediation but they don't know the law so how good of a resource could they be? The best mediators will be mediation (not litigation) focused, so at least half their practice should be mediation. After all, you don't want a wolf in sheep's clothing. You want someone who thinks "win/win" and that is NOT someone who is primarily a litigator. When interviwing potential referral partners, ask how many mediations they have done with what success rate. You want to know their price and the average length of time it takes to complete a mediation. Once you have those answers, you will have enough information to make an informed decision.
It is just human nature to prefer actively forming your own deal rather than having one imposed on you by judges and lawyers. People who engage in divorce mediation have a much higher rate of following the terms of their agreement than those who are ordered what to do. The comparison between mediation and litigation when tracking how much continuing contact the non custodial parent has with the children is just stunning. The BEST way to protect children from being caught in the middle of a nasty divorce is to avoid the nastiness in the first place. That can only be done by avoiding our adversarial system. Would you go to a surgeon if you had a cold? They will find something to cut out of you if they look hard enough. It's the same when a couple wants a divorce. They could do it the hard, painful and expensive way, but why would you want to be a party to that by sending them down that road. You actually have an opportunity to transform people's lives by encouraging them to work together instead of fighting. It will make all the difference if you do. They only get one chance to have a peaceful divorce. Make sure you advise them correctly when you get that call.