Divorce & Family Law Attorney

Family Law Blog

Divorce & Family Law Blog by Attorney Jamie Elmer of Berkeley, California

How to Make Divorce More Affordable for Residents of Berkeley & Oakland

Find a way to rise above emotional triggers

The number one reason why divorce cases get so expensive for Berkeley & Oakland residents is that one or both of the parties let emotional triggers dominate how they approach the case and handle conflict. My previous blog described the main reasons divorce cases can be so expensive. 

I know it is not easy to rise above strong, sometimes overwhelming, emotional triggers, but it can be done. Finding emotional support from friends, family, a therapist or even a divorce coach can help a party overcome letting their emotions drive their decision-making process in the divorce.

One strategy to working with the triggers and strong emotional issues in divorce cases is to utilize "integrative mediation, "where, instead of just one lawyer-mediator, integrative mediation typically pairs a lawyer-mediator and a mental health professional (MHP)-mediator who jointly attend to all the needs of the parties in helping them to reach a mutually satisfactory and holistic resolution to their dispute." For more information check out the following link: Integrative Mediation Bay Area

Also remember, no matter what approach you use, all the issues in the divorce case will be resolved one way or another, even if it's a judge making a decision about your finances, and issues involving minor children. Thus, if you don't do it the court will. It almost always takes some compromise and sacrifice. The parties have to understand and accept that it is very unlikely they're going to get 100% of everything they want.

If you hire an attorney, follow their advice! You hired an attorney because you want an expert to help you get divorced. You're paying good money. Now take the advice, even if you don't like it. If you have a good attorney, that attorney knows more than you, has seen a lot of cases and knows what to expect. If you don't have a good divorce attorney, get one.

Hire a mediator. Mediators are trained in helping couples resolve real-world divorce case problems taking into account their needs.

And remember, the strong emotions of the moment will pass. You will survive your divorce.

Thoroughly prepare and complete your financial disclosures [and obtain 2 years tax returns] on your own before visiting an attorney.

Get the forms yourself or have an attorney provide them before your meeting, and thoroughly complete the financial disclosure forms [income and expense declaration, and schedule of assets and debts], as well as locating and attaching the required documentation which consists of the two most recent months' pay stubs, the current monthly statements for all checking, savings and other financial accounts including retirement accounts and investment accounts, and monthly statements for all liabilities including credit card debts, mortgages and any unsecured loans.

Also, you'll need to provide the two most recently filed state and federal income tax returns so locate them early and give them to your attorney.

Attorneys don't like preparing these forms either, so if you do it ahead of time they will be grateful and it will make your case cheaper.

Provide relevant information in writing to the attorney ahead of time, and make a list of questions and expectations before contacting an attorney.

In addition to the financial disclosures, it's also helpful to write down the full names of both parties, their addresses, the date of marriage and date of separation, names and birth dates of any minor children, and where the minors have been living for the previous five years, and provide this to the attorney. [Emailing this information ahead of time is very helpful and very much appreciated].

Where custody and/or visitation is in dispute, provide a written narrative explaining how you want custody and visitation to be, and [importantly] why it would be in the child's best interests.

It is helpful to get clear in your mind what your expectations and desires are with respect to the divorce. What do you want visitation and custody to look like; how do you want to handle spousal and/or child support, and what do you think is a fair division of the assets and debts.

It also helps to know what you want your new life to look like as a single person, and how resolution of the issues in your case can support that. Of course, an attorney can help you work on these issues, but the more you can do on your own, the better, and the cheaper your case will be.

Use a mediator, or hire one attorney who does most of the work with other party representing themselves.

Depending upon the issues that you have, using a mediator could be cheaper than each party hiring an attorney. However even mediation can become expensive.

Where the parties are fairly amicable and reasonable, a good alternative to litigation and even mediation is to have one party hire an attorney who can answer questions, and help in negotiations, and draft the required pleadings, and other forms, prepare the settlement agreement, and then process the uncontested judgment. Of course, this will leave one party without formal legal representation. However, that person can always seek the assistance of an independent attorney for a consultation only, and a review of the settlement agreement.

Do your own divorce without an attorney.

If you're relatively smart, and are willing to do the research and homework, you can handle your own divorce. However, I always suggest at least getting a consultation with a lawyer so you know your rights before deciding how to resolve the issues in your case.

Utilize nolopress.com and their resources. Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce

Go to your county's Superior Court self-help center for information, forms and rules: 

Find a paralegal service online or in the Yellow Pages that will prepare the forms for you.

Hire a San Francisco Bay Area family law and divorce attorney for consultation and advice, and/or form preparation only, so that you know your rights, and the issues particular to your case. At each step along the way, you can seek the attorney's assistance while still representing yourself. And if the going gets tough, you can always hire the attorney to represent you, and that person will already be familiar with your case.


You can reduce the cost of litigating your divorce. You must be reasonable, realistic, and willing to compromise, and heed your lawyer's advice. Be prepared, and provide your attorney all the information he or she will need in a timely manner, and do as much of the work yourself as possible, or represent yourself, or explore alternatives such as mediation or Integrative mediation.

Martin "Jamie" Elmer is a family law and divorce attorney who represents clients in Berkeley and Oakland, and throughout the bay area including Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Contact Mr. Elmer's law office at (510) 644-2411 or fill out our online form.