20 Lessons from 20 Years of Family Law
20 Lessons 20 Years
I start practicing law in 2000 when I just turned 24 years old.
A Little Background
I immigrated to this country in 1982 when I was 6 years old.
As the perfect Asian immigrant daughter, I excelled at school, entering UCLA as a sophomore (thanks to AP English Exam). I also attended summer school every year to finish college in 3 years (I used my Price is Right money to study in Stratford-Upon-Avon one summer).
After graduating from law school in 2.5 years (also due to summer school and work credit internships at the Public Defender’s Offices), passing the bar on the first try, I found myself a newly minted lawyer at age 24, working for an insurance defense firm, and volunteering at a San Francisco Domestic Violence clinic to fulfill pro bono requirements.
I won’t lie; I didn’t CHOOSE to go into family law. Family Law chose me. When I launched my own firm in 2005, those were the cases that walked in my door. There are days that I am simply exhausted. Most divorce lawyers suffer some sort of caretaker’s fatigue.
However, I do believe that my life’s purpose was Family Law.
Family Law isn’t a particularly revered area of law (unlike Constitutional law or Intellectual Property Law, or Real Property Law). Most lawyers look DOWN on family lawyers. And I don’t blame them. After all, our jobs are approximately 99% emotion, and 1% law.
Family law is not rocket science. Child Custody is granted based on “children’s best interests”, all property acquired during marriage and before date of separation is community property. It’s NOT complicated at all! What IS complicated is the myriad of human emotions and vulnerabilities spiking their ugly heads when attacked by the person they most trusted. No one truly knows what “revenge” looks like unless they’ve handled a family law case.
I opened my own family law firm in 2005. Here are the top 20 lessons I’ve learned after 20 years of Family Law practice.
- Children are not fractions. Joint custody is not always 50/50.
- Children are not property. Don’t treat them that way.
- If your children are OK, nothing else matters.
- If your children at NOT OK, nothing else matters.
- Money does not equate time and love. Children need your love more than your money.
- Children always want their parents to stay together. But the next best thing is for them to be apart and NOT fight.
- Children need both parents.
- Good parents don’t need court orders or laws to be good parents.
- There is no easy way out of a marriage with children. Choose wisely with whom to procreate.
10. Nobody wins in divorce. You’ve already lost. You get 1/2 of everything, and with 2 households, now your expenses are 2x. At best, you start with 1/4.
11. Not all men beat their wives. Not all women are golddiggers. Some women beat their husbands. Some men are golddiggers.
12. Cheating on your spouse does not automatically make you a bad parent. Not cheating on your spouse does not automatically make you a good parent.
13. Parents always side with their children – stay out of your kid’s divorce.
14. The other side is never as bad as they are portrayed on court pleadings. (And neither are their lawyers).
15. After you’ve spent all your money on lawyers, you still need to deal with each other. If you have kids, you’re family forever. Learn to get along.
16. Lawyers can be a solution or a problem. Be careful who you hire.
17. Even if both of you “just want what’s fair”, the end result will not feel fair.
18. A good settlement is when both of you are not happy.
19. You can’t move on when you’re stuck fighting old issues. It’s best to move on. Find a lawyer who helps you move on.
20. It is always darkest before the sun comes out. And the sun always comes out.