How can I understand the legal system and my case?
"Why is the legal system so disconnected from reality?"
"How can I get a better understanding of how the legal system will affect me?"
The legal system has many unique terms which are not connected with the real world.
If you are involved in a divorce, you are stepping into something that may seem to be a parallel world, but with its own language and rules:
Real people say "Divorce". The legal system says "Dissolution (Divorce)".
Real people say "Agreement". The legal system says "Stipulation".
Real people say "Stipulation". The legal system says "Contingency".
Real people say "Prenup". The legal system says "Premarital agreement".
Real people say "Full custody". The legal system says "Sole legal and physical custody".
It would be much more efficient if the legal world reflected the real world, and it should. It should be a system that helps real people. However, despite progress by the legal system in recent years, there remains a significant disconnect between the 'real world' and the 'legal world'.
If you are or will be involved in a divorce, you can take several steps to get familiar with the legal system. Unfortunately, all of these steps will require that some time and/or money be spent by you, but the payoff is well worth it, if only for your peace of mind:
Every library and every full-range bookstore has numerous books to help a non-attorney ("pro per", in the language of the legal system) better understand how the legal system works. (You will not need to learn Latin.) Many people find that the most helpful books are written by lawyers for non-lawyers. Look for a book that is easy and comfortable for you to read. You do not have to read the book from cover to cover. A well-written book will be divided into well-defined chapters so you can go right to your area of interest.
Visit the courthouse.
Not everybody is aware that virtually all court proceedings are open to the public. You can find your family court locations by conducting an on-line search for the county in which you live. Pick a department (there are several in California's larger counties). If you have an upcoming hearing, go to the department in which your case will be heard. The bailiff may ask you if you need any help. You can simply tell the bailiff that you are there to observe, and then take a seat. You can see how the judge operates his or her courtroom, and you may be surprised to see that court is not as you usually see it on television or in movies. Court can be low-key, almost boring, with a rare surprise here and there. The staff - judge, clerk, bailiff, court reporter - sees many cases every day, and, through a combination of training and simply having seen so many cases, generally remain very calm and professional. You will leave the courtroom with a sense of comfort and confidence, and some familiarity with the nuances of how the legal system really works.
Talk to friends.
This is probably the least beneficial way for you to become familiar with the legal system. You will likely get information that may be full of emotion, possibly anger, or just plain wrong. More importantly, it is easy for people to assume that "every case is the same", so you may be inclined to believe that your case will progress just like your friend's case did. But there are so many variables in a divorce case that it is not realistic to assume that your experience will be like your friend's experience.
Talk to an attorney.
You can sometimes get a preliminary consultation with an attorney at no charge. Any reputable attorney will tell you beforehand if he or she will charge a fee for an initial consultation.
You can also retain (pay) an attorney for a few hours of guidance, for one court hearing, or even to help you on just one of the several issues in your case. Of course, attorneys are expensive. You will have to decide what you can afford and are willing to pay.
The information in this blog is general in nature. The law is constantly changing, and exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions, run rampant throughout the legal system. Every case is different. You are advised to contact an attorney with any questions you may have about your individual case.