New Divorce Laws May Dent Your Wallet

By Paul Krueger
|  Saturday, Jan 8, 2011  |  Updated 9:51 AM PDT
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A new law could lengthen divorce proceedings.

A new law could lengthen divorce proceedings.

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A change in the state's divorce laws could make it more expensive -- and more emotionally difficult -- for couples to "untie the knot".

But the new rules could actually speed up the divorce process.

It depends, of course, on which lawyer you talk to.

Starting January 1, state courts require most couples to testify in person, in court, rather than having their attorneys submit written statements from their clients.

Local divorce attorney Myra Fleischer predicts this change will bog down the family law courts, which are already so overcrowded that divorcing couples must sometimes wait months for a hearing in their case.

"Now you're preparing testimony questions, you're preparing your client for what is about to happen to them and the questions that could be asked of them," Fleischer says. "So it changes the game to [something] like a 'mini-trial', instead of a short hearing."

Fleischer says oral testimony takes time, so delays will be even worse. She urges couples to prepare for the delays and for bigger legal bills, in some cases.

However, family law attorney Bill Hargreaves sees an upside to the new "Elkins Legislation" law.

Hargreaves thinks the changes, which will be phased in here in San Diego, could actually speed up the divorce process.   

He says divorce cases now generate huge amounts of paperwork, often because of the very lengthy legal declarations that are now filed with the court, which must be responded to by the opposing party and read and ruled on by the judge.

Hargreaves says these client declarations often include pages of personal grievances and other unnecessary information that consume time, and increase legal costs.

Hargreaves says these declarations will now be much shorter, because the spouses will now be testifying at a hearing and will be limited in what they can say on the witness stand.

"It will shorten the process, it will expedite the process and I think clients over-all will be happier with the process," Hargreaves said.

Counties across the state have already begun to implement the new laws.

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