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Celebrating 30 Years in Practice

The evolution of a divorce lawyer By Felicia Soleil, Attorney/Mediator

Health and Lifestyle

Where has the time gone? I’m celebrating 30 years in my family law practice and reflecting on how much has changed—or should I say “evolved”—during these last three decades.

When I started practice in 1993, a typical divorce started with two lawyers, the filing of a petition and a court hearing to establish the general rules around how the couple would handle their finances and parenting roles, while the case slogged through months of trying to obtain financial verification and other facts from each party.

Communication could take days or weeks and was primarily handled through phone calls (generally messages piled up on desks on little message slips), and typewritten letters sent through snail mail. (The daily trip to my mailbox often determined my work for the day.)

Clients were advised to not speak to each other about their issues and “let the lawyers handle it.” Traditional financial arrangements often involved Mom remaining in the house with the kids while dad got alternating weekend visits and had to pay for everything.

Worse, there was no guidance for unmarried couples who lived together, let alone same-sex couples.

Fast forward to 2023, and what do we have? Choices! And technology! More importantly, we have more humanity for those who value less destructive transitions.

First and foremost, clients have the option to avoid court intervention by electing to participate in mediation or collaborative law from the outset of their case. If they don’t need that level of professional guidance, they can opt for using a Limited Licensed Legal Technician (LLLT) or a courthouse facilitator to help them navigate the procedures and paperwork.

Resolution of parties’ issues has also dramatically changed. Of utmost importance has been the creation of laws that recognize the rights of unmarried couples, same-sex couples (including the right to marry), much greater protections for victims of domestic violence, and the acknowledgment that both parents play very important roles in the raising of children.

Fortunately, new statutes and common practice have made great strides forward with the adoption of shared residential time for divorcing parents. The pendulum has swung so far to the other side on this topic that I generally only see an alternating weekend schedule when one parent is basically a “non-parent” in that family’s dynamic or is otherwise restricted for statutory reasons such as domestic violence, substance abuse or neglect.

On the financial side, it is now generally expected that each party should be contributing to their own and their children’s financial well-being. With respect to spousal maintenance, legal standards were created to further define how best to transition a non-earner or low-earner into a position of self-support over time, whether through extended spousal maintenance and/or a disproportionate division of the parties’ assets, along with greatly expanding the rights of the lower-earners in long-term marriages.

Of course, there is still much room for improvement. Clients have been clamoring for years for a “one-attorney” model wherein they can both use the same lawyer. Required legal documents should be simplified and user-friendly. And family law lawyers would surely appreciate the adoption of a formula for the termination of spousal maintenance, similar to the formulas used for child support. Lastly, we’d surely like a formal “joint custody” presumption statute like other states have adopted.

Regardless, if you are a divorcing party in today’s world, you will be the benefactor of so many new options unavailable in my earlier days of practice. Most importantly, you now have several options on how you want to proceed through your transition, rather than only having things decided for you by a court. Hurray for progress!

Felicia Soleil is a divorce mediator and family law attorney located in Gig Harbor. She helps her clients in achieving resolutions that foster both a compassionate ending to their union and a healthy new beginning so they can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out. Felicia can be reached at 253.853.6940. All consultations are strictly confidential and currently conducted by appointment via Zoom videoconference or phone.

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