New California divorce laws make untying the knot a lot harder - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

New California divorce laws make untying the knot a lot harder

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - They say that breaking up is hard to do, and now it may cost you a lot more in 2011. According to a local attorney, the price of getting divorced could drastically rise because of new California laws on the books.

In 2005 in Northern California, Jeffrey and Marylyn Elkins got a divorce. Thirty-four of Jeffrey's written exhibits were excluded from the proceedings. He sued, and won. Now every person getting a divorce in the state has the right to speak their case in court.

Myra Chack Fleischer's law firm has handled thousands of divorces. In her own opinion, Assembly Bill 939, known as the "Elkins Legislation", is a game-changer.

"You have to do oral testimony, unless both sides opt out of oral testimony," Fleischer said.

Instead of making statements on paper, more divorcing couples will testify in court. And they won't be alone.

"They can have family members, aunts, uncles, grandparents… a 20-minute, 40-minute hearing could run into several hours," Fleischer said.

Fleischer says on average, a divorce costs between $5,000 and $15,000 and takes between six months and a year to complete.

"The judges are overburdened, they have a lot of cases, the clerks are overburdened by a lot of paperwork," Fleischer said. "Some areas are behind a couple of weeks, some areas are behind a month."

Holly Nottingham-Adams is the family court's operations manager, and she is aware of the new law.

"At this point we don't know how it's going to affect the courtrooms. A lot of people do live testimony and we just don't know," she said.

San Diego's dating and relationship coach DeAnna Lorraine says higher costs may motivate couples to save their marriage.

"Instead of resorting to divorce, they may be more inclined to stick to alternative solutions, life therapy or a trial separation or whatnot," Lorraine said.

If that's not possible, Fleischer says couples should consider mediation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution.

"It's usually cheaper and you have your own hand in your own divorce," she said.

Fleischer says keep your eye on another new law called AB-1050, which will affect child custody and visitation by allowing children to play a more active role in testifying as well.

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