We ‘Wrote The Book’ On Divorce In Hawaii
Podcast: Ask the Expert with Steve Sleeper feat. Bradley A. Coates, Esq.
May 13, 2016 | Steve Sleeper
Welcome to Ask the Expert with noted radio host Steve Sleeper. Each week, Steve interviews entrepreneurs and professionals and shares their intriguing stories of success and service. Now, here’s radio veteran Steve Sleeper.
Steve: Welcome to another edition of Ask the Expert. Today our guest is Bradley Coates with Coates and Frey, family law attorneys in Honolulu. Bradley, tell me a little bit about yourself and your firm.
Bradley: I’m originally from Southern California. I went to UCLA law school, then I came here after a stint in Micronesia, of all places, and started a law firm here in Honolulu, got vectored into family law, and we’ve been the largest divorce and family law firm in the Hawaiian Islands for 38 years. We do thousands of what’s euphemistically called family law cases. But a lot of time, unfortunately, it’s unraveling family, so it’s almost anti-family law. We do it in a way that tries to be as collaborative and holistic as possible. I think that’s what differentiates our firm from most of the firms here in Hawaii.
Steve: You wrote a book called “Divorce with Decency”, in its fourth edition. Tell me about it.
Bradley: I had been a meat ax down the middle kind of divorce lawyer, chopping up people’s property settlements, etc. I wanted to get more into the motivating factors in people’s lives and how best to help them through divorce in a holistic way so they learn something from the experience and keep their costs and stress levels down. So, I became skilled as a mediator. My partner got a master’s in psychology and marriage counseling. We tried to figure out the best way to help people through the most difficult situation they’ll face. So, it’s divorce in a positive, cost-effective, amicable, expeditious manner. That is different from lawyers who drag cases out, which is not a great experience for the client.
Steve: How does mediation work?
Bradley: We have several trained mediators within the firm. I’ve been doing mediation ever since the early 80s and we mediate lots of cases. Without the cost and craziness of going all the way to the court procedure, you appear in front of a third-party mediator, oftentimes a retired judge. You try and reach an amicable agreement rather than having the judge decide it after a very expensive and prolonged court hearing.
Steve: What are the grounds for divorce in Hawaii?
Bradley: It’s the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Nobody knows exactly what that means except, when one party wants a divorce, they get it. That’s no-fault divorce.
Steve: Alimony, is that still used?
Bradley: Alimony is used less frequently in Hawaii than it is in other jurisdictions. In California, you can get large amounts of alimony for extended periods of time. In Hawaii, alimony is awarded in probably only about 9% of all the cases mainly because it’s so expensive to live here.
Steve: Child support, is that still prevalent? If so, how is it calculated in Hawaii?
Bradley: A standard set of guidelines are run through a computer program and out comes a child support amount. You pay it by way of an auto-deduct from your paycheck as they send what’s called an order for income assignment to your employer. It used to be the woman got custody, so it was the guy paying child support. Now custody is gender-neutral, so it’s not necessarily the guy. Whoever is paying the child support can’t just cutting a check whenever they feel like it, which oftentimes resulted in women being disadvantaged and not receiving their child support? They’ve streamlined the procedure.
Steve: Custody. Is it joint custody? Is it Mom? What do you see there?
Bradley: When I first started practicing almost 40 years ago, it was Mom, or one party getting custody, because the sense was somebody needed to provide the stable home base for the kids. Now, the child psychologists have come to the conclusion the best way to minimize the impact of divorce for the children is to have maximum contact with both parents. Now it’s joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
Steve: What should we look for in a family lawyer?
Bradley: Look for somebody that’s going to try to get the darn case settled right away. There are a lot of lawyers that won’t start talking settlement until they amass a lot of discovery, depositions, and production of documents. There’s a lot of time and effort involved in trying to get all this information assembled before you can even figure out what a fair settlement might look like. Oftentimes, it is necessary to go through those hoops. But oftentimes the parties have a pretty good idea of what they are willing to settle for and think is fair. I don’t think lawyers get to the root of what clients are willing to agree to fast enough. A lot of times you wind up with the lawyer running your life with big legal bill.
Steve: What’s the most common question you get?
Bradley: People keep trying to interject fault back into divorce proceedings. A lot of times you’ll hear “Do I have to pay her alimony even though she was the one that cheated on me and she ran off with some other guy? Doesn’t that alleviate the need for me paying alimony or giving her a 50/50 property settlement?” The answer is no-fault divorce means no-fault divorce. Who did what or was a better or worse spouse does not have an economic impact in the settlement. That is a bit of a surprise to people that feel there ought to be some element of fault injected into the proceedings. The court will not take evidence on that.
We have a lot of 20 year military stationed here and these guys put their lives at risk going into combat zones. They’re shocked to find their military pension is going to be divisible with their spouse. People are shocked to hear certain aspects of their finances are going to be on the table.
Steve: Brad, how do we reach you?
Steve: Our guest today on Ask the Expert has been Bradley Coates. He’s a partner and attorney in the Coates and Frey Law Firm in Honolulu. They’re family law attorneys. He’s the author of “Divorce with Decency”, in its fourth edition. Bradley, thanks for being our guest today.
Bradley: Hey, I enjoyed talking to you Steve. We’re available to anybody that needs help in these situations and we’re well-known for getting cases done faster and generally cheaper and more amicably than anybody. That’s what’s made us the biggest divorce law firm in Hawaii.
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