Richard M. Abdallah, family law attorney


Richard M. Abdallah has his work cut out for him. Marriage licenses in Sacramento County have steadily increased over the last 10 years (9,613 total in 2016), and national statistics show that 50 percent of those will likely end in divorce. SN&R had a chat with the Arden-Arcade family law attorney about divorce trials, what makes California’s laws unique, and why the scorched-earth approach isn’t always the best style of separation.

You often hear about when the best age is to get married. When’s the best age to get divorced?

Ha! I don’t know about age, but I would say as soon as possible after you get married, if it’s going to happen. The longer you stay married, the longer you get entwined together, the greater chances you have children together, which complicates things. … So, if somebody says the best age to get married is 25 and you’re going to get divorced, I would say 25 and a half.

Say I’m thinking of settling down. How can I prepare for the worst?

Well, a premarital agreement. People now know it as a prenuptial agreement. … When people say preparing for the worst, they’re usually thinking finances. So, there’s certain things that you can contract with your future spouse so that if something were to happen … you’ve kind of laid the groundwork … whether or not there’s going to be spousal support paid, whether or not the business you already own is going to remain your separate business, or whether or not a house that you already own will remain your separate house.

Anything unique about California divorce law?

Well, California is a “community property” state. … It’s also a “no fault” state. “Community property” means whatever’s acquired during the marriage is 50-50.

And “no fault”?

Some people come in and they’ll want to get a divorce because their spouse cheated on them, and they want to make sure they don’t have to pay spousal support. … In California, it doesn’t matter why you’re getting [a] divorce. … The laws remain the same whether somebody did something wrong or nobody did something wrong.

When do you usually get the phone call?

I get a fair number of calls from people contemplating divorce. Or getting ready to pull the trigger and they want some advice on how to proceed, or they’re tire-kicking to see how much it’s going to cost them. I also get some, “Hey, my spouse just filed for divorce and I have to go to court in three weeks. I need an attorney.”

How much do divorces cost, on average?

It’s a wide range. … In a simpler divorce where it’s slightly contested, where maybe there’s a couple court hearings for child custody along the way, you may be looking at around $7,000. … And then in cases you can read about in the news, those can be in the hundreds of thousands. It wouldn’t be completely unusual for a case here in Sacramento that’s contested and goes to trial to be in the $30,000 range.

And how long do they usually take?

[After filing an initial petition] You have to wait six months to be divorced in California. Some of them can be completed before six months. … Those are best-case scenarios. … I would say the average case is about a year.

What’s the most challenging part of the process?

Managing people’s emotions and expectations. People come in, they’re highly charged because it’s a very emotional time, especially as it relates to children. Some people also have the idea, “Well, I’m going to hire an attorney, and I’m going to get every single thing I want,” and that’s not necessarily the case. It’s not like you grab the little bottle of magic and everything goes your way.

And the most rewarding?

I’ll give you an example: Let’s say a man or a woman comes into my office, and the other party has been the breadwinner the entire time, and they’ve been married for 30 years. The breadwinner decided to clean out [their] bank accounts and move out, and they’re not paying the other person a penny, and this person is basically homeless. To be able to go to court and get some financial relief for that person, that’s a fantastic feeling.

Are you married?

Yes, I am.

How has your job affected your views on marriage?

It hasn’t really affected my views, [but] you see how things get ugly. One thing I’ve learned is if you do get divorced … try and divorce peacefully and amicably. I tell this to all my clients: You can fight tooth and nail, try to scorch the earth through a trial and spend tens of thousands on attorney fees, and it’s very likely that the result will be something that you should have just agreed to in the beginning. That’s really because the laws [in California] are so clear on what the parties’ respective rights are. … But, feelings get hurt. Emotions run high. There’s anger. Sometimes, there’s cheating that takes place, and one party is scorned and they want to punish the other party. If you can try and do it peacefully out of court, then it’s better for everybody. Who really makes money fighting things in court are the attorneys.