In 2005, Marylyn and Jeffrey Elkins filed for divorce in California. During the divorce proceedings, the presiding judge excluded 34 of Jeffrey's written exhibits. Feeling that his voice had not been properly heard in court, Jeffrey filed and won a lawsuit. Now, with the passage of Assembly Bill 939, known as the "Elkins Legislation", everyone who seeks a divorce in California has the right to speak on their behalf in court. According to family law professionals, this is likely to increase both the time and financial commitment inherent in California's already-costly divorces.

Currently, an average California divorce costs between $5,000 and $15,000, and generally takes between six months and one year. With the new legislation, both of those numbers could go way up. Divorcing couples now have the right to speak in court, and may also bring in others to testify on their behalf, according to family law attorney Myra Chack Fleischer. "They can have family members, aunts, uncles, grandparents," she said. "A 20-minute, 40-minute hearing could run into several hours."

This is not good news for an already overburdened family court system, and will likely be responsible for an eventual increase in court fees. California family court operations manager Holly Nottingham-Adams says that the court is taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding how to handle the new law. "At this point we don't know how it's going to affect the courtrooms," she said. "A lot of people do live testimony and we just don't know."

The new law may actually bring positive change, according to dating and relationship coach DeAnna Lorraine. She says that couples may be motivated to seek a less expensive collaborative law resolution of their case instead of going through the court system. "Instead of resorting to a divorce, they may be more inclined to stick to alternative solutions," she said. "It's usually cheaper and you have your own hand in your own divorce."

Source: CBS 8, "New California divorce laws make untying the knot a lot harder", 4 January 2011