by Robb Fulcher
Brandmeyer Gilligan & Dockstader is a leader in family law and the largest firm of its type in the Long Beach and greater South Bay area.
Its seven veteran attorneys frequently handle large-asset cases The firm’s Long Beach offices are staffed not only with keen litigators, but also specialize in amicable, out-of-court solutions in matters such as the end of a marriage, child custody and visitation.
Partner Brian K. Brandmeyer said the firm prides itself on the its attentive services to smaller clients.
Two years ago Brandmeyer and Dockstader merged with Gilligan Law Corporation to provide an “exit strategy” for Brandmeyer, who began practicing family law nearly a half-century ago.
“John [Gilligan] and I had two of the leading practices in the South Bay and Long Beach,” Brandmeyer said. “The merger allows us to bring more firepower to the larger cases, and it will allow me to phase out of the practice before retiring.”
It can come as a surprise to find out that Brandmeyer is 75. A golfer, until recently a tennis player, and a lifelong athlete of self-described limited abilities, he is described by colleagues as markedly younger than his chronological age.
Over the course of Brandmeyer’s career, family law in California has evolved to include no-fault divorce, more child-focused custody provisions, and greater child support for mothers, he said. The changes resulted from greater involvement in child-raising by men, and larger paychecks for women.
“When I started out, you had to show fault for a divorce, which was kind of a joke,” Brandmeyer said.
“Mental anguish” inflicted on a spouse was often cited as a supposed cause of the breakup.
“The fault aspect was basically ignored by the judge. Everybody knew we were essentially a no-fault state,” Brandmeyer said.
A second, more important evolution has been in the area of child custody, he said. At one time spouses tried to prove each other unfit to parent.
“Now the standard for custody is the best interest of child,” Brandmeyer said.
In the area of visitation, the courts began calling for “frequent and continuing contact” by both parents with minor children.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s it might have been 80 percent to 20 percent favoring the woman. Now it is often 70-30, or 60-40,” Brandmeyer said.
“The changes reflect the fact that in our society, men are much more involved with raising children,” he said.
In the early 1990s, the State Legislature standardized formulae for spousal child support. Previously, judgments were reached more on the basis of an ex-husband’s ability to pay, and less on the amount of support that might be needed.
“Most judges who made the decisions were men, and they probably had some bias toward what was better for the men,” Brandmeyer said.
Judgments varied drastically from case to case before the support-payment formulae were standardized.
“The changes caused across-the-board increases in child support for the women,” Brandmeyer said. “Before that, women, much more often than men, would be reduced to a life of poverty. The guy would send a check and go on his merry way.”
Following the changes, “the guys would complain about how much they had to pay, but in my opinion it’s probably a net plus on the social scale,” Brandmeyer said.
Over his career, the texture of divorce cases have changed with “the evolution of women in working professions,” Brandmeyer said.
“One place women don’t always like equality is that many women now pay support or alimony,” he said.
The stakes in divorces are higher, as well.
“In the ‘70s you had a house, a pension plan, a couple of things. Now those cases are $500,000 to $1 million on average,” Brandmeyer said.
With the recent economic downturn, the firm saw a drop in business of perhaps 10 to 20 percent. Clients figured tough times were not the best times for a divorce, he explained.
“Also, more people are looking for the cheaper alternatives, such as mediation or arbitration,” he added.
In his practice, Brandmeyer strives to find out precisely what each client “is trying to accomplish,” and proceeds from there.
“I don’t assume that I know what’s best,” he said. “Obviously, I give my opinion, and we arrive at a game plan.”
Incentives often exist to keep matters from escalating into the courtroom.
“But an unknown factor is how much pushback you’ll get from the other side. I assume everyone is being civilized about things, and if not, you roll up your sleeves and go to combat,” Brandmeyer said.
One World Trade Center, Suite 2150, Long Beach. (562) 431-2000. bgdlawyers.com.