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Family Law Specialist John H. Tannenberg uses a simple, direct approach to help clients navigate through an increasingly complex family law system.

“My firm provides clients with the infor-mation they need to know and understand in order to help them resolve their case in the most cost efficient and practical way,” says John H. Tannenberg, CLS-F. This simple explanation of his professional goals succinctly describes his work in a field that continues to become increasingly more complex as the years pass. As a matter of fact, for Tannenberg, who has been practicing law for more than 36 years and has been Board Certified as a Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California since 1990, in many ways, divorce and custody battles can be more time consuming and stressful than ever for parties involved.

However, Tannenberg’s natural leanings towards taking things as they come and addressing one issue at a time have proved to be helpful countless clients through some of the most difficult days of their lives.“We do not hype cases or tell the client what they necessarily want to hear. Rather, our advice is straightforward, practical, useful and presented in such a way that the client can understand legal concepts, rules and issues. This in turn permits our clients to make meaningful, knowledgeable decisions about the issues in their particular matter,” Tannenberg explains in the matter-of-fact style that has helped his clients who are dealing with extremely emotional issues.

Going With the Flow

“I was a double major at UCLA in Political Science and Zoology. I thought one major would be a basis for a law career; the other seemed a natural progression toward becoming a Veterinarian. Many of my relatives were practicing lawyers and they urged me to choose law school as a course of study. To this day I’m not sure what eventually persuaded me that becoming an attorney was a better choice, but that was the path I chose,” he admits honestly.

He speaks candidly of going with the flow when it came to selecting his area of specialization. “I didn’t choose family law. Rather, it was chosen for me. I was an associate in a law firm that had multiple practice areas. One of the named partners was a Family Law Specialist who needed one of the associates to assist him in family law and I was selected,” he recalls. However, Tannenberg was pleasantly surprised to find — not immediately, he admits — that the field of family law grew on him. “I enjoyed the challenge and complexity of family law and all its various nuances. I also found that I really enjoyed helping families solve their problems,” he says.

Moreover, the family law community in San Diego was incredibly appealing to the young attorney. “I found the majority of the Family Law Bar in San Diego to be very professional, willing to assist and answer colleagues’ questions when possible, well-versed in the law, and reluctant to take cheap shots at opposing counsel. This attitude made the pressures and tensions of working in the family law arena slightly less stressful,” Tannenberg recalls.

The work can be very stressful, indeed. “There are highly charged emotional and psychological issues at play when it comes to family law,” he says. Whereas “purely business matters are often numbers only, when you get emotions involved, people begin to talk in terms of ‘I don’t care what its worth; it’s the principle.’ I have to remind them sometimes that principles can be very expensive,” he continues.

Although, due to the high price of principles,  litigation is a substantial portion of his practice, it is only natural for Tannenberg to advise clients to consider mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods as a substitute. “Clients are more likely to comply with terms they have agreed to in a negotiated settlement rather than those terms imposed by a judicial officer in a contested trial,” Tannenberg explains. However, he is quick to note that “there are many times when settlement is not in the client’s best interest, particularly if one side is making demands that are not likely to be granted by the courts.”

Tannenberg’s succinct and pragmatic approach to handling these emotional and complex cases did not go unnoticed by his firm. He served as senior associate and partner in the law firm of Hinchy, Witte, Wood, Anderson & Hodges, as head of the Family Law Department, where he would ultimately spend more than 10 years before the firm’s dissolution in 2001.

Fork in the Road Proves an Easy Decision

For Tannenberg, the decision to go into private practice was not a complex decision. “In 2001, the firm split up for a variety of reasons and I decided that this was a good time to go into private practice, where I could have control of my hours, choose which clients I wanted to represent, and make my own decisions without having to account to a managing partner,” he says, with the same pithy, down-to-earth earnestness he’s become known for.

But decisiveness shouldn’t be mistaken for haste, as Tannenberg was well-equipped for a solo practice. He had an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, had served as a Pro-Tem Judge for the San Diego Superior Court, and had more than 25 years of expertise in family law in San Diego. And that was just the beginning. After launching his own practice, he would go on to be named in Super Lawyers in San Diego (2009-2012), and a member of the National Register’s Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals, (2004-2005). He became a Guest Lecturer in Family Law at U.S.D School of Law, and continues in that role today. Tannenberg was also named in San Diego Magazine’s Top Attorneys for 2011 and 2012 and in The Best Lawyers in America for 2011 and 2012. He also completed a 40 hour training program in family law mediation/alternative dispute resolution in 2005 and a portion of his practice focuses on mediation services.

Taking the Uncertain Future of Family Law in Stride

After nearly forty years in practice, suffice to say, there’s little that ruffles Tannenberg’s proverbial feathers. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not prepared for family law to become even more complex as years go by. Beginning in 2013, in most family law matters, the parties will have to pay the fee for a Court Reporter if they want to have a record of the court proceedings. Tannenberg sees the court system becoming a slower, less efficient system where those with financial means may shift more to alternative dispute resolution or private judging to get their cases heard in a timely manner. Court filing fees will continue to increase and the time it takes to get the case heard, even for temporary orders such as establishing child custody, visitation and support, may be calendared as far as three months from the date of filing the Request for Order.

But Tannenberg is neither concerned about the changes, nor afraid of future hurdles to be overcome in the field of family law. Since Tannenberg has been in practice, he has seen changes every year; some drastic, while others just take some getting used to. “In the end,” he says, “we all adapt and the process will continue.”

Of course, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can expedite the divorce process, and a portion of Tannenberg’s practice is devoted to drafting these agreements. “The number of specialists in San Diego drafting prenuptial agreements is far fewer than those who handle the most common issues in a family law matter,” he explains. “There are statutory requirements that must be followed in the drafting of these documents, but the courts do tend to favor these agreements,” he explains. “These documents can reduce the cost of a contested, drawn out battle over the issues of characterization and division of property and spousal support and provide some peace of mind to the client,” he adds.

Regardless of the new rules and obstacles that arise in family law, when it comes down to it, Tannenberg really enjoys his work. “When I can help a client to reach an agreement with the opposing party, which gives them what is important to them, I find that incredibly rewarding.”

For Tannenberg, who admits that practicing family can be hectic, having a balanced life is the antidote to stress the family law field might otherwise create. He’s married to fellow San Diego attorney Cheryl Edwards Tannenberg, a Trust and Estate litigator and they have one 13 year old son. In his time away from the office, he enjoys sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, camping, golf and skiing.  He plays bridge once a month with a group of fellow family law attorneys.  He’s participated as a crew member and as captain in multiple sailing races to Ensenada, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Catalina and the most challenging, the Transpac race from San Pedro, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Incidentally, during the Transpac, his sailboat was hit by a wave at night, knocking the boat down, which began taking on water. But as with everything else, Tannenberg took the incident in unflappable stride. “Equipment, food and supplies were washed overboard, but we managed to right the boat and continued the race.  Of course, we didn’t trophy,” he chuckles.


John H. Tannenberg
Law Offices of John H. Tannenberg, A.P.C

401 West A Street, Suite 2050, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 235-6169,

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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