3 Most Common Financial Questions When Hiring a Divorce Attorney

It has been said that there are no right answers to the wrong questions, so the first step in making your divorce process work for you financially is to ask the right questions.  This article will outline a few of the most important financial questions when hiring a divorce attorney.

1. What is the structure of the fee agreement?

Your lawyer should have you sign a fee agreement that lays out how you will be billed.  Understanding this agreement is extremely important.

Ask about the retainer.  The retainer is like a down payment that you pay up front, and it will be used to cover the fees as your case progresses.  

Ask whether you will be billed hourly or flat fee.  If you are billed hourly, then you will obviously be billed for the attorney’s time, but what isn’t obvious is how this can add up and how you can work with your attorney to keep costs down.  

Ask about who will work on your case, and how you will be billed for each attorney or staff member’s time.  Find out how much you will billed for the paralegal or other support staff.  If you want only a particular person or group to work on your case, you need to put that into the agreement because otherwise the default is that firms may utilize various people to work on your case and you may be paying to re-educate one attorney about issues another one has covered.

2. What kind of cost estimates can be anticipated?

Your attorney will very likely be unwilling to get pinned down to a definitive cost estimate of the overall divorce because your ex-spouse is a wild card that can lead to lower or higher costs depending on what they decide to do.  However, if you push for specific answers to smaller questions, you may be able to get a reasonable understanding of the costs that will be involved.

Does your attorney anticipate fees from any other professionals?  What are the typical ranges for these people– i.e. counselors, investigators, accountants, appraisers, etc?

What has been your attorney’s experience in terms of costs in prior cases that he or she has handled?  For example, you can ask about cases where the spouse was cooperative and where the spouse was uncooperative, where custody was an issue, where certain types of assets were involved, etc.

3. How can I keep costs down?

You are the person who will be in touch with your attorney the most.  Find out your attorney’s preferences and how to save his or her time.  

Find out whether your attorney feels that it will be more cost effective to communicate with him or her via email, text, calls or in person.  Focus on the most cost-effective ways of working together. 

Find out what kind of document organizations works best for your attorney.  If you make sure that any documentary evidence you have is assembled and summarized in an organized manner then you will save your attorney time and therefore save yourself money.

Are there things you can do yourself to save attorney time?  You may want to find out if there are tasks relating to your case that your attorney can delegate to you to save on cost. Your attorney may have staff set up to do non-legal tasks, but it never hurts to ask whether there are things you can do to keep costs down. 

You can expect that your divorce will have a significant financial effect on you, your ex-spouse, and your children.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the process and educate yourself on how you will be billed, what you can anticipate, and how you can minimize the impact to your financial bottom line. 

What to Do If You Have Already Hired a BAD Attorney

The person representing you is vital to your case, but sometimes your initial decision was the wrong move.  What do you do now?  The next step is a decision only you can make, but this article will walk you through sound reasoning that will assist you in making the right choice.  Know that you are not alone.  If you are questioning whether you need to hire someone else, don’t hesitate to set up a consultation with the attorney you have in mind as a replacement and get his or her opinion on the situation.  

Is your attorney making mistakes that are prejudicing your case? – Is your attorney doing things or NOT doing things that are going impact you long-term and hurt you in some way?  Serious mistakes on your attorney’s part can affect you forever.  Here are some of the serious ones to watch out for:

  • Missing deadlines for filing motions.
  • Forgetting court appearances.
  • Completely ignoring communications with you.
  • Not having sufficient knowledge or experience to adequately represent you.
  • Being dishonest or encouraging you to make misrepresentations to the court either verbally or in writing.

Possible courses of actions with prejudicial mistakes:

  • Terminate your relationship with your attorney and find alternative representation.
  • In some cases, it may be appropriate to ask for a reduction or refund on your fees.
    • If the attorney’s mistakes are particularly egregious, you may feel it is appropriate to report those to the Bar of the State you live in.  
    • If the attorney you are dissatisfied with is a public defender and not someone you have hired, you can request a different attorney or represent yourself.  Be prepared to share with the judge the exact reasons why you are dissatisfied because a bare assertion that the attorney isn’t doing a good job will probably not be specific or factual enough to sway the judge to your point of view.

Are you dissatisfied with your attorney for reasons that may be fixable with communication? – Is your attorney doing things that annoy, bother or frustrate you?  

  • You don’t feel respected by your attorney.
  • You don’t feel that your attorney has thoroughly evaluated the information or evidence you or others have provided.
  • You don’t feel your attorney has the right tone with a judge/opposing counsel/prosecutor, and you would like a different tone?  (i.e. more or less adversarial, more confident, etc.)

Possible courses of actions where you feel the problems may be fixable with communication:  

  • Many attorneys respond to facts.  Give specific examples of what is bothering you and recommendations on what you feel would be an appropriate resolution.
  • In some cases, it may be appropriate for you to request a partial refund on your bill.
  • Many attorneys appreciate organized, written communications.  Summarize your concerns with your attorney’s performance in writing.  Not only does this step help the attorney understand you, but it can also document the problems.

You deserve to have an attorney that you feel confident in and who represents you well.  The practice of law is a service business where you are the client, so take charge of the relationship.  Work it out if you can or find someone different, but don’t sit back without making informed and thoughtful decisions about your future.

HELP!  I Need to Hire an Attorney and I’m Broke!

If you are not in a position to afford to pay for an attorney, you are not alone.  Many people struggle just to make ends meet, so it’s not unusual if legal fees may put a strain on your budget.  This article will provide some ideas of resources to help you.  

  • Criminal Case – Do you qualify for a public defender?  If you do not have the means to hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal case, the judge can appoint an attorney to defend you. When you go to court for your first appearance, you can request an attorney.  Judges may ask different questions about your income, but in general come with prepared with information on:

Your income

Your debts, including student loans, credit card debts, etc.

Your assets.  For example, you may be asked whether you own or rent your home, whether you own or make payments on your car

  • Family Law Case – Have you checked into free community resources?  For example, if you live in Solano County, the Solano Legal Access Center might be a helpful resource to you.

http://solano.courts.ca.gov/Courts/SolanoLegalAccessCenterSLACandFamilyLawFacilitator.html

The website above is a resource for California forms.

This website also has a repository of self-help information, videos and documents.

  • Domestic Violence – Have you looked into a Victim’s Advocate Office in your community?  Many communities have teams of professionals dedicated to assisting in protecting you from domestic violence.

For example, the Solano Advocates for Victims of Violence https://www.savvcenter.org/

Another resource for those in the Vacaville area is the Advocate Against Domestic Violence in the African – American Community, http://www.aadvac.org/

  • Pro Bono for Other Types of Cases – There are instances where an attorney may assist you without charge.  The term for this is “Pro Bono.” It isn’t the norm for an attorney to represent you for free or for a reduced fee, but there are instances where a lawyer may be willing to help you.  Use your resources.  Ask people in your network if they have a friend who is an attorney.  Meet with a lawyer and explain your problem.  Don’t expect free services, but you may be able to work out payment plans or other billing options that can make the representation affordable for you.   

What Kind of Fees Can I Expect with a DUI Charge?

Unfortunately, the cost of a DUI is very high.  This article will summarize some of the costs that you can anticipate, as well as give you helpful links to find out more.  Your attorney can also advise you on the costs to be anticipated, and can help you prepare for the road ahead.

  1. Impound Fees.  If your vehicle was impounded, you will be on the hook for administrative fees, plus the cost of towing and storage.  The administrative fee depends on where the vehicle was impounded, but for instance, the cost in Vacaville can be $234.  (See https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue).  Also, be aware that the vehicle can only be released to the Registered Owner.  However, if the owner is incarcerated, then the jail can provide a Vehicle Release Form.
  2. Driver’s License Fees.  These vary depending on the age of the driver, and whether it is a first or second offense, but to give you an idea of the ballpark the Reissue Admin Fee for a Driver over 21, is $125.  This link will give you the specifics:  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue.
  3. Bail Fees.  If you have been incarcerated, you can anticipate a bail bonsdmen fee.  The way it works is that the court sets the bail.  The bonds company charges you a fee (usually a percentage of the amount of bail), and then the bonds company pays the full amount to the court.  When you appear at your hearing, the bonds company receives their money back, but they earned the fee.
  4. Court Fines.  These can run you at least $2,000.  According to the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016, the minimum fine to be imposed for a DUI is $1958.  
  5. Other Miscellaneous Court Fines and Fees.   The Court will likely impose misc. fines and fees which total at least $300, depending on the jurisdiction.  See the excerpt below from the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016.
  6. Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 8.57.36 PMCounseling – The amount of counseling ordered and the cost of the classes varies, but a conservative estimate would be at least $200 for counseling and classes.
  7. Restitution – If the DUI involved an accident, the court may order restitution, which means that you will have to pay for the damages incurred by the other driver.
  8. Interlock  – An interlock device is placed in your car so that your breath alcohol level is checked before you can drive.  The cost can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and the company you choose.  One company surveyed charged a $60 installation fee and 69.95 plus tax per month.  
  9. Insurance – Automobile insurance rates are higher for those who have been convicted of a DUI.  To reinstate your license after a DUI, you will have to file a Proof of Insurance Certificate (SR-22).  These sites can give you more information about the insurance needed.  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl35 

 

 

What Is the Typical Legal Procedure for a Standard Divorce

When you are embarking on a journey, it is important to have an overview of where you are now and where you are going.  Similarly, with a separation, divorce or an annulment of a marriage or domestic partnership, an overview of the system will help you plan ahead.  This article will give you a view of a big picture, but be aware that this is a generalized summary that will certainly vary depending on the unique facts of your case, your assets and your family.  

1. Petitioner Files Paperwork.  The Petitioner is the person who files the paperwork to get the divorce process started.  The forms needed to start your case in California can be found at this site:  http://www.courts.ca.gov/1229.htm

2. Serve the Forms.  The other party (Respondent) needs to know what paperwork is filed.  To accomplish this, a person serves the forms to the Respondent.  The Petitioner can’t serve the forms themselves because the Petitioner is a party in the case.

3. Respondent Responds.  The Respondent has 30 days to reply to the paperwork that is served.  There are 4 possible scenarios here:

  • Respondent Doesn’t Respond.  The Petitioner waits 30 days and files the appropriate paperwork for a Judgment.  
  • Respondent and Petitioner Work Out a Written Agreement. Respondent doesn’t respond but the Petitioner files the written agreement between Respondent and Petitioner and the paperwork for a judgment.   
  • Respondent Files a Response and Written Agreement (“Uncontested Case”).  This is the “uncontested case,” where one of the parties files and Appearance, Stipulation and Waiver and a Proposed Judgment.
  • Respondent Files a Response (“Contested Case”).  The Respondent files a response, but the parties can’t agree, so it proceeds to the next step toward trial.  

4. Disclose Financial Information.  Both parties are required to fill out disclosures of financial information within certain timeframes. This is where you submit information, and you must not withhold information or be dishonest about any information.

 

5. Orders.  During the process, either party can request temporary orders relating to child support, spousal support, custody, etc.

 

6. Mediation.  Mediation is where an attorney or an arbitrator assist the parties in seeing whether they can come to an agreement on important issues such as dividing the assets or time with the children.

 

7. Trial Preparation and Trial.  There are various steps that can lead to trial.  The discovery stage is where parties are trying to get more information from each other.  They can do this with interrogatories, which are questions posed that are required to be answered.  Requests for admissions is where you submit a statement to the other side that they have to affirm or deny.  There are also requests for production, where certain documentary evidence can be requested.  Deposition is sworn testimony where a person is asked questions while they are under oath.  These steps help the parties prepare for a trial, where the judge will make a decision on the issues presented.

 

8. Final Judgment and Timing. Your divorce will be finalized by a document that is signed by a judge.  This is when the proposed Judgment that was filed by one of the parties is signed by the Judge and becomes a Final Judgment.  Be aware that in California, you have to wait until 6 months after the case is filed and the Respondent has been served before the Judgment is Final.

 

9. Additional Resources.  This is just a primer on the divorce process, but there are many resources for more information.  One very helpful resource can be found at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1225.htm.   

 

 

What Should I do if there is a Warrant for My Arrest?

  • What is a bench warrant and why is there one for me?

Some of the most common reasons why there might be a warrant for your arrest is that a judge issued a bench warrant based on 1) failure to appear in court on your scheduled date, or 2) failure to complete the terms of your probation, or 3) failure to pay fines.  A warrant is signed by a judge and authorizes law enforcement to arrest you.

  • What are the consequences of failing to comply with court orders?

Failure to comply with court orders may result in a mandatory court appearance, additional charges being filed by the prosecutor, a hold being placed on driver’s licenses with the DMV or an arrest warrant.

  • What does an arrest warrant mean to me?

An arrest warrant puts you at serious risk because a police officer has a duty to arrest you if there is one outstanding.  This often happens if you are stopped for a traffic violation, and the officer runs your license and discovers that there is an outstanding warrant.  You can also be arrested at your home or workplace or anywhere that you might come in contact with the police.

  • What can I do if I’m concerned about an arrest warrant?

A criminal defense attorney can tell you if there is a warrant outstanding, what it’s for and the amount of bail.  Your attorney can help you schedule a voluntary appearance, so that you can avoid the scene of getting arrested unexpectedly.  If you are out of state, your attorney can provide information to you about your options.  

  • Do I have to go to jail if there is an arrest warrant out for me?

Not necessarily.  In some cases, your warrant may be able to be recalled without ever having to appear in court, post bail, or spend time in jail. This depends on the particular circumstances.  For bench warrants relating to misdemeanor offenses, your attorney can typically appear in your absence to clear the warrant.  

5 Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Lose Your Shirt When Splitting Marital Assets

With any looming separation or divorce, you are wise to be worried about the income and assets and how your financial well-being may be impacted.  This article will give you some essential background information and five ways to make sure you protect your assets in a divorce.

Background.  In California, community property includes all the assets and income acquired during the marriage, and the law requires that the community property will be divided equally, unless there is a written agreement requiring something different.  

1. Identify the Extent and Value of Your Marital Assets.  This step is vital to protecting your financial future.  Discover and document everything you can about the state of your marital financial affairs.  In many instances, taking screen shots of information that shows both the information and the date can be very useful down the road.

 

  • What bank accounts do you have and how much money is in them?
  • What investment accounts do you have and what are those values?
  • Are there employment benefits involved, such as HSA accounts?
  • What health insurance do you currently have?
  • What real estate holdings are involved?
  • What other benefits might be applicable, such as military benefits?

 

2. Get Your Ducks in a Row About Your Separate Property.  In general, separate property is anything acquired before the marriage, by gift or inheritance during marriage, or property obtained during the marriage that can be traced to a pre-marriage acquisition.  What does this mean for you?  The court is going to presume that any property acquired during the marriage, except by gift or inheritance, is community property.  That means that you need to gather the proof to show that what is yours is yours.  Look at all sources of documentation to prove your case. This is a list of where to start to look for that proof:

 

  • Check emails
  • Find texts
  • Ask the gift-giver for any documentation they might have of the gift.
  • Look for documents or receipts
  • Check account histories

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Most people in a divorce are angry, disappointed and hurt.  There is a temptation to be stubborn and to focus on a few key emotional items.  If you want to be financially successful in your divorce, you will likely be best served by letting go of the negative emotions and thinking about your marriage as a business that is winding down.  Don’t get caught up with issues or assets that don’t have a great value.  Time is money, and you will not get the satisfaction that you are seeking out of a “So there!” moment from operating out of revenge or vindictiveness.  As much as you can, look at your assets impartially, and seek to make moves that will benefit you the most long-term.

4. Don’t Lie, Cheat or Hide.  For many, it is ever so tempting to hide an account here or lie about an asset there.  This is typically a very poor long-term strategy for protecting your money.  A court can order you to pay the legal expenses of the other side for the search of hidden assets.  Those legal fees can add up.  Furthermore, a judge can sanction you for lying to the court.  Think long-term not short-term, and be forthcoming in your disclosures, not just because it’s your duty, but also because it really is almost always in your best interest financially as well.

 

5. Hire Competent Help.  The legal fees for an attorney can seem daunting, but having an experienced guide help you through the maze of dividing assets will often save you money.  Find an attorney who is experienced in divorce and who is committed to helping you reach your goals for dividing your assets.

 

 

Can I get a Felony Conviction Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

A felony conviction can have serious repercussions for employment, loans and grants and immigration. With a Proposition 47 Petition, you have a chance at getting your felony reduced to a misdemeanor.

  • Background on Proposition 47

California voters passed this proposition to allow people who had been convicted of certain felonies to have those felonies reduced to misdemeanors.

  • What are some of the types of felonies that work for a reduction under Proposition 47?
  • Certain felonies such as shoplifting, forgery, check fraud, theft , receiving stolen property where the amount was less than $950
  • Is there a deadline on when these petitions can be filed?
  • Yes, consult with your attorney on deadlines and filing requirements.  Typically, the petition must be filed in the original court where you were sentenced.
  • Who is not eligible?
  • If you have had a previous conviction for certain sex offenses (such as rape, child molestation) or certain violent crimes (such a murder, or attempted murder), then you would not be eligible to petition a court for resentencing under Proposition 47.
  • Will there be a hearing? 
  • A hearing is not mandatory, but may be involved.  If you are out of state, contact an attorney about a Proposition 47 reduction.
  • What are my chances?
  • The court will look at whether you satisfy the criteria and then grant the petition unless resentencing you would grant an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
  • How many other people have filed these petitions?
  • As reported by NBC Sand Diego back in 2014, thousands of Prop 47 Petitions have been filed.  With the deadline to file fast approaching, now is the time to make a decision if you have been considering filing a Proposition 47 Petition. (See http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Prop-47-Has-Immediate-Impact-on-SD-Judicial-System-Attorney-281711231.html)

Note:  This article does not list in its entirety the types of crimes for eligibility or ineligibility.  This article is not intended as legal advice.  Rather, it is informative about introductory information regarding Proposition 47 and interested parties are encouraged to seek legal advice from an attorney. 

5 Essential Tips for Successfully Navigating a Divorce

Many people who go through a divorce in California have little or no experience with the legal system.  Divorce is a difficult process that will put a strain on you and your children, but this guide will help you keep on track and avoid some of the common pitfalls involved in a divorce.

  • Avoid making threats or reacting to threats.  A common temptation in divorce is to make threats such as “I’ll drag this out and make it as expensive as possible,” or “I’ll make sure you never see the kids again,”  or “I’ll quit my job so you’ll never get a penny,” etc.  These threats do no good and can do a great deal of harm. Making threats puts you in a negative light and can lead to sanctions from the court. If your spouse is making these threats, do not react to them.  Document the threats by taking note of what was said and in front of whom, and report this information to your attorney.
  • Keep focused on the important things – your children, your job, and your health.  The stress and time involved in a divorce can tear you away from your most important priorities, which are likely your children, your job and your health. Make a plan to stay focused on what you really care about. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t do.  Make a schedule.  Get organized. Force yourself to keep doing the things that you need to do to survive.  Take time to exercise.  Guard your mental health.  The divorce can take over your entire life unless you take charge and make sure that the important priorities are not neglected.
  • Move forward.  Whether your strategy is to settle or to go to trial, make sure your case is moving forward.  The process of divorce is uncomfortable and expensive, so you want to discuss with your attorney how to keep things progressing.  Some vindictive ex’s may try to slow down the process as a revenge technique, so discuss with your attorney the various options that make sense to keep the process moving.
  • Know the strategy and the budget.  Some of the most important conversations you should have with your attorney will be about the strategy and the budget.  Don’t go into this war without a plan of attack.  Discuss your options with your attorney and evaluate the cost of different strategies to come up with a plan that is right for you. Each case is unique and the plan for your case needs to fit your needs and budget.
  • Don’t let emotions rule your decisions.  You are human, and your emotions will be running wild during a divorce. It’s ok to cry.  It’s normal to be angry or depressed. Be kind to yourself and don’t repress the gamut of emotions, but also make sure that you avoid making purely emotion-based decisions.  Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Make decisions when you are in a calmer frame of mind.  There are cases where parties spend money out of revenge.  Think about your divorce as a business, and look to have a return on your investment in legal fees.  To simply this concept: don’t spend $5 to win $1.

Can I get a DUI Expunged in California?

If you have a DUI conviction on your record that is interfering with employment or perhaps immigration, you may be wondering if you can get a DUI expunged in California.  The answer is maybe.  There is not right to have a DUI expunged, but it is possible to have one granted under certain circumstances.  This article will walk you through some of the important questions, but consult with an attorney to find out if you can get your DUI expunged.

  • What is expungement?

California Penal Code 1203.4 lists the circumstances in which a defendant (the person who committed the crime) can have their offense dismissed and be released from the penalties resulting from the offense.

  • Do I have the right to have my DUI expunged?

No, you do not have the right to have a DUI expunged. The court has discretion, which means that the court can look at the circumstances and decide whether or not to grant your request.  This means that you have a chance, but there are no guarantees.

  • Should I petition the court now?
  • You have to be finished complying with all the conditions that were imposed upon you at sentencing.  This includes:
    • Fines have to have been paid.
    • Counseling completed.
    • Community service if applicable is done.
    • Competition of any probation.
    • Completion of any other requirement of the court.
  • You are not currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a sentence for another offense.
  • You did not commit new crimes while on probation.
  • What is the interest of justice that is considered by the court in determining whether to grant my petition? 
  • The interest of justice is not specific, but there are factors that weigh in whether a court will consider an expungement in the interest of justice:
    • The length of time since the DUI
    • Employment considerations
    • Family considerations
    • The circumstances of the DUI itself
  • What is the process?
  • You will likely want to hire an attorney to assist you with the paperwork.
  • You request a dismissal of your charge, which is called a petition for relief.
  • The prosecuting attorney is allowed a certain amount of time to respond.
  • What are the limits of what an expungement can do for me?

Getting your DUI expunged may help you in meeting your employment, licensing or educational goals.  However, getting the DUI expunged will not prevent your sentence from being enhanced in the event that you get a subsequent DUI in the future.  Also, it is rare that expungement lowers your insurance rates. Although your conviction has been dismissed, it may still be accessible through public records.