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.

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.   

 

 

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.

3 Essential Steps to Best Resolve a DUI Conviction

If you entered a guilty plea to a DUI or lost your case at trial, this article is for you.  It discusses what to do next once you have a DUI conviction.  Following these steps will help you succeed in completing your probation successfully and putting this conviction behind you.

Set Yourself Up for Probation Success

  • Know.  Make sure you find out what the terms are of your probation and how long it lasts.  Typically, you will at minimum be ordered to stay drug free and not have any other criminal offenses.    
  • Do.  Confirm that you have your paperwork and call the court for a copy if you have lost it.  This will list what you need to accomplish and when.  Typically you will need a counseling evaluation and a certain amount of counseling sessions. You may have community service obligations.  Following through with the Court’s orders is essential.
  • Report.  Ensure that anything you complete is reported, because you want to “get credit” for the counseling, etc. that you finish.  If you don’t know whether the court has a record of what you’ve done, be proactive to call and find out.

Do Not Drive with a Suspend Driver’s License 

  • Don’t drive while your license is suspended.  Typically, your license will be suspended.  Make sure that you do not drive during the suspension period.
  • Complete the DUI Program.   You will likely need to complete a DUI program prior to reinstatement of your license.    
  • More information about Suspended Driver’s License.  For more information about a suspended driver’s license in California go to http://www.dmv.org/ca-california/suspended-license.php

Compliant Driving after a DUI – Interlock and Insurance

  • Interlock.  An ignition interlock device prevents you from driving with a level of blood alcohol above the setting.  You will typically be ordered to utilize this device for a certain amount of time following your DUI, and you shouldn’t do anything to try to bypass the system.    
  • Insurance.  You need a special type of automobile insurance following a DUI.  It is often called high-risk or SR-22 insurance.  Make sure that you obtain the right kind of insurance and keep your payments current.

If you take the time to know and obey the terms of your probation, you can successfully overcome a DUI conviction.  Make sure that you find out what you need to accomplish, avoid driving while your license is suspended, and take the steps necessary once your driving privileges are restored.

3 Things to Avoid Saying in a Custody Battle

You’ve probably heard that you have a right to remain silent in a criminal case, but sometimes it’s an advantage to you to remain silent in a civil case as well.  This is particularly true in the tense situation of a custody battle.  Some parents can be their own worst enemy in a fight over custody of their children.  This article is going to remind you of what you likely already know when you are in a non-stressful situation, and will help you apply these tried and true principles in a custody case.

Avoid All Physical Threats/Cussing/Bashing the Ex

When you are in a custody battle, you need to be cautious about every word you speak.  Imagine that the judge is sitting on your shoulder overhearing every word and decide whether your tone and language will benefit you.

  • Never make a threat of physical harm, even if it is in jest.  Even words meant with sarcasm can be taken out of context.
  • Avoid cussing or hateful speech as these can reflect poorly on you.  You have an opportunity to create your image with the words that come out of your mouth, so make sure that you come across as even-tempered, wise and caring. These are traits almost anyone values in a parent, and exhibiting them will help win points in the custody battle.
  • Don’t bash the ex to the children.  When you talk about your ex negatively to the children, it puts the kids in the middle of the battle.  It isn’t healthy for them, and it won’t help you with the case. 

Don’t be too eager to show your hand 

  • Keep your strategy between you and your attorney.  If you were a gambler, you wouldn’t show your opponents your hand of cards.  Similarly, you want to avoid giving the other side too much information about your strategy and plans.
  • You may not want to be too specific initially about your priorities.  If having the kids this Christmas is the most important thing to you in this world, you may or may not want to share that information just yet.  Revealing your pain points may cause a vindictive ex-spouse to try to prevent you from having the kids this Christmas just to spite you.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice on information you share. Your attorney can advise you on what information to share or hold back, but in general you want to share information strategically at the right times and in the right ways. 

Refrain from “never” and “always” and stick to the truth

  • Don’t back your ex into a corner.  When you tell someone you will never do something or you always deserve something, then you automatically trigger an obstinate reflex.  Even though the term is custody “battle,” they often involve a lot of negotiation, so keep tried and true principles of negotiation in mind:  Don’t back your opponent into a corner by using words that show you aren’t interested in compromise.
  • Don’t exaggerate, stick to the truth.  In an emotional situation, it is easy to exaggerate a story or twist the truth a bit to try to get what you want.  When you are working to get custody of your children, you will be best served by only saying things that are absolutely true because this builds credibility with your children, with the counselors and evaluators that may be involved, and ultimately the judge.  Stick to the truth.

While these are a few of the things you shouldn’t say, there are many things that should be expressed.  Children are sensitive to divorce, so share your love and appreciation for them often.  Take an interest in them.  Spend the time that you can and talk to them about their feelings.  Take the opportunity to model cooperation and civility for your children during the custody case, and if hard positions or harsh words need to be said, let those come from your attorney so that you can be a calm and collected rock for should children to lean on.

3 Ways to Be the Perfect Criminal Defendant

Help me, help you.”  It’s the famous line from Jerry Maguire, and it applies to anyone facing criminal charges and their attorney.  How can you help your attorney help you?  

1. Communicate.  Good communication is key to helping your attorney help you.  It comes into play throughout your case.

  • Phone/Email/In Person.  Find out how your attorney prefers to consult with you, whether it’s email, phone or in person.  Be available.  Respond to messages promptly.  Don’t underestimate the importance of following up.
  • Be Clear.  Try to organize yourself so that your story is consistent and organized.  This will help your attorney present your case and will help you be believable in the very unlikely event you end up on the witness stand.  When you communicate with your attorney about the facts, try to have the dates handy.  Remember details.  Think through step by step what happened.  
  • Be Assertive.  It’s important to communicate with your counsel about your desired outcome.  For example, if you want to fight the case, then let your attorney know.  If you would prefer to enter a plea, then help him not only understand you preference, but also the details, such as if you want to do your jail time on a specific weekend, or if you need payments for your fines, or if you prefer a certain type of counseling, etc.  Your attorney may be able to ask the judge for special accommodations, but only if he or she knows what to ask for.  

2. Be Levelheaded.  Your behavior on and off the “court” can make or break your case, so be aware of how you are presenting yourself.

  • Be Collected.  Nothing can fire you up more than an unjust cause, so it makes perfect sense that you may get angry or frustrated when speaking about what happened.  Anger or frustration directed to your attorney is misdirected will only get in the way of their vigorous representation to help you.  Be assertive in telling your attorney what you want or need, but do not be aggressive with the person who is on your side.  
  • Assume the Judge or Court Staff Are Watching Anytime You Are in the Vicinity of Court.  Another aspect of being level headed is behaving as if you are always being observed when you are on the premises of the Court.  The worst thing you can do for your case is to blow up with one of the Judge’s staff, as this will often be reported back to the Judge.  Judges are human and may hold your behavior against you.  Additionally, make sure that you are in compliance with all restrictions when going to Court.  For example, if your license has been revoked, do not drive to the courthouse.  If you are prohibited from contacting a certain person, do not go with them in the same vehicle to the Court.  

 

  • Be Honest with Your Attorney.  Your attorney may or may not want to know if you believe you are guilty of the offense, but your counsel needs to know any information that is likely to be in any records, in witness testimony, etc.  

 

  • Don’t Hang Your Attorney Out to Dry.  Surprises are not welcomed by most criminal defense attorneys.  If you know about a witness, or a test result, or a piece of evidence such as a text, let your attorney know.  Some defendants are embarrassed to tell their attorney that they did something that wasn’t the smartest, such as an admission to an officer or a confession to a friend.  Your attorney is a professional and only has your best interest in mind.

 

With great communication, staying level-headed, and being honest with your attorney about adverse facts, you can help your attorney help you as much as possible.

 

Your Guide to Finding the Right Fairfield Lawyer

There comes a point in everyone’s lives where they require the assistance of a lawyer. You might need a lawyer to represent you in a divorce or criminal case, or to provide other services such as setting up a business or providing legal advice.  Fairfield has a huge number of lawyers available, so choosing the right attorney for you can be challenging. A successful outcome depends greatly on the competence of your lawyer, so it is imperative that you find the right one for you.  Important factors to consider are the length of time the attorney has been practicing, whether he or she has experience in the particular time of case where you need representation, and whether you feel comfortable with his or her style of practice.

Recommended practices to ensure you hire the best Fairfield lawyers:

 

  • Consider the length of time your attorney has been practicing.

 

Experience is one of the most important qualifications of a good attorney.  A young attorney can be smart and motivated, but an attorney with years of practice will understand issues and know arguments that a younger attorney will likely miss.

 

  • Find and attorney who specializes in your type of case.

 

Finding an attorney with not just years of experience, but years of experience for your particular case is vital to your success.  For example, if you have a criminal charge, such as a DUI, you will want to find attorney who has represented many criminal defense cases in the past.  It is important that your attorney knows the judges and the prosecutor and feels comfortable in the courtroom.  Your attorney’s familiarity can  help you get a better outcome because your attorney will know what arguments will be most compelling on your behalf.

 

  • Schedule a consultation to see whether you feel comfortable.

 

Schedule a consultation with your prospective attorney to discuss your case.  Many attorneys will provide a consultation for not fee or nominal amount.  Come prepared with your evidence organized and consolidated and be prepared to summarize your case succinctly to your attorney.  During the consultation, you can determine whether you feel comfortable with the attorney and his or her style of representation.

 

  • Verify that your attorney is a Member of the California Bar Association

 

Once you have decided on an attorney, you can check to confirm that your lawyer is an active member in good standing with the State Bar of California by clicking here.

If you follow this guide given above, there is no doubt you will end up with one of the best Fairfield lawyer for you and for you rcase.