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 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.

 

 

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.

5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Finding the Perfect Family Lawyer

The perfect family lawyer is the person who best fits with you, your goals, and your case, and it’s worth taking the time to find the best fit.  This article will discuss the steps to narrowing the field to the best family lawyer for you.

1. Look at What and Where.  Family law is a general term for a practice that typically includes divorce, custody, child support, visitation, alimony/spousal support, adoption, pre-nuptial agreements, and more. If you want to find the perfect family lawyer, you first need to identify what type of case you have.  One of the first questions you will want to ask your potential attorney is whether they practice where the case will be filed. Typically your case will be litigated where either you or your spouse live, but there are exceptions, so ask up front whether you are looking for an attorney in the right place.  

2. Research Whether Your Potential Choice Specializes in Family Law.  You need to do the work to find the best family lawyer, and you have many tools at your fingertips.

  • Check the Attorney’s Website.  Click the links on the attorney’s website.  Does the attorney list family law as one of his or her specialties?
  • Ask Your Attorney Questions about Their Experience in Family Law.   Ask as many questions as you can think of, such as how long they have been practicing family law, what types of outcomes they have had in cases similar to yours, what style they practice (whether adversarial or more conciliatory), and what your expectations should be.

3. Do a Reputation Check.   Ask friends and family for a recommendation, since word of mouth can be one of the best ways to hear whether an attorney is good or bad.  Check the Better Business Bureau website to make sure that your potential choice doesn’t have any complaints.  Look at the online reviews to see whether others had a good experience.

4. Talk About the Money.  Some clients feel reluctant to talk about the billing, but this should be done right up front.  Many attorneys require a retainer, which is a fee paid at the beginning of your case, but that amount isn’t the only number you need to know to make an informed decision.  Ask which attorney will work on your case and why.  With some firms, the same person will be working on your case exclusively and for the duration.  With other firms, you may communicate with a partner, but an associate (less experienced attorney) will be doing much of the work.  Find out in advance who will be doing what, and make sure you are comfortable with it.  Make sure that you will get back any portion of the retainer that isn’t used. When your bills come, look at them carefully, and don’t be afraid to question a charge that seems unreasonable.

5. Consult with More than One Attorney.  Some people feel obligated to an attorney after an initial consultation, but it’s a mistake not to shop around to your top few choices.  Trust your impressions. Go to your initial consultation prepared.  Ask questions.  Take notes.  Give yourself time to make the decision and don’t feel rushed, and you will gravitate to the person who is the best fit for you and your needs.

Don’t let your search for an attorney overwhelm you.  Finding the best family lawyer is not so different from finding the right home, or a great car or your favorite technology.  By following the guidelines above you can identify what you need, do the necessary research, and finally make a well-founded decision on whether that person is the right fit for you.

How to Take Charge of Your Custody Battle Without Losing Your Mind

If you are like most parents, your kids are the most important people in your life.  They are adorable and irreplaceable, and you would do anything for them.  If you are going to battle with an itinerant ex-spouse to determine the fate of your precious ones, then you need every arrow in your quiver possible.  This guide will help you understand the what you need to do to be successful in a custody battle.

  1. Understand the rules of the game.  Courts have broad discretion to protect the best interest of the children, which includes each child’s health, safety, education and general welfare.  Courts can take into account any number of factors such as the following:

 

  • evidence of abuse or neglect,
  • the age of the child
  • sibling relationships
  • degree of attachment between parent and child

 

Courts cannot take into account the gender or race of the parent.  One parent’s financial ability can’t be the sole factor in a custody decision. 

 

  • Be your best self.  During a custody battle, you actions and the words that come out of your mouth will be under a microscope.  Be careful of the way you behave with the ex-spouse and also with the children.  It goes without saying that any type of threatening or violent behavior should not occur, but also you should proactively behave as if the judge were observing you at all times.  Speak courteously to the ex.  Try not to take unreasonable positions. When you are with your child, give them your quality time.  If there are ways you can make yourself a better parent through overcoming addictions or seeking more education, look to improving yourself as a parent.  Taking the high road is not only the right thing to do, but it will give you an edge in getting the custody you seek.

 

  • Pinpoint Areas of disagreement with the ex-spouse.  In any legal case, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the opposing party.  Don’t just get frustrated with what they do, but look deeper to try to understand why.  If you can get to the why, then you will be one step closer to finding a resolution that will be acceptable to both parties.  If the issue is unresolvable, then by understanding your ex, you will be better able to fight them in court.  For example, if your ex-spouse wants a different schedule, look at why he or she is taking that position?  Is there a work schedule reason?  Is there a grandparent or otherwise, whose schedule is playing into your spouse’s mindset?  If you can get beneath the surface to understand your opponent’s arguments, then you have a better chance of a successful outcome.

 

  • Gather evidence and document everything.  Your word that the other person is a bad parent is not as convincing as solid evidence.  If a child care worker, neighbor, teacher has observed your ex-spouse abusing or mistreating the child, then have them document that observation.  Consult with your attorney on the best way to preserve this evidence, but don’t pass up the opportunity to memorialize important evidence. If your spouse has sent you malicious emails, organize those in a file for your attorney.  If your spouse has posted damaging comments on social media, screen shot that information and share it with your attorney.  It takes extra work to be organized and document everything, but in many cases that time in preparation pays off.

 

  • Consult with professionals.  If you feel your children are suffering from the custody battle, don’t hesitate to get them counseling.  If you need someone to talk to, turn to a trusted friend, look into community resources for counseling, or find a professional counselor who can help you.  It’s not uncommon to have a high stress level during a custody battle, and you can seek help.  Hire an attorney that you trust and who will be zealous in advocating your interests.

 

 

3 Tips Most People Don’t Know About Finding the Right Attorney

Attorney shopping can be quite the headache, especially when you consider that your reasons for actually needing an attorney may be a cause of unexpected stress in your life.  While many law firms claim that they are giving you the best lawyer in their firm, there are many other important factors to consider when finding the right representation for your case.

Here are 3 tips most people don’t consider when trying to find the right attorney:

  • The Right Attorney Is Available For You

Attorneys may be busy and may have a slew of other cases, however the right Attorney for you will be one that is available for you when you need him/her most.

When you’re shopping for an attorney, make sure that during your initial meetings you aren’t rushed out the door, or made to hurry over important details. The right attorney understands that your time and your circumstances are just as important as theirs and won’t make you feel rushed.

  • The Right Attorney Has Experience in Your Specific Type of Case

You are most likely aware that you should seek the help of a divorce lawyer if you want to get divorced, or a personal injury lawyer if you’ve been injured in an accident. However in addition to seeking the help of a lawyer who specializes in your type of case, you should also find one who actually has experience in your type of case.

Though an accidental injury lawyer may know the specifics about getting the compensation you deserve, a lawyer who has had experience with the specific insurance company you’re working with will be the right attorney for you!

  • The Right Attorney Has Confidence in You and in Your Case

In some types of cases, the attorney doesn’t get paid until you get paid, right? While that may be enough incentive for the average lawyer to work hard on your case, it is important to remember that the right lawyer for you will be one that has confidence in you and your case, and doesn’t just want to win for a paycheck.

Having confidence in your case means more than just bragging about their track record with similar cases and behaving arrogantly. The right attorney will exhibit confidence in your case by making the most of your situation, those involved and will in turn provide the best outcome for you.

So instead of being impressed by how many cases your prospective attorney has won in their career, consider choosing an attorney based on their availability, confidence in you, and how many cases they have won that are very similar to yours to have the most success with your case!

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*If you are currently in danger call 911*

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