The “Do’s and Don’t’s” of the Initial Family Law Consultation

Deciding to pick up the phone and make that dreaded first call when you feel the time is right to contact an attorney is a petrifying moment.  It’s one of those times in your life where you just have to take the plunge, dial the phone and make the call.

Once you’ve decided on the attorney you want to meet with, a sense of relief may come over you… until the day of the appointment. Panic, fear, confusion, hurt and uncertainty are all natural expectations that an experienced attorney will recognize and deal with when you arrive.  But don’t let your apprehension overcome you. You made the call. You scheduled the appointment.  It’s time. You know meeting with the attorney is the right thing to do.

More often than not, the attorney is going to meet you when you are at your worst, especially in a new divorce consultation. That’s expected.  You wouldn’t be at the law office if things were rosy and life was grand.  An experienced family law attorney knows that you are vulnerable, emotionally drained, and sadly, sometimes physically abused.  The attorney will help guide you through the initial process, help you cope with your emotional well being, and offer suggestions to help you make yourself “a better you” as the process proceeds, and most important, be the partner your attorney will need to effectively advocate for you throughout the divorce or post-decree proceedings.

In order to make the most out of the initial meeting with your attorney, there are a few simple rules that will help you, the client, and your attorney make the most out of the initial consultation.  Remember, just as you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney is interviewing you as well.  You are both evaluating each other to determine if the two of you are a “proper fit” for each other.  Just as you are gauging the attorney’s knowledge, demeanor, compassion and strategy, the attorney is also evaluating you to determine what type of witness you may be, your candor and truthfulness, and your ability to be an effective partner throughout the proceedings.  If you’re not comfortable with what you’re seeing or hearing, don’t hire this attorney. But by the same token, if the attorney is not comfortable with you, the attorney is under no obligation to accept your case or you as a client.  It’s the proverbial “two way street;” you both have to want to work together, feel comfortable with each other and be on the same page in order to be successful in your case and to have a successful attorney/client relationship.

When preparing for the initial consultation, there are a few “Do’s and Don’t’s” that will make the initial consultation less stressful for you, and more beneficial to both you and the attorney. Of course, some law offices may have different procedures and practices, so it’s a good idea to ask when you make the initial appointment to see if there are any procedures you should know before you have your first meeting, especially if there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Some of the suggested “Do’s and Don’t’s” that our law office adheres to are:

For the Initial Consultation, DON’T:

 Don’t be offended if there is a charge for the initial consultation.  The lawyer’s time is how he or she makes their living and you are receiving a professional service. The time the lawyer spends with you could have been spent on another case for which he or she could be getting paid, so it is not out of the ordinary to expect to pay for the initial consultation.  Our firm, like many others, has a discounted rate for the first hour consultation. The information you receive will be well worth the fee, not to mention that it may be a significant stress reliever as you move forward. Don’t forget:  “You get what you pay for…”

• Don’t bring a friend or family member with you for moral support.  That person cannot participate in the initial conference due to confidentiality requirements and ethical concerns of the attorney.  A friend or family member has nothing to contribute to the initial conference.  If they have something relevant to provide to your case, the attorney will, undoubtedly, interview them later to make that determination.  The attorney wants to talk to you, only, at the initial consultation because you have the pertinent information, not your friend or family member.

• Perhaps even more important than not bringing friends or family members with you to the initial appointment is don’t bring children with you.  Because of the sensitive discussions that may occur during your initial consultation, children should not be present.  Also, there is no place for children to stay while you are meeting with the attorney other than the waiting room/reception area.  Law office staff have jobs to do and providing child care for you is not in their job description, nor should it be their responsibility to entertain your child/children during this very important meeting.  This meeting is a job interview, for both you and the attorney.  Would you take your children to a job interview?  You shouldn’t bring your children to the initial consultation either.

• Don’t be late, or just not show up.  Just as you will expect to receive courtesy from the attorney and the law office staff, the same courtesy should be extended to them from you.  If you see that you are going to be late, call the law office and let them know.  If you need to cancel the appointment for whatever reason, have the courtesy to call the office and cancel.  Perhaps someone else can use that appointment time if you can’t make it, or just aren’t ready to take that step.

• Don’t withhold any information or facts, even if it may be embarrassing.  An experienced attorney will be able to advise you as to what is relevant or not, and leaving out even the simplest fact or occurrence may have a devastating impact on your case.

• Conversely, don’t embellish or exaggerate facts or occurrences to help bolster your case.  By not being completely honest with your attorney, it may affect how you are represented, the strategies taken, or even worse, bring your credibility into question. Truthfulness is always the most important aspect of your case, even if it hurts.

• Although everyone wants to make a good first impression, there is no need to “dress up” for the initial consultation. Wear what you feel comfortable in because you may be having an uncomfortable, emotional and stressful discussion for the next one to two hours. Also, don’t over indulge in fragrances; perfumes or colognes.  Many people have allergies to certain fragrances, and although you may like to smell good, overpowering perfumes and colognes can distract from a meaningful and productive initial conference.  Don’t forget that you will be meeting in a closed room; either the attorney’s office or a conference room that can quickly become overwhelmed with an overpowering fragrance.

• Last, but certainly not least, don’t rely on what you read on the internet or what your friends tell you. The internet can be a very valuable tool, but can also be full of misinformation and vague, often confusing, interpretations of the law. Just as you wouldn’t rely on a medical website to diagnose a serious medical problem, don’t rely on the internet to tell you what the law is, or how it would be applied in your particular case.  Additionally, friends can be well meaning, however, their case is not yours.  Remember that just as every individual is different, every case is different.  Your particular circumstances, your spouse, and even the personality of opposing counsel will sometimes dictate how your case should be handled strategically.  Do not be overly concerned about what “my friend so and so got” or “my friend said.” Your friend, and the internet, cannot take the place of the attorney you are about to meet with, as the attorney will tailor the advice you receive based on your individual facts and circumstances.

Now that you know what not to do before the initial consultation occurs and after it begins, here are a few helpful items to assist you in being a well prepared client as the initial consultation approaches:

For the Initial Consultation, DO:

• Do come prepared with specific detailed information.  Social security numbers, birth dates, date of marriage, health insurance costs for both you (individually) and your children, child care costs, expenses for special medical needs for either you and/or your children, college costs for either you and/or your children, two years of tax returns, four pay stubs showing year to date earnings, a list of personal property owned by you and your spouse (or with someone else, if applicable), a complete copy of your pre-nuptial agreement (if applicable), appraisals for real estate or personal property, police reports and/or protective orders (if applicable), vehicle information, and, most important, any court pleadings or prior court orders that may have been entered in your case.

• Do tell the attorney if you are active with text messaging and/or on social media.  There is a good chance that the attorney will advise you to seriously curtail your activity with text messaging and on social media, if not cease it completely.  If there is anything that you have texted or posted about your spouse, friends, relatives, in-laws, etc., it may be wise to print your texts and posts and provide a copy to the attorney and refrain from texting and posting anything else until your case is concluded.  Social media posts, and especially text messages, are now considered admissible evidence in some courts, so let your attorney know, up front, if there are texts and/or posts that may be detrimental to your case.

• If you are comfortable with the attorney, and the attorney accepts your case, and you as a client, do read the Employment Agreement carefully and in its entirety. What is the retainer? What are the court costs? What is the hourly rate? What happens when my retainer is depleted? Will my spouse be responsible to reimburse me for my fees?  How much is charged for a phone call? How much is charged for a letter or email? Is there a different hourly rate for appearing in court opposed to office work? Am I charged for photocopies? Am I charged for postage? Is there a different hourly rate for the attorney, paralegal, or other staff members?  When am I billed? When is my bill due?  These are all legitimate questions that should be answered at the inception of the attorney/client relationship. Knowing the answers to these questions will help avoid an uncomfortable situation for both you and your attorney as your case and relationship progresses.

• The most important thing you can do in preparation for the initial consultation is bring a list of questions.  We’ve all heard the old adage “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  This is definitely true at the initial consultation.  Your attorney knows that you’re not an attorney with his or her legal knowledge and experience and that your head is probably spinning with nervousness, worry and concern; both legal and personal.  Ask the question… you deserve an answer, you need the answer. Being able to communicate well with your attorney always begins at the initial consultation.  Attorneys appreciate clients would want to be well informed.  Be that client!

Making the call to schedule your initial consultation is never an easy task.  You may have thought about doing it for a long time, or, unfortunately, a sudden need to hire counsel has arisen.  Regardless of how long it took you to make the call, you’ve made it, the appointment is scheduled and the hard first step is over.  To make the next step less stressful, and more meaningful and productive when you meet with the attorney, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a successful initial consultation and an even more successful attorney/client relationship.

Good luck!

Tips for a Thorough Child Support Agreement

Top Tips for a Thorough Child Support Agreement (Based on family law in Queensland, Australia & generally):-

As the unavoidable unfortunately happens, your child’s welfare has to be prioritised. Divorce or separation is never easy, but this does not mean your child’s interests will be compromised.

More than ever, this is where your child’s crucial years must be constantly nurtured. It’s always best to consult with a Family Law expert to maintain a well-covered settlement.

Here are some tips you’ll need to consider as you draft and finalise your child support agreement:

  • Time spent with each parent
  • Budget capacity of ex-spouses
  • Payment schedule
  • Logistical arrangements
  • Miscellaneous support
  • Time spent with each parent

It’s equally important for the mother and father to be around as a child grows up. As much as possible, a balance between time spent and payables (monetary obligations) must be made.

While 50-50 shares are optimal, each ex-spouse’s financial situation might vary. The other one may have enough income to cover for most of the obligations, but will lack enough quality time to spend for the child. The opposite situation may apply for the other parent.

In this case, special and non-working holidays might be given to the busy parent. This may serve as a life’s highlight to the little one, as a whole day will be dedicated for bonding.

  • Budget capacity of ex-spouses

The child support agency will most probably calculate the budget needed for the child, until he or she reaches 18. Both parents may refer to these publications released by the Australian government, so as to estimate the budget they’ll need to devote for their children:

These publications and links can come up with customised budgets after gauging your situation (profession, educational attainment, working skills, living situation, etc.). All these will be factored in, towards estimating how much you can pay within an agreed schedule with your ex-partner.

  • Payment schedule

Aside from rates, payment schedules are one of the most challenging items to be agreed between ex-spouses. Payments are usually made on a monthly basis, depending on the frequency needed by the child. Ideally, the child’s needs should be prioritised over the parents’ payment capacity.

A Court Order is highly advisable to maintain regularity of payments. You may agree for either parties to both have District Attorneys or DAs on stand-by, should either of the two refuse to give their justifiable obligations.

  • Logistical arrangements

Each partner must be within reach to cover for the child’s needs. This means distance should not be a factor for both ex-spouses, regardless of which state or country they may be based. It is actually ideal for either of the parties to be within a few kilometres from each other, since quality time with their child will be of utmost priority.

If either of the two would constantly have a hectic schedule, then a bank account may be made as a supporting facility for the child. Both partners can schedule for fund transfers, so the budget may be acquired within specific periods of time.

  • Miscellaneous support

Future plans or insurance agreements should also be arranged, apart from setting some quality time and budget for the child. There are insurance policies which take care of a child’s health and other unforeseen incidents, such as accidents, injuries or critical illnesses.

Should an illness be diagnosed, a monthly payment fee can be agreed to cover for treatments. Some conditions may affect a child as he or she grows up which is why aside from clinical support, the little one may need to be cared for by other means (support groups, care centres, therapists, etc.).

Your child needs utmost support during this difficult time. These pointers should guide you in thoroughly covering for your little one. His or her quality of life while growing up will be highly dependent on what you’ll arrange with your ex-partner, and how you’ll follow through on the agreement. For an objective and optimal set up, a family lawyer’s expertise will be necessary.

Image Credit: Hagerty Ryan

Getting the Most Out of Your Family Law Retainer

family-lawThe day that you most dreaded in your divorce has come—the receipt of your attorney’s billing statement.  After having put it aside, and having found ten other things to open in its place, you are left with the one, unopened envelope, bearing your attorney’s logo, and certainly carrying no news of anything good.  You carefully open the envelope; you are surprised by how many pages fit into that one envelope.  Unfolding the pages of the billing statement, there it is for you to see: every single minute spent on your case, either detailed so precisely, you find it irritating that your lawyer would have been so picayune, or detailed so generally, you cannot understand how that much time was purportedly spent, doing so little.    And what is the only thing missing?  The majority of your initial retainer.

As a St. Petersburg practicing attorney with 26 years of experience in the Tampa Bay area of Florida,  the last twenty years having been spent in family/criminal and personal injury law as Attorney Hanks, P.A.,  I am here to tell you that I take no greater interest or appreciation in creating that billing statement, than you did to open and read it.  And not matter how much I prepared you for this moment when you first read and signed my fee agreement, you likely did not realize the math involved:  .10, the lowest hourly percentage for which most attorneys will bill, when applied to a $275.00 hourly rate, equals $27.50.  Ouch.   Read your letter to me?  $27.50. Sent you that email? $27.50.   That time, last week, when you called me to ask about your hearing date? $27.50.  And that is just at that hourly rate.   Applied to the higher hourly rate of attorneys in bigger cities or in bigger firms, those small activities could run $35.00 each ($350.00 per hour), $45.00 each ($450.00 an hour), and so on.  How quickly then, will your retainer be exhausted?

So, how can you prevent this?  What can you do?  My first suggestion, at least if you are not already in an hourly billing arrangement, is to ask your attorney for a flat fee quote, for part or all of your case.   This is not as unusual as it may sound.  Criminal Defense fees are standard flat fee arrangements.  Personal Injury and Probate fees are usually flat fee arrangements as well, though these will be based on a percentage of the recovery or the amount of the assets.  Professionally, I have had my fill of hourly billing arrangements, even in family law cases.  No client wants to see how much I am charging for an email response and I do not want to account for every email I send a client.  In this age of electronic communications, many of emails are sent when I am out of the office, either in Court waiting for a hearing, in a break between depositions, or even out to dinner with my family.  To have to account for them the next day or days after, becomes a burden.

For the attorney, the basis for a flat fee in a family law case, whether the case is a divorce, child custody, child support or paternity case, is the same as the basis for a flat fee in a criminal case.  Each case is going to have the same initial, basic components, and the same, initial procedures.    For my clients, in a Florida family law case, these are the pleading stage, the exchange of mandatory disclosure (financial documents), and the attendance at an initial, family mediation conference.  I know the amount of time each one of those actions takes, both before in preparation, during, and upon its conclusion.  No matter what the dynamics of the case, these three elements will be present.  For the client, the flat fee is somewhat of a relief.  They know that their case, at least up to a point, will cost  “X” amount of dollars.   I say up to a point, because mediation may not settle all of the issues in a case.  Depending on what issues are left over to be tried, then different amounts of time will be needed to bring the case to a conclusion.  But even in those situations, I will try to provide my client with a flat fee quote for their representation beyond the mediation, and through a trial.

But what if you are already in under an hourly billing arrangement, how do you get the most out of your retainer?

1.  Understand The Billing Arrangement.  Recognize that you are under an hourly billing arrangement.  Recently, I had a divorce client, who had received a billing statement tell me, “I didn’t know you billed for emails or phone calls.”  Well, most family lawyers do, as our time I one of the things we are selling.  Whether we spend ten minutes in a phone hearing on your behalf, or ten minutes answering your email, the cost is the same.   Therefore, clients should only contact an attorney, when he or she absolutely needs advice or information.   If you call me to ask if there is anything new in your case, I will be happy to tell you that there is no new update to provide you, but I have to charge you for having had that phone conference.

2.  The Minimum Fraction of Time: Keep in mind what I wrote earlier, that the minimum slot of time for which an attorney will generally bill you, is .10—six minutes or one tenth of an hour.  If you send me five separate, short emails to review, you will spend much more of your retainer than you would have spent, had you sent me one longer email to review.  The same applies to phone calls.  Ten phone calls over two weeks, will cost much more than one longer phone conference, or even an office conference.

3.  The Attorney’s Assistant or Paralegal.  Whenever possible, is to speak to the attorney’s assistant or paralegal, instead of the attorney.   My hourly billable rate in St. Petersburg, Florida, is $275.00 an hour, but I bill my paralegal at $75.00 an hour.  If you want to confirm your hearing date or time, you can get this information from my paralegal at a much better rate, than getting me on the phone.  Now this will not work for anything that requires legal advice or consultation.  In those instances, the paralegal should put you through to the attorney, but you will then get billed for having spoken to both.  However, for any time that you are simply seeking procedural information, contact the paralegal or legal assistant.  He or she can inform you just as easily as the lawyer can, and at much less of a cost.

4.  Follow instructions.  This would seem to be unnecessary to relate, but I have found this is the source of the greatest increase in billable time, and the greatest reduction of a retainer.   It is, though, quite basic, and at the heart of any successful representation.  Comply with your attorney’s instructions.   When your attorney asks you to provide certain documents, provide them.  I have had clients who have refused to provide many of the financial documents necessary for mandatory disclosure (tax returns, bank statements, etc..), on the belief that those records are either not relevant to the case (Florida’s financial disclosure requirements are the same—whether it is a new divorce or a modification of an older custody judgment), or the client believes the records should not be seen by the other party, for the sake of confidentiality.  This leads to additional and unnecessary communications with me or my paralegal, then to letters and motions to compel filed by the other side, and finally to an actual hearing, so that the client can be told by the family law judge, what I have been telling him or her all along—provide the documents.  And at that point, the client has not only run up his or her own legal fees, but now may be subject to paying the other side’s attorney’s fees, for having to take that step.  It is simply a waste of a retainer, and potentially hampers the progress of the case on the actual issues such as alimony, child support or child custody, if the client has to raise more money to continue the representation.

If you follow these steps, you can guarantee you will make your own legal representation more affordable and more effective.  And as a result, you will be more satisfied with your attorney, and more likely to refer a friend with a divorce, time-sharing or other family law case.  So, both you and your lawyer come out ahead.

 

Mark Hanks, Attorney Hanks, P.A.

Your Family Attorney

www.attorneyhanks.com

St. Petersburg, Florida

Copyright 2014

How To Be A Good Parent Even After The Divorce

Being a good parent is hard enough on a good day. However, when you’ve just gone through a divorce, making sure that your kids are doing fine is always much harder. You can be a good parent after a divorce though so doesn’t think that this is an unattainable goal.

When you use your parenting skills in a divorce, you help teach your kids to deal with various challenges, helping them to grow into well-adjusted individuals. If you’re going or have gone through a divorce and are trying to figure out how to be a good parent through it all, use these tips.

Put The Child First:

Many times a divorce is going to be messy and complicated. You and your former spouse may hate each other and have trouble even being in the same room. However, this attitude isn’t going to do any favors for your child. You need to make sure that you’re not focusing on yourself throughout the divorce.

Since it can be a fairly lengthy process, talk to your children openly throughout the entire ordeal and ask how they’re doing. They may not be coping so well. Also, when you begin to figure out custody agreements and other important details that are about the kids, get their input. They may not be very happy about the entire situation, but involving them in the process and showing them that you care, is going to help with the transition.

Remember It’s Not About You:

Well, at least not entirely. Obviously, your divorce is going to be a huge part of your life, but you are an adult. You have increased coping mechanisms as well as a mature perspective that your children lack. If you’re starting to fall into the victim mentality, then make the decision to turn this attitude around.

Accept the fact that even in the worst of marriages, you probably made some mistakes as well. When you get to this point, you’re not only helping yourself, you’re also showing your kids that it’s OK to be wrong sometimes and you should always acknowledge your mistakes.

Look At The Positives:

It’s always hard to see anything positive coming from a divorce, but there are many life lessons that you can gain from going through this process. Similarly, your kids can also gain more experience from you. However, you can’t do this if you simply refuse to deal with the problem at hand. As you go throughout the divorce, take each experience as a life lesson.

Many of them are not going to be easy, but if you pay attention, you will come through this experience and be a wiser and stronger person throughout the rest of your life. Make sure that you talk to your kids throughout the process and mention some of the lessons you’ve learned. They can similarly take your lessons and apply them to their lives and future relationships.

Always Be Respectful:

When a divorce with children happens, it’s likely that both parents will have custody or visitation rights. This is going to be hard to deal with, but you can’t let your own feelings get in the way of your children’s happiness. Working through the challenges of successfully communicating with an ex is a goal, which you’re probably not going to get right the first time.

Try to maintain a respectful relationship with your former spouse. This not only sets a good example for your kids, it also helps to make the entire ordeal so much easier

These are a few of the basic ways to make sure that you continue to be a good parent both through and after a divorce. Divorce is difficult for both parents and their children, so make sure that you pay attention to your kids and continue to make them a priority throughout the entire process. Divorce can be a positive or negative factor in a child’s life depending on how you react to it. If you treat it as a learning experience, it can help to grow the relationship that you have with your children.

However, it does take time and effort, so make sure that you’re being a mindful parent throughout the entire process to make the transition easy for your children.

How Military Divorce Differs from Regular Divorce

Military divorces are much like any other divorce. Two people decide they no longer want to be married, and go through the process of separating property, assets and determining child custody issues. However, the way these concerns are addressed, and the way things are separated between the two parties, requires a consideration of the military member’s lifestyle and benefits. Understanding how survivor benefits and military pensions are divided up, and how custody of children is determined, is important for both spouses considering divorce.

Child Custody

Many military marriages involve an active duty spouse and a civilian spouse. The lifestyle of these families adapts to the military world, with active duty personnel moving regularly for various deployments, and with the military spouse frequently away from home. Families that fit this description should be aware that the courts will rarely grant full custody to the active duty spouse.

When determining child custody, the courts always look out for the best interests of the child. It is understood that, while the active duty spouse is doing much for his or her country, the lifestyle is ill suited for raising children. Military families should assume that child custody will go to the non-active spouse, and this will likely include child support payments.

Division of Military Pensions

Active duty service members are entitled to a pension after 20 years of service. The courts answer the question how to divide up this pension in the case of divorce. Most military couples are aware that the non-military spouse is entitled to half of the pension after 10 years of marriage. However, not all are aware that this division is negotiable.

The couple can come to an agreement on the division of the pension in their own way. This includes if the marriage has been shorter than the standard 10 years, and it includes the possibility of a payout of less than 50 percent of the pension after the 10-year mark.

The 10-year and 50 percent standards are simply guidelines for the court to go on. The arguments presented by both divorce attorneys and the decision of the court can produce a number of different results. Each spouse may wind up with more, or less, than he or she was aiming for.

It should also be noted that only after ten years of marriage can the finance center pay the awarded portion of the pension to the spouse. If the non-military spouse wins some of the pension, but the marriage did not last for at least ten years, it is the responsibility of the retiree to make the payments to the ex-spouse.

Survivor Benefits

Some spouses make the mistake of assuming that the Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP) – the payout that happens upon the death of the military spouse – will still go them in the event of death. While the SBP can be awarded to the divorced spouse during the divorce proceedings, this is certainly not guaranteed.

If the ex-spouse is not awarded the SBP, then he or she will stop receiving pension payments in the event that the military member dies. This is something to remain aware of during divorce negotiations.

Military Divorce Lawyer

Spouses considering a military divorce should seek the help of an experienced military divorce lawyer. This will help ensure the best possible results from the divorce.

Florida Same Sex Separations and Collaborative Family Law

Though the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), state DOMAs were not affected by the ruling.  This means that same sex couples cannot get legally married in states, such as Florida, that enacted a DOMA.

This also means that gay and lesbian couples cannot get divorced in many DOMA states and oftentimes do not have any legal remedy to separate.  If the domestic partners did not adopt each other’s children, even if both partners had been considered the parents of the children, then child custody, visitation, and child support laws usually will not apply.  Equitable distribution laws (laws related to division of marital assets and debts) do not apply, so separating property and liabilities can get real messy, real quick.  Further, alimony and spousal maintenance laws do not apply, so a partner who spent years homemaking and taking care of children may suddenly become destitute.  So what are separating same sex couples to do?

Domestic partners who are dissolving their relationship should seriously consider entering into a collaborative family law process.

Collaborative family law is a form of private dispute resolution that allows clients to enter into agreements and achieve results that could never be attained through a court process. Each client retains a separate attorney who advises and counsels the client and helps in the negotiating process.  A neutral facilitator, who is a mental health professional or mediator, helps the clients focus on their interests, such as the welfare of clients’ children, continued relationships with each other’s family members, or financial stability.  If there are substantial assets or debts or a business, a neutral accountant or financial planner will be brought in to educate the parties in finances, help fairly and cost-effectively divide property and liabilities, and, if requested, develop a budget for the clients’ future.

As you can see, collaborative family law is a holistic process that takes into account not only the legal, but also the emotional and financial needs of the clients.

The crux of collaborative family law is that the clients agree at the beginning that they will not seek to resolve their dispute through court battles, but rather they will come to a mutually agreeable settlement through this private process.  The clients, and their attorneys, enter into a participation agreement which disqualifies the attorneys from representing the clients in any contested court action.  This provides a safe space in collaborative meetings because each client knows that the other client’s attorney is not conducting opposition research and is committed solely to helping the clients reach a mutually acceptable agreement.  This allows clients to feel more comfortable offering and listening to potential solutions.

In truth, the disqualification clause has much more of an effect on heterosexual couples who are getting divorced, rather than homosexual couples who are separating.  This is because, as stated above, most DOMA state courts just do not have remedies that would properly address the clients’ concerns, and so attempts to fight it out in court will oftentimes be dismissed.

If you are experiencing a same sex separation, make sure to speak with an attorney who offers collaborative family law, and check to see whether the attorney has received collaborative law training that meets at least the minimum Basic Training standards of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

If you have questions regarding a Tampa Bay collaborative family law process, or you want to learn more about your Florida family law rights, schedule a consultation with The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover currently serves as Research Chair of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida and Vice President of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay.  Adam successfully spearheaded an effort of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida to draft an administrative order safeguarding the principles of collaborative family law (just the fourth such administrative order in Florida) and has completed over 40 hours of basic and advanced collaborative family law continuing legal education credit.

 

How to Seek Child Support during a Separation

(U.S. Law and Generally) When your spouse leaves you and your children, it’s not long until you feel the financial pinch in your pocketbook. In your new role as a single parent, taking care of your children and your household expenses on a single paycheck soon becomes challenging, especially since you no longer have your spouse to help you financially.

How to Receive Child Support

If you have asked for money for your children and your spouse refused to help out, you can get a court to order your spouse to pay child support while you are separated. Here are steps you can take to start receiving child support:

1. Locate the OCSE in your area. In some states, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) is called the Friend of the Court (FOC) and is located in the county courthouse. Find your local OCSE by conducting an Internet search of your city or state or call the clerk’s office of your local courthouse.

2. Complete an application. OCSE has applications for child support online that you can print out and complete prior to meeting with a caseworker.

3. Schedule an appointment. The OCSE takes new cases by appointment, but some offices allow “walk-ins.” If you visit the office as a walk-in, be prepared to wait since most offices are very busy. Be prepared to pay a fee since OCSE’s charge an annual service fee to the custodial parent to open a child support case.

4. Bring relevant information. Your case worker will need information such as your spouse’s address, telephone number, employer’s name, annual income and type of vehicle he or she drives. This information will be used to locate your spouse should he or she fail to either receive or respond to child support papers served on him or her. Child support payments are usually collected through the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. You will also be asked to provide information such as your employer’s name, health insurance information and whether you have received child support in the past. The case worker will also give you other documents to complete.

5. Attend your court hearing. Your case worker will take you through the child support process, which includes filing your documents with the court, serving your spouse with a copy of the papers and scheduling a court hearing. Your spouse will have an opportunity to respond to the papers you filed as well as attend the court hearing.

Consider getting Legal Advice

Filing for help from an absent parent, whether it’s California or New Hampshire child support, is a lengthy process and can become complicated, particularly if your spouse objects to paying support. If your spouse had a larger income and carried health benefits for the family, consider filing for a legal separation rather than a divorce, at least for the time being. There are several financial benefits to getting a legal separation for both of you, but this is something that you should discuss with a family lawyer.

An attorney experienced in family law will get your OCSE case moving along while advising you of the legal separation process. The ultimate decision to file for a legal separation is up to you, but in the meantime, your attorney can relieve your financial pressure by getting court-ordered support from you spouse so that you can better provide for your children.

Mother of two and author, Molly Pearce knows the challenges that single parenting presents. She shares this info in the hopes that it can simplify the child support process for readers. New Hampshire child support lawyers, Tenn and Tenn, P.A., also hope to make the seperation and divorce process easier by providing knowledgeable and experienced representation to families in need.

Occupy Mum Walks away from Family, Gains $85,000 in Divorce Settlement

Stacey Hessler, the mother who abandoned her four children, banker husband and warm bed in Florida to join protesters in the Financial District close to Zuccotti Park has made headlines again. This time, Hessler is in the news for divorcing her husband of 19 years, relinquishing custodial rights to him and literally taking him to the cleaners with a whopping $85,000 settlement. Many might recognize the stark irony of the divorce settlement. Here is a “professional protester” as the divorce filing lists her occupation, raking money in from the very institution she protests against on Wall Street! It is the height of contradiction. Listing her (ex) husband as a banker on an annual salary of $65,000, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ employee’s annual income was recorded as $0 on the divorce filing initiated by her husband, Curtiss.

The reason for the divorce is reportedly listed as “irreconcilable differences”, which does not come as a surprise, given that Hessler’s chosen life style since abandoning her family to join Occupy has become significantly different. Chosen life style, divorce payout and other facts aside, Stacey Hessler raises, yet again, the issue that we are most concerned about at Provda Law Firm; the real casualties of divorce. Stacey has left four children without a mother to become a professional protester and to pursue her own interests. Divorce, one can safely assume, became the unavoidable for a variety of reasons; all associated with Hessler’s choice. While there is no scrap of evidence or fact to suggest that Curtiss, the ex-husband, will be unable to adequately cater for the financial, emotional and other needs of the children, the fact remains that they stand a higher risk of being psychologically affected by what must seem to them as a mother’s rejection. Research confirms that children from broken homes suffer emotional and behavioural needs more than their counterparts from homes where the parents remain together.

The direct implication is felt on society in many ways, including the vicious cycle in the relationships and marriages of many of the affected children. At Provda Law Firm, we encourage parents going through divorce to always put their children’s interests first; to think beyond the pain, hatred, anger, disappointment or any other negative emotion they have towards the other party and to focus on their children’s future. The salient question should be whether or not the other party is able to contribute positively to the children’s lives. An answer in the affirmative means that concerted effort must be put into ensuring that the children do not suffer more than they necessarily have to on account of the divorce.

Stacey Hessler may have abandoned her four children and husband, she may be nearly $90, 000 richer directly or indirectly from the institutions she now fervently protests against, she may be many things to different people, depending on the view point, however by giving custody of the children to her apparently more stable ex-husband, it would seem that she had their best interests at heart at the end of the day. Although some might say she has a rather funny way of showing it.

This article was written by Bruce Provda, a New York divorce attorney. For advice on divorce, child custody, support and maintenance as well as other related family law issues in the State of New York, call Bruce Provda at Provda Law Firm, 40 Wall Street, 11 Floor, New York, NY 10005, (212) 671-0936 or visit his divorce law website.

A Tampa Collaborative Divorce Can Save You Money

When most people think of divorce, they envision scenes from War of the Roses or Kramer vs. Kramer. Yet more people in Tampa Bay are learning that there is another way, collaborative divorce, which is just a sensible method to resolve private family disputes. However, just as mediation was characterized in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a rich person’s option, many people think that the collaborative process is only for the very wealthy. Not only attorneys, but also a collaborative facilitator and financial professional are retained, so only the very rich can afford the collaborative model, right?

Wrong.

A four year study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals found that 87% of female participants and 47% of male participants of collaborative family law cases had an annual income of less than $100,000.

Though the collaborative process may not be the cheapest in all cases, it has a substantial opportunity to save you money as compared to the courtroom battles we have all come to associate with divorce.

First, child issues, such as custody schedules and decision-making authority, are some of the most emotional and costliest issues in family law matters. Lawyers in courtroom cases tend to prepare interrogatories (questions) to be answered under penalty of perjury, set depositions, conduct opposition research to put the other spouse in the worst possible light, and prepare for trial. Attorneys’ invoices pile up along each stage of this process. Alternatively, these fees and costs can be greatly reduced in the collaborative process where facilitators, who usually are licensed mental health professionals, can cut through the clutter of emotionally-charged issues and bring the clients (and lawyers) to focus on the future and best interests of the children.

Similarly, a financial professional (who is usually either an accountant or financial planner) adds cost-saving value to the process. In litigated cases, lawyers prepare “requests for production of documents and things” that demand reams of financial documents which could conceivably be relevant. Searching for those documents cost clients tremendous time and money while, when received, the requesting attorney will spend countless billable hours meticulously combing through the documents. In the collaborative process, on the other hand, the financial professional will only request documents that are necessary to make an informed settlement option. His or her expertise in finances enables the financial professional to review and assess the documents and develop settlement options more quickly (and often times at a lower rate) than attorneys.

Finally, the dirty little secret in family law is that the vast majority of litigation cases eventually settle. However, because having a judge decide on the parties’ personal matters always remains a threat, in traditional courtroom divorce the attorneys will always work on two tracks: (i) attempt to settle the case while (ii) conducting opposition research and preparing for the courtroom battle in case the parties cannot come to an agreement. In the collaborative process, attorneys are retained solely for the purpose of settlement and are contractually barred from taking disputes to be decided in court, and so they are not racking up those billable hours planning to fight it out in court.

Now, back to the question, is collaborative divorce only for the wealthy? Absolutely not, and I would be happy to speak with you and talk more about how the process can help your family.

If you have questions regarding how a Tampa Bay collaborative divorce process can help you, schedule a consultation with attorney Adam B. Cordover at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is Vice President of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Adam spearheaded the taskforce that drafted the Hillsborough County collaborative family practice administrative order signed by Chief Judge Manuel Menendez.

5 Things Social Workers Need to Understand About Hate Crimes

5 Things Social Workers Need to Understand About Hate Crimes

Though many people consider “hate crimes” to be relatively new phenomena thanks, in part, to tougher laws being enacted around the country, the truth is this: Hate crimes in America are as old as the country itself. Crimes have been committed against individuals and groups based on race, gender, religious preference, sexual orientation and cultural background for centuries. If social workers hope to help people dealing with hate crimes, a deeper understanding must be had. Here are five things that social workers need to understand about this brand of crime:

1.Diversity Education

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One of the ways to prevent children from turning into perpetrators of hate crimes is to teach them about acceptance at an early age. Social workers can work in conjunction with teachers and families to ensure that young, elementary-aged children learn to respect each other’s differences, celebrating them rather than berating them. The NCPC has excellent lessons for children in grades one through five that center around diversity.

2.What Constitutes a Hate Crime?

Most of us are aware that a crime committed against a person because of their race or sexual orientation is considered a hate crime. But what else may constitute a hate crime? This information is important for every social worker to have. A victim of a hate crime is singled out because of perception. The perpetrator holds a certain perception about the proposed victim’s race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, physical handicap, mental disability, marital status, personal appearance, family responsibility, political affiliation or matriculation.

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Hate crimes do not have to be violent. Examples of non-violent hate crimes include verbal abuse, telephone harassment, the painting of swastikas or other hate symbols, the use of racial slurs and cemetery desecration. A hate crime need not be violent to have a profound effect on the victim and friends and family of the victim.

3.Victim Responses

Just as with reactions to illness, death and other devastating events, people respond differently when they, or the ones they love, become victims of a hate crime. Victims of hate crimes typically report feelings of anger couples with feelings of betrayal. There can be an overwhelming sense of powerlessness, resentment, isolation and sadness. Victims of hate crimes may also have an aroused, even paranoid, sense of suspicion. Victims of hate crimes report drastic changes in lifestyle as a result of their attack, whether mental or physical. As a social worker, it’s important to sit back and listen to the victim, gaining an understanding of just what effect the crime has had in order to provide the best therapy.

4.The Right Not to Report

Much like a victim of rape has the choice whether or not to report the crime, regardless of the seeking of treatment, a victim of a hate crime is not required to file a report with law enforcement. Regardless of personal beliefs, social workers must support whichever choice the victim makes. In some cases, medical personnel may be required to report the attack, however, it is still the victim’s right to not pursue hate-crime related charges.

5.Victim Assistance

Social workers should seek out resources of assistance within their local communities for victims of hate crime. Having this information on hand and immediately available will make the therapeutic process less stressful for the victim. Beyond local resources, social workers should know about national programs such as Network of Victim Assistance, National Center for Victims of Crime and the American Civil Liberties Union.

For social workers, understanding hate crimes is an important facet of the profession. Along with understanding what constitutes a hate crime, social workers must understand their impact and the resources available for victims and their families. For more information on hate crimes, be sure to visit NOVA, an all-encompassing site for victim assistance.

Robert Neff is a writer who brings awareness to world events such as hate crimes. Social workers help victims of the crimes. If you are interested in a career as a social worker check out Case Western’s online MSW degree.