Representing yourself in Court? Good luck with that.

representing yourself in family courtI have had potential clients ask me, often with a cautious hope, whether their particular type of legal matter, is something that they can handle for themselves.  It is a question one would never ask a physician, an electrician, or an auto mechanic, but one that I believe, is often asked of attorneys.  I tell those individuals that the answer to that question depends on how comfortable they are with understanding and researching the law, presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, rebutting legal arguments, and making a persuasive argument to the judge.  Really, though, it is how quickly a person can gain and condense the specialized education and 26 years of experience that I have, into the time that person has to prepare for their hearing.

Recently, I appeared in Hillsborough County Court, in Tampa, for a Small Claims Pretrial Conference before Judge Gabbard.  My client was being sued over a nominal credit card debt, the type of case that over the past five years, has been prosecuted with greater and greater frequency.  Like many different types of court divisions, such as traffic, criminal or even some family divisions, the court calendar was a cattle call.  Of that the cases on that calendar, two individuals had decided to represent themselves.  The first was being sued, on behalf of a debt to a person who had owned the company he had recently purchased.  As the plaintiff was not suing the company, only the former owner, this was a debt for which the individual standing in Court was not responsible, and legally, could never be held responsible.  The plaintiff’s attorney was not about to point this out to the defendant, though he did try to change the subject whenever the judge tried to imply to the defendant—judges cannot give legal advice to either party, that the plaintiff had sued the wrong person.  Without any help or advice from an attorney, the defendant proceeded into a side room of the courtroom, and began discussing the terms of a repayment plan for settling a debt that he did not owe.   The second, unrepresented litigant, was a young woman suing someone on a debt.  In explaining to the judge why she had not gotten service on the defendant, she expressed frustration that the Sheriff’s process server did not do more to serve the defendant, when she was convinced the address she had provided was correct.  Again the judge could not advise this plaintiff, all she could do was reschedule the case for another pretrial conference, and tell the plaintiff to make sure she obtained service on the defendant.

In less than five minutes after their hearings, I told each of these strangers what they needed to know before and for the next time each comes to Court—perhaps to the irritation of the collection agency attorneys gathered in the Court room.  The two pro se litigants were fortunate that I did so, but the point is, neither of these individuals had any business going into Court without an attorney, or without even having consulted an attorney.

While these situations played out in the civil division of the Hillsborough County Court, I have encountered similar situations in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, especially in the context of Family Law cases.  I think in every domestic violence calendar (the hearings in which a Family Law Division Judge rules on entering or dismissing injunctions for the protection against domestic violence (commonly known as, “restraining orders”), that I have attended, at least one unrepresented respondent agreed to an injunction being entered against him.  Similarly, at least one unrepresented petitioner agreed to dismiss her attempt to get an injunction.  In those situations, no testimony is taken, the judge moves onto the next case, and I am not sure the individual parties know exactly what just happened.  And for those injunction cases in which one party has an attorney and the other does not?  There is clearly a mismatch, as the one without the attorney is required to follow the same procedural and evidentiary rules that govern the actual attorney.  As long as the lawyer is on his or her game, the pro se litigant will be kept from testifying to what someone else told him or her (hearsay) and kept from showing the judge what some law enforcement agency wrote about the incident (more hearsay).  From a professional standpoint, this makes for a very effective and satisfying presentation on the part of the attorney, and a very ineffective and even frustrating presentation on the part of the person representing himself or herself.  Why then, do pro se litigants go into that dark night so easily and willingly?

I am sure finances have much to do with it.  But given the number of attorneys out there, it is hard to believe a party cannot find an attorney whose fee requirements, or payment plan, can fit their budget.  And even if one cannot afford to have an attorney there beside them, at least they should consult with one beforehand, to get a better idea of their rights and how to handle the hearing.  I am willing to bet that almost every private and practicing attorney in a county, state or country, will sit down with a potential client, upon request, and advise them of their rights in the area of the attorney’s expertise.  Depending on the attorney and the attorney’s experience, it might cost a consultation fee, but the knowledge the person receives, will be well worth the value—both when walking in the courtroom, and when walking out.

Mark Hanks

Your Family Lawyer

Attorney Hanks, P.A.

www.attorneyhanks.com

Copyright 2014

 

 

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Divorce Attorney

(US family/divorce law & general tips) Most of us would agree that “things” have gone wrong long before you realize you must look for and pick a divorce attorney. Whatever is wrong with your marriage did not sneak up on you – it has been in the works for years. But you probably did not get much warning before the emergency alarm bells started to ring in your head. You may have discovered your spouse was cheating on you. Or one of you may have moved out of the marital home.  The most clear-cut emergency alarm bell may have taken the form of a process server appearing at your door.

Whatever the case, you fell into a situation where you had to pick a divorce attorney really fast.  That means you must make one of the most expensive, critical, and life-changing purchases in your entire life, and you must do it really fast. That is not the best of combinations to face. But if you follow this quick list you will find the decision a bit easier:

1.  You have 20 days to respond to the petition if you have been served. 

This timeline could vary in different states. Normally the time to respond is on the court summons.  What many people do not initially know is that a response can be put together and filed by an attorney in one day. Most responses are not a big deal. They usually consist of boilerplate provisions and are easy to bang out. So that means you have more time to pick an attorney than you think.  Don’t rush out and hire an attorney in one day. This is way too important a decision to make in a dire rush.

2. Do not call around for pricing and make a decision solely based on price.

There is an old saying: “statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.”  For this discussion we can modify that saying: “prices don’t lie, but liars use prices.” Understanding divorce attorney prices can be very difficult because most of the tactics regarding pricing will always be invisible. For example, you may find out the attorney that bills $100/hour is more expensive than the attorney with a billing rate of $300/hour. It all comes down to billing practices in that particular law office. One attorney might take four hours to draft your initial documents where another attorney takes one hour.  Another example is where attorneys quote their initial retainer. An unusually low retainer might be “burned up” in the first two weeks of the case.  A good attorney quotes a retainer that will cover a significant part of the case. That retainer should have some chance of covering your case through the end of mediation.  Most cases end shortly after mediation. So a realistic retainer should be designed to possibly reach that goal.

3. Carefully examine the appearance of the attorney’s office.

Not all attorneys have an office in Trump Towers. But any office should be reasonably neat and organized in appearance. Are there stacks of papers all over the office? Does the office equipment appear to be held together with duct tape? Does the attorney have personal pictures or other personal items in the office that show a long-term presence?   A disorganized office usually means a disorganized case.  Take the hint when the attorney’s office is a complete disaster.

4. Is your prospective attorney willing to give real answers to real questions in the first meeting?

A good attorney never uses mystery and fact spinning to get your business. They are proud to show off their expertise. Giving good answers to potential clients is a way of showing there is more expertise available in the same person. Try not to waste the attorney’s time – but you should have some expectation of good answers for your initial questions. Attorneys that do nothing but sell themselves are a red flag.

5. Did the attorney promise specific results?

If they did promise results, this is a big red flag.  Most state Bar associations prohibit promises of specific results. And the fact is that judges make decisions, not attorneys.  Besides, wouldn’t it be silly for the attorneys on both sides to promise completely opposite results? How could they ever both be right?  A good attorney will tell you the chances of success and then explain several possible scenarios based on your individual facts.

A good attorney will tell it like it is. Their pricing is transparent, ethical, and oriented toward the benefit of the client. They will show you their best in the initial interview and then continue to prove they are the correct pick by conducting an organized, cost-efficient case. Never make your decision on a moment’s notice. For a life-changing event, you must carefully choose who will best help you achieve your goals.  Make sure you follow these easy steps and you will soon be on your way to a new life and continued happiness.

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.

Your Other Last Resorts – Things To Try Before Trying Divorce

Getting a divorce is an incredibly serious decision and should be treated as such. This is a last resort that will tear apart your family, destroy your dreams for the future and put an end to what’s probably the most important relationship in your life.

Of course though sometimes divorce can seem like the only resort if you are constantly arguing and if you’re making each other unhappy rather than happier, or if you just don’t feel the love that you used to for that person anymore.

Often though there are other options even though it might not feel that way – you just have to be willing to try anything. Here we will look at some of the other things to try before you give up on your relationships once and for all.

Counselling

Marriage counselling is something that can seem abhorrent to many people who maybe see it as potentially awkward, forced or embarrassing, or who perhaps lack faith in the whole concept.

Even if you don’t love the sounds of it though, you should always give counselling ago, just so that you can say you’ve tried everything. You may be surprised at just how insightful some counsellors can be, but more to the point you’ll find it sends an important message to your partner that you don’t want to give up.

You may also find that individual counselling can help. While you probably don’t see your dispute as your fault, it does take two to tango and if you aren’t happy in your relationship then this is going to come across in the way you deal with one another. Consider getting counselling then in order to deal with any issues that may be manifesting themselves in your relationships.

Time Apart

Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. If you wait until your divorce has gone through to realise this though then it’s of course going to be a little too late. Instead then, try spending some time apart from one another before you reach that point and see how much you find yourself missing your partner. At the same time, spending time on your own can help you to work through your problems and to gain perspective. Sometimes we just need some ‘space’ and some time to think, and going away for a few days can help us to come back with a new game plan, a new sense of perspective and a better idea of what you want from your relationship and from your partner.

Talking Frankly

On other occasions though, this is something you’ll need to talk through together. If there are things each of you are unhappy with, then simply raising your concerns with one another can make you more likely to come to a conclusion. Try listing the things you are unhappy with for instance, and explaining why you feel the way you do. Too many of us avoid honest, frank discussion because we don’t want it to turn into an argument, and ironically this will often mean that when those issues finally do come to the surface, they end up being much more intense and degenerating into a full blown argument where both parties lose their cool.

If you try to ‘re-draw’ the terms of your relationship, you can change things that you’re both unhappy with, or just introduce new rules and ideas to try and make things easier. Perhaps for the sake of your children, agreeing to maintain a friendly relationship but sleep in different rooms could be a workable solution and this could eventually lead to a rekindling.

The Other Issues

Sometimes a marriage or a relationship can be doomed by circumstances outside of your control. For instance, if you are both very stressed by your careers, your living arrangements, or illnesses in the family, then this might mean that you end up arguing and feeling very tense when actually you could have been perfectly happy together.

If you suspect this might be the case, then see if changing your circumstances can help to make your relationship easier again. Perhaps you could move somewhere new, or maybe you could address your careers. This is of course a lengthy process though, so to find out more quickly if this is indeed the cause of your problems, try taking time off to go on holiday together and see if you can re-find your rhythm.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/dating/cartoon/5007/its-not-you-its-me-and-how-annoyed-i-am-by-you/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/sports/cartoon/1607/its-only-way-i-can-keep-his-attention/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/marriage/cartoon/4907/im-tired-of-fighting-but-by-all-means-you-go-on-ahead/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/sports/cartoon/3204/oh-come-on-how-many-big-games-can-there-be-in-weekend/

Beatrice Mackenzie is a regular blogger. She gives relationship tips and advice on her blog. She says choosing a divorce law firm can be a overwhelming task but with little patience and guidance anything is possible.

Significance of Divorce Lawyers in Complicated Divorce Cases

No couple is ever prepared or expects to go through a divorce, but it is an uncertain event and you better need to be prepared if it happens to you. Divorces are probably the most complicated cases and more sensitive than any other case. It is smart to take the help of appropriate legal firm if the case involves legal proceedings. But you must remember it is not easy to find a good, reliable and experienced lawyer, nevertheless it can be done with little effort put in that direction.

Before you go out searching for a divorce lawyer here are a few questions that I have tried to answer for you, as I think you must be having these thoughts in your mind.

How can a good divorce lawyer help?

First of all it is important for you to understand that if the case is complicated and legal proceedings are involved, it is necessary to hire a professional who has knowledge of legal proceedings. Many legal issues pop up during divorce and a lawyer can help you get through them smoothly. The financial issues and child custody problems are generally common in divorce cases and if you hire a wrong lawyer you may lose on both these fronts. But if you have hired a good lawyer, you can be certain to win the case and have the financial rights as well as rights over your children.

The next question you must be having is – It is inevitable to hire a divorce lawyer?

Well in answer to that, it is not necessary to hire a divorce lawyer if you and your partner are getting separated under a mature and mutual understanding. This means that you have come to an agreement on all the matters involved like fair distribution of property, assets and finances; including your rights on your children. It is very much possible to go through the divorce without any or very less complications in such cases, but on the other hand if you have your doubts about the property settlement or other issues with which you are not satisfied then it is better to hire a divorce lawyer as the divorce laws are complicated.

How to choose the right divorce lawyer?

Once you are convinced that you need a divorce lawyer for your case, you might wonder how to find a good divorce lawyer. You can start by searching for a good law firm. You can also ask for the references for a good lawyer from your colleagues, friends or relatives. There are many factors you need to consider when you are searching for the lawyer. First of all you need to know how experienced your lawyer is, then what is the way he charges fees and is that amount favorable to you, and in the end you also need to know the accessibility of the lawyer.

Conclusion:

Once you are satisfied that you have found the right lawyer for you, go ahead and hire him and keep faith in his abilities, he will get you through the divorce with least difficulty.

Divorce and the Holidays

(United States law) The holidays can be a joyous and loving time for millions of people across the world. Unfortunately, with nearly 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce, the holidays can also be a painful and even depressing time. If you and your former spouse have children together, your relationship doesn’t end once you sign the divorce papers. This is especially the case during the holiday season.

Depending on the nature of your divorce, this can be a very emotional and heated time between you and your former spouse. However, no matter how much you and your former spouse may argue and fight, it is important to put emotions aside and think of your children’s well being before your own.

This is by no means an easy task. Fortunately, there are a few helpful tips for divorced parents during the holidays. If you and your spouse are recently divorced or have been divorced for years, consider the following as you approach the holiday season and the New Year:

  • Do not prevent your child from seeing or having fun with his or her other parent
  • Spell out holiday custody arrangements in your custody agreement so you have your arrangement in writing
  • Work on letting go of your anger toward your former spouse
  • Try to keep as many traditions as possible following the divorce. Too much change right away can be difficult for your children to handle.
  • Do not treat the holidays as a competition with your former spouse. That doesn’t instill good habits with your children.
  • Know the details of where your child will be during the holidays and coordinate with your former spouse
  • Work on establishing traditions with your children so they have something to look forward to and remember for years to come
  • If you can, celebrate the holidays with your former spouse. If you two can stand to be together for just a few hours it can be very beneficial for your children.

Sharing custody of your children can be difficult, but with a little help and planning, you can get through the holiday season with as little stress and drama as possible.

Carlos is an avid legal blogger who is interested in raising awareness for the ways a divorce lawyer can help individuals come to fair terms with their former spouses.

How Do You Choose a Divorce Lawyer

Are you looking to legally separate from your spouse, and get a divorce? If you have decided to go through with the divorce procedure, it will be important for you to get in touch with a divorce lawyer as soon as possible. Many people question the necessity of hiring a lawyer when filing the divorce. If you are in such a dilemma, you must know that divorce is a complex legal procedure and it may be difficult for you to understand the legal complexities. Even when a couple is trying to reach an agreement regarding an informal separation, they may need the guidance of an experienced divorce lawyer. However, it is important to choose the lawyer wisely. If you do not know how to go about it and what factors to consider when choosing a lawyer, here are a few pointers for you:

Gather referrals: Gathering referrals is always the first step whenever you are trying to find a lawyer. There are different ways of collecting referrals. You can start by talking to your family and friends and relatives. They may have had similar experiences and may know of competent lawyers. They will also be able to tell you which lawyers to stay away from. You can also have a talk with any legal professional that you may have worked with in the past. Ask them if they deal with divorce cases as well. Even if they do not handle such cases, they may be able to tell you which lawyers are reputed in the field. The internet is also a good place where you can look for referrals. Various websites are there where you can find advice and guidance regarding different legal matters. These websites also provide you list of lawyers specializing in the area of the legal field that you are dealing with.

Appropriate experience and skills: It is important to choose a lawyer who has the proper credentials. The legal professional must also practice the area of the legal field where you need guidance. They must have the knowledge and skills that are required for handling these cases efficiently. For example, if you are looking for a lawyer to guide you through the legal process of getting divorced, you will have to consult a lawyer who practices and specializes in the area of family law. Hiring a personal injury lawyer for handling a divorce case may not be appropriate and you may not get the expected results. The lawyer must also have significant court room experience. Not all lawyers have that, which is why you must make sure that the lawyer you choose has the competence and the experience.

If you are looking to get a divorce lawyer in Miami you can follow the above guidelines. Whenever you are thinking of hiring a lawyer, it is important for you to do proper research. It is a must that you interview the legal professionals you have shortlisted. The interview will let you know whether they are the right one for you or not.

What makes a top divorce lawyer?

Vardags Solicitors are a Top Divorce Lawyer  based in Central London that specialise in complex and substantial cases

Lawyers who specialise in divorce require skills and knowledge that are not often associated with commercial lawyers. Whilst skills such as communication, working as a team or working to deadlines are needed by any legal specialist, a lawyer dealing with relationship dissolution needs more than these attributes to cope with the challenging situations that may arise.

Understanding the complexities of adult relationships is key. A top lawyer must be capable of dealing with clients undergoing such emotional upheaval with dignity and respect. This will include being capable of appreciating significant factors in the divorce outside monetary issues, namely children who would be adversely affected by a drawn out adversarial litigation.

A divorce lawyer must accept that there are two halves to any divorce proceedings, and the desires of each party will likely conflict. Compromise will be necessary and that needs to be communicated to the client, whose vulnerable position may cloud their view of the situation. Many clients will come seeking to withhold everything from their former partner, motivated by spite or fear of losing what their earnings. The client needs to be reassured that they will be protected, and with competent legal professionals, each party should be left content. Total reluctance to negotiate with the other party will only lead to negative effects to any children involved, who have been shown to suffer as a result of the uncertainty and upheaval involved in divorce proceedings.

Expert knowledge of Family Law is an obvious requirement. The lawyer needs to be able to advise their clients about the existence of the “clean break” principle, the precedents set by cases such as White v White and other relevant case law, s.25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and other legal principles which would affect the clients position in the event that the issue should come before a judge. Even before this, the top divorce lawyer will need to be able to convey the availability of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or collaborative law, especially with the weight given to the ADR process by the government, the courts and organisations such as Resolution. Aside from being the cheaper option, ADR is often considered the more holistic method of dealing with a divorce, with financial, housing and custody issues being looked at as one complete issue.

It is important that the client has faith in their lawyer to do the best they can, to protect their interests and to provide the best legal advice. To ensure this the lawyer must show a determined and professional demeanour throughout the process.

The main issue to be dealt with by a lawyer dealing with divorce is turning a sensitive situation into something that the client is happy with and as a result the client will be able to move forward and build a better future. If a lawyer can do this, then they would be considered a top divorce lawyer.

My Spouse and I are looking to separate, however we do not wish to go through with the whole divorce procedure just yet, is there another way we can separate without going through this?

In Divorce Law the term divorce means that a marriage has been irretrievably broken down. It may be that in your situation this is not the case and you are not looking for a final decision but rather an agreement not to carry out your marital obligations or to benefit from your marriage in any way until you make a decision whether to officially divorce or not.

If this is the case you should write a separation agreement. A separation agreement is not a divorce; it is merely an order of court which dissolves the obligations or benefits brought on by a marriage. In such cases you and your spouse will agree beforehand about any financial agreements, the children and the planned divorce. This agreement is binding on you and your spouse until the divorce commences during which time the courts will make an order confirming the terms of the separation agreement.

If you are seeking to carry out a separation agreement, it is advisable that both you and your spouse employ the services if a divorce lawyer or family solicitor before agreeing to any of the terms you intend to set out in the agreement. The separation agreement identifies the parties to the agreement and confirms that both you and your spouse have received legal advice on the matter. Both parties will then agree in the separation agreement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that they are planning their divorce.

It is prudent at this stage to get legal advice on your division of your matrimonial assets, such as your finances and child support. This will make it easier for you to carry out an uncontested divorce when you wish to go through with the procedure. It should be noted however that a court may change your separation agreement if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, if it is not in the child’s best interests.

For further legal advice on divorce and separation agreements, you are advised to speak to a divorce solicitor or family law solicitor. They can answer your questions and help you to get through this difficult time.