Friday, March 23, 2012

Collaborative Family Law

Collaborative Family Law

Top Ten Ways To Save Money in Your Divorce

Top Ten Ways To Save Money in Your Divorce

 Top Ten Tips
Here's the inside scoop on how to save on legal fees in a divorce.
By Linda C. Senn
When it becomes clear that your marriage is over, and no amount of pretense or counseling can fix what is broken, you'll need to line up an attorney to represent you in the divorce process. At this extremely vulnerable time, you'll be placing your life and your future in your attorney's hands, and you'll add one more worry to your ample list of stresses -- the high cost of divorce!
Attorneys usually charge an hourly rate calculated in 15-minute increments -- even if the service takes only a minute or two of his time. That "quick little call" you make to your lawyer could cost you from $50 up. If you succumb to the temptation to call every day, your monthly charge just for phone calls can run well over $1,000. If the process drags on for a year, you'll pay $12,000 and up just for those brief daily calls!
Here are ten simple steps for saving big bucks over the course of separation and divorce; some of the tips are general and can be applied to other legal situations as well.
  1. Saving money on legal fees starts before you have your first attorney interview. Round up all the personal referrals you can from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors who were happy with their own divorce lawyers. Ask if the client's calls were returned in a timely manner, or if sustained nagging was required to get a call-back. The bill should run far less for a focused, efficient attorney than it would for a disorganized one. Did that attorney stall or delay the process? Did she favor lengthy debates between opposing attorneys? Was her billing accurate, detailed, and free from "fluff?" These factors can have a major effect on the final cost.
  2. During your initial telephone interview with the attorney, ask what he charges and how it's calculated. Is it a flat hourly fee charged in 15-minute increments, or is it figured by some other method? Ask if he requires an initial retainer, and if so, how much for your situation. Complex divorces often call for a more substantial amount.  Tell him that you want to keep the costs to a reasonable minimum and ask if he'll help you to do so.
  3. Don't discuss the weather, the baseball playoffs, or your mother's petunias: chit chat is expensive. Even though she's holding your future in her hands, and there's a natural inclination to talk to your attorney as a friend, socializing can become expensive. Allow a brief time to reconnect either in person or over the phone, then get on with business.  By the same token, if you have a gabby attorney, learn how to gently but firmly bring her back to the business at hand.
  4. Although you may find a genuinely sympathetic attorney, don't use him as a counselor. Go to a licensed therapist. An experienced mental health professional will be more effective, will cost less per hour, and will help you deal with the emotional peaks and pits that continually throw you off balance.  In addition to that, you'll have developed a relationship with a therapist who can guide you through the rocky recovery period after the divorce is granted.
  5. Don't ask for special paperwork. Whenever possible, run your own copies, take notes when you talk to your attorney on the phone (so you don't have to call him later to double-check on the conversation), and look up any phone numbers and addresses he may need in working up your case.
  6. Don't complain about your soon-to-be-ex unless it directly applies to the current procedure. This is so very tempting during divorce (and subsequent custody and/or maintenance hearings)! You feel compelled to point out how moronic and venal your soon-to-be-ex is, and by implication, how much better a human being you are. Resist the urge. It's both pointless and expensive.
  7. If you invite your attorney to lunch (or vice-versa), find out first if it will be "on the clock." There may be times when a luncheon meeting is most convenient for both of you -- just be sure you know the ground rules going in.  If you'll be discussing business, have a pen and paper with you so the lunchtime information doesn't disappear with the last cup of coffee. Be especially vigilant about idle chatter if you're paying attorney's fees for the privilege.
  8. Ask for specific ways you can save on lawyer hours, such as doing your own research, filling out forms, or mailing notices. You just might be able to shave a few hundred dollars off the final tab by doing some of the routine clerical work yourself. In a long, drawn-out divorce, ask the lawyer periodically if there are any other aspects you can take care of yourself to save money.
  9. Consider hiring a skilled mediator to help you and your spouse arrive at mutually agreeable solutions to your financial and custody disagreements. Mediators are specifically trained to help you resolve your problems together, and the cost will probably be less that you'd pay for the opposing attorneys to argue with each other. (You'll still need to retain your own lawyer to check any agreement before you sign it, however.)  Mediators also allow you to employ cooperation and compromise in arriving at a settlement agreement, which leaves far less emotional scarring than the adversarial attorney-to-attorney method.
  10. Do your own Discovery. Discovery is basically pretrial disclosure of pertinent facts and documents, including financial figures, by one or both parties in a divorce or other legal process. It can involve a fair amount of sleuthing time, so you'll be money ahead if you ferret out the hard-to-find information (like hidden assets), rather than relying on your attorney to do it all.
One last word about maintaining control of your legal expenses: request itemized monthly bills from your attorney. Knowing just how your legal dollars are being spent can be the most effective aid in helping you keep them to a reasonable minimum!

Linda C. Senn is author of Your Pocket Divorce Guide and co-author with Mary Stuart, M.A. of The Divorce Recovery Journal.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Streamlined Procedure For Uncontested Divorces

In most localities in Hampton Roads, there is a requirement that one of the parties in a divorce and the corroborating witness personally appear before the court to testify in order for a Final Decree of Divorce to be entered. Governor McDonnell just signed a bill which would permit uncontested divorces to be granted upon affidavits, with no personal appearance required. This procedure will save thousands of hours of wasted court time for the parties and the judges.

The new statutory procedure statewide will be:
However, a party may proceed to take evidence in support of a divorce by deposition or affidavit without leave of court only in support of a divorce on the grounds set forth in subdivision A (9) of § 20-91, where (i) the parties have resolved all issues by a written settlement agreement, (ii) there are no issues other than the grounds of the divorce itself to be adjudicated, or (iii) the adverse party has been personally served with the complaint and has failed to file a responsive pleading or to make an appearance as required by law.
B. The affidavit of a party submitted as evidence shall be based on the personal knowledge of the affiant, contain only facts that would be admissible in court, give factual support to the allegations in the complaint or counterclaim, and establish that the affiant is competent to testify to the contents of the affidavit. The affidavit shall:
1. Affirm the allegations in the complaint or counterclaim, including that the parties are over the age of 18 and not suffering from any condition that renders either party legally incompetent;
2. Affirm that neither party is incarcerated;
3. Verify the military status of the opposing party and advise whether the opposing party has filed an answer or a waiver of his rights under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C. App § 501 et seq.);
4. Affirm that at least one party to the suit is, and has been for a period in excess of six months, a bona fide resident and domiciliary of the Commonwealth;
5. Affirm that the parties have lived separate and apart, continuously, without interruption and without cohabitation, and with the intent to remain separate and apart permanently, for the statutory period required by subdivision A (9) of § 20-91;
6. Affirm the affiant's desire to be awarded a divorce pursuant to subdivision A (9) of § 20-91;
7. State whether there were children born or adopted of the marriage and affirm that the wife is not known to be pregnant from the marriage; and
8. Be accompanied by the affidavit of a corroborating witness, which shall:
a. Verify that the affiant is over the age of 18 and not suffering from any condition that renders him legally incompetent;
b. Verify that neither party is incarcerated;
c. Verify the allegations in the complaint or counterclaim;
d. Verify that at least one of the parties to the suit is, and has been for a period in excess of six months, a bona fide resident and domiciliary of the Commonwealth;
e. Verify whether there were children born or adopted of the marriage and verify that the wife is not known to be pregnant from the marriage; and
f. Verify the affiant's personal knowledge that the parties have not cohabitated since the date of separation alleged in the complaint or counterclaim, and that it has been the moving party's intention since that date to remain separate and apart permanently.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Court "Appearance"

"Appearance is everything."

There is a great deal of truth to that statement, especially when it comes to going to court. The judge who is hearing your case will not know you and in all likelihood, has never seen you before. He will make decisions and judgments about you based on a very short period of contact.  Because of this, your overall demeanor and appearance can have a great impact.

This may require that you "act" like you are calm and collected when in fact, you are a nervous wreck. This also may require you to ignore taunts from the other party or their counsel and to refuse to fall into the trap of getting angry or aggressive in response. Don't argue with the attorney, the court or anyone else. And only speak when it is your turn! Blurting out reactions or comments just makes the judge mad. Expect to hear things you disagreed with and that you will be able to dispute when you testify.

You should be respectful and courteous to everyone, even your own lawyer-but most especially to the judge. There should be no arguments in the courtroom hallways. Word of this often gets back to the judge.

You also should appear to be, and actually be, prepared for court. Bring ALL of your information to court with you. You may not need it, but if you do, it is there. Keep your papers neatly organized. I give clients a folder to use, but you may need more storage space. Be certain that your lawyer has all of the information in advance.

You also need to plan to arrive at court EARLY just to make sure that you are not late and so that you can discuss last minute details with your lawyer. Tell your witnesses to do the same.

Do not bring "dates" to court, especially in family law matters. If you need moral support, bring a relative or friend.

Most local courts will not permit you to bring cellphones in. To be on the safe side, leave it in the car, and tell your witnesses to do the same.

Dress in an appropriate manner. Never wear shorts or t-shirts. Avoid jeans. Dress conservatively. Many judges are old men. They do not appreciate trendy styles. Avoid glitzy jewelry. Men should wear dress shirts and dress pants, if possible. No cleavage or extra short skirts for women.

You need to be clean, shaved and well-groomed. No extra cologne or other distractions (for example, if the nose ring can come out, take it out). If you need a haircut, get one before court.

Do not bring children to court unless they are under subpoena and are required to be there. Find a babysitter. Judges hate babies in court.

Even if you look like you are a winner and deserving of confidence, you are not guaranteed to win, but you will not lose because of factors that are completely within your control!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Divorce Mediation Checklist

The following issues are often discussed in a mediation involving  separation or divorce. Please bring any relevant information with you to the mediation to help with  making an informed decision (information regarding bills, debts, value of assets, retirement plans, insurance, etc.).
Parenting Arrangements:

1. Legal Custody (who makes major decisions about the children regarding education, religion, and major healthcare issues)
2. Physical Custody (the times the children will spend with each parent)
  • Weekdays
  • Weekends
  • Childcare plans
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Summers
  • Extended vacation times
  • Travel plans
  • Temporary changes to plan
3. Communication (telephone, email)
  • Between parents
  • Between parents and children
4. Spousal Support and Expenses:
  • Spousal Support: amount; method; time
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Pension plans
  • Educational expenses
  • Housing expenses
  • Legal expenses
5. Child Support and Expenses:
  • Child support: amount; method; time (Virginia Child Support Guidelines)
  • Health insurance
  • Medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Childcare expenses
  • Tax deductions
  • Life insurance beneficiaries
  • School/college expenses
  • Expenses for extras: activities, birthday parties, lessons,  non-essential items
6. Equitable Distribution of Property:
  • Determine value of assets and liabilities
  • House/property
  • Property expenses (mortgage, utilities, taxes)
  • Household furnishings
  • Motor vehicles (payments, insurance, expenses)
  • Savings/checking accounts
  • Investments/stocks
  • Credit card and other consumer debt
  • Personal debt
  • Insurance (cash value)
  • Tax refunds or payments due
  • Bankruptcy
  • Business
7. Other
  • Moving
  • Communication
  • Legal expenses
  • Resolving future disputes