Starting Your Family Law Attorney Court Action Pro

Family Lawyers

Some of the most emotional and complex matters that you can face involve your family relationships. These can evolve over time as spouses find that they have grown apart, or the needs of children change. Often, spouses or parents can reach an agreement on these issues outside court, or perhaps through a non-adversarial process such as mediation. If they cannot find common ground, however, the courts may need to get involved. Whether you are seeking to assert your rights or explore your options, it is important to understand the laws that govern these situations.

Divorce

To file for a divorce, a spouse usually needs to meet the residency requirements in the state and county where they live. They also need to establish the grounds for the divorce. Many states offer a no-fault divorce, which means that the grounds can be as simple as irreconcilable differences. This means that the marriage has broken down and cannot be repaired. If you live in a state that does not permit a no-fault divorce, you will need to prove the fault of your spouse for the divorce. Some common fault grounds for divorce include adultery, desertion, and cruelty. Even if you choose a no-fault divorce, some states will allow a family court judge to consider the fault of a spouse in matters related to the divorce, such as property division.

A divorce can be contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce occurs when the spouses agree on all of the major issues of the divorce. They can submit their agreement to the judge, and it will become the final judgment in their divorce case if the judge approves it, which is likely. If the spouses disagree on one or more major issues, the divorce will be contested. This may require litigating those issues in court. Contested divorces tend to be much more protracted and more expensive than uncontested divorces, but sometimes they are unavoidable. Read more here about the divorce process.

Child Custody

If a couple has minor children, child custody is usually an important issue in their divorce. Custody traditionally has consisted of two components: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody involves the amount of time that the child lives with each parent, while legal custody involves the authority of each parent to make major decisions affecting the child’s upbringing. These might include the medical care that the child receives, their choice of school and extracurricular activities, and which religion (if any) they practice. Judges usually prefer to award joint custody so that each parent continues to play a role in a child’s life, but sole custody may be appropriate in some situations, such as when a parent has engaged in domestic violence or substance abuse.

The central concern in a child custody matter is the best interests of the child. A judge has substantial discretion to weigh a broad range of factors. Sometimes a child’s needs will change over time, or the situation of a parent may change. For example, they may need to relocate if they change jobs or are assigned to a different region. A parent can go back to court to seek a modification of a child custody order based on a substantial change in circumstances. The judge again would focus on the best interests of the child in making the modification. Read more here about child custody

Family Law

Child Support

The general rule is that each parent has an obligation to support a child. This obligation usually extends until the child becomes an adult, but it can extend further in some cases if the child has special needs or has not graduated from high school. Usually, the parent who spends less time living with the child will pay child support to the parent who spends more time with the child. Most states have child support guidelines that provide formulas for typical situations, but a judge usually has the authority to deviate from these guidelines in unusual circumstances.

Similar to child custody, child support can be modified if a parent can show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. For example, support might be increased if a child develops a medical condition that requires expensive treatment. Or it might be decreased if the parent making payments loses their job. (However, income will be imputed to each parent in accordance with their earning capacity, so voluntary unemployment is not a way to avoid paying support.) Read more here about child support.

Spousal Support (Alimony)

While spousal support is less common than it used to be, it still may be ordered in certain situations after a divorce. Spousal support often is appropriate if the spouses have dramatically different income potential, and the marriage was relatively long, such that the lower-earning spouse became reliant on the higher-earning spouse and accustomed to a higher standard of living. These payments are not meant to be punitive but simply to provide the lower-earning spouse with the support that they need. Alimony is generally not permanent unless the lower-earning spouse is elderly or disabled, such that they will never be able to support themselves.

Spousal support can be terminated when the recipient spouse remarries or cohabits with a partner, as defined under state law. It also can be terminated in many states if the recipient spouse becomes self-supporting or if the recipient spouse fails to make good-faith efforts to become self-supporting. The spouse making payments may be able to petition to reduce or terminate alimony if their financial situation declines to the point that they can no longer pay. Read more here about spousal support.

Property Division

The first step in property division consists of determining which assets are marital property and which assets are separate property. Only marital property is subject to division upon a divorce. It consists of most assets that were acquired during the marriage, except for gifts and inheritances that one spouse received. Determining the character of an asset can be complicated if marital property was commingled with separate property, or if the value of separate property increased during the marriage. If the couple ran a business or accumulated intangible assets, such as intellectual property, appraisers and accountants may be needed to estimate their value. Sometimes a pre-marital or post-marital agreement will control property division, as long as the agreement is valid.

Divorce Lawyers

Adoption

There are many ways to bring a non-biological child into your life and build a lasting relationship with them. Adoption involves assuming the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent toward a child. It may involve terminating the existing rights of the biological parent, or the biological parent may already have consented to terminate their rights. Adoptions often arise in the context of stepparents adopting stepchildren. Some states offer a streamlined process for this type of adoption. Foster parents also sometimes choose to adopt foster children with whom they have developed a bond.

If you are not adopting a stepchild or a foster child, you will want to decide whether to pursue an independent adoption or an agency adoption. Some people even adopt children from other parts of the world, although this tends to be more expensive and complicated. If you want to adopt a child with certain traits or characteristics, you may face a long wait to adopt. Adoptive parents who are more flexible may be able to adopt a child sooner. Read more here about the adoption process

It is a reality of modern life that not every marriage lasts forever. The divorce rate has been steadily rising throughout the United States for decades. If you are considering ending your marriage, you should learn something about the process in advance.

You may file for divorce only in a state where you are a resident. Almost all states require a certain period of residency before a person can file for divorce there. This period can extend for six months or a year. If you know that your spouse is planning to file for divorce in another state, you may want to file first in the state where you live to avoid the expense of traveling for divorce proceedings.

Changes to related agreements involving alimony, child custody, or child support must be made in the state where the divorce was granted. All states will recognize a divorce properly granted in any other state, but is not required to do so if the original state did not have jurisdiction over the couple.

Family Court proceedings: where can I get advice and support?

Do I need a lawyer (solicitor or barrister)?

Legal advice and assistance from a qualified lawyer is usually helpful and recommended however you are not required to obtain legal advice.  You can make the application and attend court yourself without legal representation.  People who are involved in court proceedings without lawyers are known as litigants in person

What is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?

A solicitor is usually the first point of contact if you have a legal problem. Sometimes solicitors refer work to a barrister for specialist advice or to appear in court to represent you. It is also possible for solicitors to represent you in court.

How can I find a solicitor or barrister?

See Useful contacts at the end of this guide for details of organisations which can help you find a solicitor or barrister.

How much do lawyers cost?

You may be able to obtain legal aid to cover their legal costs and lawyers’ fees.  To find out further information see A guide to family law legal aid. If you have to pay for your legal costs then you will need to make enquiries directly with the lawyer as their charges vary.  Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for the time they spend on the case.

What if I am not eligible for legal aid and I cannot afford to pay a lawyer?

If you cannot access legal aid and you cannot afford solicitor fees you may be able to obtain some free advice from:

Our family law advice lines. We provide telephone advice for women on all aspects of family law.

There may be other advice lines that can provide advice on your specific issues. Some of these are listed in the Useful contacts section at the end of this guide.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau. The Citizens Advice Bureau provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on a range of issues.

Your local Law Centre. There are Law Centres across England and Wales providing advice, casework and representation.

The Bar Pro Bono Unit. The Bar Pro Bono Unit is a charity which helps to find free legal assistance from volunteer barristers once your case is in court. You will need to be referred to them by another organisation.

Does Your Child Need a Lawyer?

In some divorce and custody cases, the court will appoint a lawyer for the child. This happens when

the court thinks your child needs a lawyer, or

you ask for a lawyer for your child and the court agrees

Should I ask for a lawyer for my child?

If you and the other parent agree on custody and visitation, your child probably does not need a lawyer. But you may want to ask for a lawyer for your child if

you and the other parent disagree about custody or visitation;

you are worried about your child’s safety (if there is substance abuse, child abuse, or domestic violence); or

there is a question about paternity.

What if I ask the court to give my child a lawyer but the court does not agree?

You have the right to ask for a lawyer for your child, but the court does not have to appoint one. If this happens in your case, you may want to request a referral to the Court Support Services Division (CSSD) for other services. You can ask someone in the Court Service Center (located in most courthouses) how to request a referral to CCSD. Note: CSSD may also be called Family Relations or Family Services.

How could Family Services help us?

Family Services has many different services that might be helpful to you. Family Relations Counselors are available when you go to court to help you and your child’s other parent make agreements. They can also provide evaluation services. An evaluation consists of meeting with parents, consulting with people who are involved with the family, and sometimes meeting with the child. The counselor will gather information and make a recommendation to the court. In most cases, the counselor will hold a settlement conference and give recommendations with the goal of reaching an agreement prior to trial.

What if I do not agree with Family Services’ recommendations?

You do not have to accept Family Services’ recommendations. You have a right to present your case in court and let the judge decide. There is no guarantee that the judge will agree with you, and you must obey the judge’s decision even if you don’t agree with it.

A Guide To Car Accident Lawyers

Why You Should Avoid Settlement Mills

“Settlement Mill” law firms are like the lost cost superstore of the legal industry. Most are viewed negatively in the legal profession. Settlement Mills are a firm that processes and settles as many cases as possible every month. In their words you will be “processed”. Extended trial fights for additional settlement funds and client needs are avoided. Huge marketing budgets and closing goals need to be met putting pressure on these organizations to cut corners. Fast settlements are prioritized over maximized settlement amounts the client’s case details may justify.

Auto Injury Settlement Mill Formula:

Higher Volume of Cases Closed + More Advertising = Profit at the Expense of Client

By consulting with a real law firm, you receive personalized service.

Legitimate attorneys will honestly investigate and inform you of your best legal options.

Concern for you as a client SHOULD be above “processing” your cases.

Auto Injury Legitimate Law Firm Formula:

Referred Clients + Honest Consultations = Higher Settlement for Client & Law Firm

Before making a quick decision, you should receive at least one traditional consultation.

If the firm you consult with is overbooked or unable to help they will refer you another capable attorney. Referrals happen frequently because of the growing number of injured drivers and passengers on today’s fast pace roadways.

What to Look For When Hiring a Car Accident Attorney

Auto accident attorneys cover a range of issues stemming from personal injury, wrongful death, property destruction, and liability determinations. When looking for a lawyer, you should concentrate on their experience, skill level, commitment, location, and fee structure.

For example, your attorney should be well versed in state and national transportation laws, know how to deal with insurance and health care companies, and know how to effectively prepare and settle a case. Also, it’s important that you check the attorney’s background, references, and track record.

Lastly, a good lawyer will typically accept your case on a contingency or “no win-no fee” basis if the attorney feels your case has any merit, so it’s important to check the attorney’s standard fee structure.

Meeting with a lawyer for the first time

Here are some tips for when you sit down with a lawyer. Remember, initial personal injury consultations are normally free of charge and could take anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the complexities of your case.

The cost and time can change from industry to industry (employment law is different from personal injury law, which is different from traffic law, which is different from patent law), so always make sure to ask. If you’re looking for a lawyer after an accident, you’ll notice that many law firm websites say “free consultation”, which is the norm for personal injury lawyers.

Know your narrative

One of the things your potential attorney will be assessing when you’re sitting together is whether you have a case and whether you will make a good witness, should your case proceed to trial. They are assessing you as much as you are assessing them – you both want to make sure you are a good fit, somewhat like in a job interview.

The attorney will be looking to determine: Do you seem genuine? Do you stumble over the facts of your story, or do you know them inside and out? Are you constantly referring to your notes, or do you know the dates of when everything happened? Are you complaining of pain but presenting as perfectly fine?

These are basic items that an attorney will assess because your credibility as a witness can be essential to a case. Additionally, if you don’t know the thread to your own timeline, that is a bad sign.

Be honest

Your attorney can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

Many people try to make themselves look better than they were in a situation (“Oh, I was driving 40 miles per hour,” when it was actually 75 miles per hour, or “Yes, I was perfectly attentive,” when you were really applying mascara while running a stop sign).

What kind of settlement should I expect from a car accident?

One guideline for determining a settlement is that the total will be about three times the cost of your medical bills. However, a variety of factors go into deciding the average settlement for a car accident.

A judge will take into account the type of injury, treatment plan, length of therapy, loss of income and severity of the wreck. In most cases, a settlement is only offered when the medical treatment has been completed. Permanent injuries will influence the amount of compensation that you receive.

If you’re working with an insurance company after a car wreck, let them know if you’re still going through medical treatment so that you don’t settle for less than you deserve.

Can You Collect Additional Damages?

Although auto accident settlements do not often exceed the policy limits, suing beyond policy limits is possible. However, you will likely have to look to other sources to obtain more compensation. 

Here are a few ways to collect extra damages if your claim exceeds your policy limits.

Umbrella Policy

If the defendant has an umbrella policy, you may be able to collect extra damages from that policy. Umbrella policies kick in after other policies have paid out their maximums.

Corporate defendants, such as trucking companies, are more likely to have umbrella policies than individuals. However, it is important to discover what kind of coverage the defendant has. That way, you can draw from as many resources as possible to ensure you are compensated fairly.

Multiple Defendants

If more than one person can be held responsible for the accident, you may be able to recover under multiple insurance policies. For example, if you were hit by a delivery truck, both the driver and the trucking company may be liable.

If each has a $50,000 bodily injury policy limit, you could potentially recover up to $100,000 between the two insurance companies if your injuries demand such a payout.

Personal Judgment Against the Defendant

Remember, the person who is ultimately responsible for the accident is the defendant. The insurance company pays damages only because they have a contract with the defendant to do so.

If your damages are greater than the defendant’s insurance policy limits, you may be entitled to a judgment for more than the policy limits. You could potentially recover the remaining judgment by garnishing the defendant’s wages or putting a lien on their property.

Bad Faith

An insurance company may act in bad faith if it denies a claim even though it knows that the claim should be approved. If the insurance company refuses to enter into a reasonable settlement that is less than the policy limits, a jury could award damages greater than the limits.

Why You Need A Divorce Lawyer

Steps To Choosing The Right Divorce Lawyer

Make your choice.

The divorce attorney you choose to represent you is local, professional, knowledgeable, responsive and communicates well. This attorney is someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This attorney supports your basic philosophy toward divorce and has a style that works for you. This attorney recognizes the importance of your children and puts them first in the legal process by not making unreasonable child support demands or custody arrangements. This attorney is affordable. Divorce is a highly personal and emotional process, the outcome of which can have a significant impact on your life. This is an important decision, and there are no guarantees in this process. However, if you follow these steps, you’ll find the right one — the one who listens to what you want, advises you well and has your best interest at heart.

Look for red flags.

Unfortunately, many attorneys will tell you what you want to hear just to close the deal. While this is your life, it’s a business for them. There are no guarantees in this process, so if an attorney is making promises, don’t believe it. If an attorney talks about high-profile clients or divulges confidential information based on other cases, it’s highly likely they’ll do the same to you. If they aren’t respectful of other divorce attorneys you’re interviewing, it’s a sign that they won’t be to you either. And if during your consult, they’re constantly distracted by phone calls and emails and can’t focus their sole attention on you, they likely won’t during your divorce case. Make sure the lawyer you choose acts according to the professional ethics of the industry and treats you with the respect and attention you deserve. This might be their business, but it’s your life.

Interview and research potential attorneys.

Start with an initial phone call. Ask them about their experience and specialization within family law. Ask them about what type of client they typically represent. Ask them about their rates. Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly fee and require a retainer — a fee charged in advance. Some lawyers will also negotiate fees based on anticipated settlements. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) on a meeting if they’re out of your cost range. Most divorce attorneys provide a free consult to discuss your specific situation and what their legal approach would be. So take advantage of it to gather as much legal advice as possible! Typically, the attorney you meet with will not be handling the day-to-day issues related to your case, so ask to meet the colleague or associate that would. The divorce process can also include financial experts, parenting coordinators, coach facilitators, and forensic appraisers. Find out your attorney’s access to these resources and if any would be relevant to your case, as it will affect overall cost. And even if you have no intention of heading to trial, look at the attorney’s trial record and history of success in court. This track record is an indicator of your attorney’s success in negotiation.

Choosing a Divorce Lawyer

Your Initial Interview with When Choosing a Divorce Lawyer

The outcome of your divorce proceedings will change the course of your life forever, so invest the time and money to find the lawyer who will do the best job for you. Interview two or three lawyers before deciding who’ll represent you. Remember: it’s your responsibility to retain a lawyer who’s not only good at his or her job, but one whose personality and outlook are compatible with yours.

Family Law Firms: Does Size Matter?

You also need to decide whether you’d like to be represented by a sole practitioner or a full-service law firm. Your choice will be partially dictated by your spouse’s choice: if the divorce is relatively easy and friendly, you can probably agree on what kind of representation you need. If the divorce is very bitter; if there are children, money, or large assets at stake; or if your spouse is just plain “out to get you”, consider hiring a “top gun” – whether that be a well-respected individual or a team of lawyers at a prestigious law firm.

Choose a Divorce Lawyer Well-Versed in your Unique Issues

In each divorce, different issues come up that require special attention, so it is best to find a lawyer who concentrates on the specific issues that may arise in your divorce. Here are some examples.

Choosing a Divorce Attorney

Appropriate skills and experience

An old adage states, “There are horses for courses.” This saying is as true for an attorney as for any other professional. In other words, when you select a family law attorney, you want one with the legal skills and knowledge needed to get the job done for you.

Personal style

If you are relying on an attorney to do more than simply review your divorce paperwork, you must be prepared to share details about your personal life, marriage, and finances. Therefore, you must feel comfortable with whoever represents you.

Affordability

If you don’t have much money to spend on legal help, you may have to hire a relatively inexperienced lawyer instead of a seasoned professional. New attorneys tend to cost less than lawyers who have been practicing law for years and already have solid reputations. However, working with an up-and-coming or novice attorney has a potential advantage. In order to build up a good reputation, the attorney may be willing to work a little harder for you than a seasoned lawyer would.

How to Choose the Right Divorce Lawyer

Decide whether you need an attorney. You may not even need to hire a lawyer for your divorce. Most divorces, especially if there are no children involved and neither party contests anything, don’t require an adversarial legal process.

Give yourself (and your spouse) time. Reduce the fear and the perception of the need to “legal up.” Try to mutually agree not to take any steps that will materially affect either of your financial situations without giving each other notice and reasonable time to respond.

Create a list of local divorce attorneys. When creating your list, include the attorney’s name, address, phone number, and website address. You can find nearby divorce attorneys by:

Finding “The One”: How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer

Start by making a list of what you are looking for in a divorce attorney. There are four aspects to consider:

  • First, the issues at play in your divorce. For instance: Do you have kids? You’ll need someone skilled at custody and child support issues. Own a business with your spouse? Tap someone who has experience with business valuation. If gaslighting, violence or intimidation were at play in your split, you absolutely need someone with experience in domestic violence. Jot down everything specific to your case.
  • Second, you want to consider the type of working relationship you want to have with your attorney. Yes, most lawyers will do what’s necessary to handle your case, but the process will go much more smoothly if you select someone who is willing to develop a relationship with you based on how you’d like to interact with them. For instance, do you want a lawyer who will run the case and consult you as needed, or do you desire more involvement?
  • Third, you need to consider what specifically you want the attorney to do for you. Are you anticipating things going relatively smoothly, and just need some guidance as you file paperwork? Are you interested in meditation or another type of dispute resolution, or are you anticipating full-out litigation?
  • Finally, consider costs. Is hiring an attorney going to be a major financial hurdle, or is money of little concern? Knowing your resources going into an initial consultation will help you hone in on an attorney right for you.