Free Consultation and Questions
Our office provides a free initial consultation either in person or over the phone. You will provide us with the details of your particular case, and we will provide a "first blush" overview of probable outcomes and recommended strategies. We will also provide you with estimated costs, etc., and can in some instances provide you with a relatively accurate computer printout of possible support amounts.
1. The most frequently asked question is "How much will it cost?"
Our firm is paid an initial retainer and we bill against the retainer at our hourly rate until the retainer is exhausted. Our current hourly rate is $300, but is subject to change. It will not change during the pendency of your matter. The costs, i.e., filing fees, court reporter fees, etc., are also deducted from the retainer as we pay them out. Once the retainer is exhausted, we contact the client and determine if more funds are payable. Our firm’s policy is to avoid receivables. Simply put, we are paid in advance.
The initial retainer varies depending upon the complexity of the case and the value of the community estate. We generally charge an initial retainer $2,000 for modification of a court order and $3,500 for a divorce. Both these amounts can be far lower or higher depending on the circumstances.
2. How can I pay?
We accept cash, check, money order or credit card.
3. How long will it take?
A divorce has two features, marital status, meaning you are now free to remarry, and a division of the estate including orders for custody, visitation and support.
Marital status cannot be terminated until six months after the opposing party was served with the divorce paperwork. A common misconception is the date is automatic. It is not automatic and you must ask the court for permission to become single. There are often "indemnifications" you must provide to the other party the other issues, division of property etc., have not been resolved, if you want to be single.
The remaining part of the case can be settled as quickly after the case has been filed as the parties agree. The settlement must be in writing, and the parties must have exchanged "Declarations of Disclosure" before the settlement agreement is signed. If no agreement has been reached and the case has to be tried in court, there is no set time limit. It is contingent upon the preparation necessary and the court’s calendar. Generally the parties are looking at between 9 months to one year to complete a contested matter. Note that "interim orders" such as orders for support and possession of property will be in effect during this time frame.
4. What are my rights?
This is a complex question, and within the website are explanations for the issues which most frequently arise. They are accessed by clicking on the named issues on the left column of the home page beneath Mr. Smith’s photograph.
However, generally you have the right to ½ the community estate, support as appropriate, and a "true shared custody arrangement." These concepts are explained more fully in as set forth above in the named areas.
A common misconception is that the courts are gender biased. This is simply not true. The courts are guided by reasonable gender neutral standards. The problem is most marriages are not. For example: Although these trends are changing, generally men are expected to be breadwinners, and women are expected to be homemakers. For the convenience of the parties and the children courts tend to allow those roles to continue in the short term. Therefore, the husband is often forced to work and see the children less, and the wife is paid a portion of the earnings, but less than she was used to getting, to maintain the home. Neither is getting what they had before the separation, but the perception of each is they are losing out.
5. What do I need to do to keep the costs down and to protect myself?
To keep the costs down be sure to provide your attorney with copies of all relevant records. At a minimum, you’ll need copies of your tax returns for the last few years, your and your spouses three most recent pay stubs, your bank statements for at least a year, and your credit card statements from the date of separation.
You’ll also want to have researched and be ready to provide relevant information such as when were you married, what the children’s names and ages are, what the make and model of your cars are, what banks you bank at and that sort of thing. If you own a home you would want to be able to give the purchase date, price, source of any down payment and whether there are loans other than the first on it. Simply put, the more you can provide to your attorney without them having to search for it the better.
Physically, you can protect yourself by being simply calling 911. The courts also have a very streamlined process for obtaining a restraining order and a "victim’s advocate" is available through any District Attorney’s Office in the state.
Financially your best protection is to educate yourself regarding your income and your assets. Review the tax returns. Keep copies of the bank and credit card statements. If you are going to separate, make sure you keep track of the records and what property goes where. It’s difficult to remember where all the furniture went after the fact. Most importantly, keep records. If you pay someone or something after you separate, don’t use cash. Support orders are often made "retroactively", meaning, they take effect before they are made. This can be two or three months after the fact and often mean an "arrearage" of several thousands. If you’ve paid the other spouse cash in the interim, you get credit for it but you have to prove you paid it.