It’s no secret that divorces can get expensive. The divorce between Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt exceeded $20,000,000 in fees! There are three fairly simple steps that every single person can take before and during marriage to make any potential divorce less expensive.
In earlier blogs I discussed what a parent can expect during child custody mediation, both private mediation and court connected mediation. Both scenarios, while nuanced, are quite straight forward. What happens if you are involved in a high-conflict child custody case and the court orders a custody evaluation? What does the evaluation cost? And how long do they take? I hope to answer these questions in this blog. In my next blog, I will discuss what to expect from a custody evaluation, how you can prepare and some of the reason a court will order a custody evaluation.
It is no secret that hiring an attorney can be costly. A spouse may be hesitant to seek legal counsel in their divorce or related family law matter, thinking that they would be unable to afford it. However, it is extremely important to have legal representation in certain matters, and this is especially critical where the other party is represented by an attorney. In such a case, in order to ensure adequate representation, a spouse may be entitled to an attorney’s fees and costs award (hereinafter referred to as simply an “award”); or a court order that the other party is to pay attorney’s fees and costs for BOTH parties.
Spousal support is a hot topic in divorce not only during the divorce process but also after the parties’ divorce judgment has been processed and finalized. We often meet with clients who are currently paying spousal support pursuant to court order and, based on a substantial change in circumstances, would like to request a downward modification of spousal support so they don’t have to fork out so much money each month to their ex-spouse. However, we sometimes also get requests from clients who are the recipients of a spousal support award and would like assistance with getting an upward modification of spousal support so that their ex-spouse actually pays them more each month.
A person currently receiving spousal support pursuant to the initial court order may be inclined to seek an upward spousal support modification if, for example, at the time of divorce the spouse receiving spousal support was making a decent living (and thus the need for spousal support was minimal) but post-judgment that spouse lost their job or has health issues that result in an increased need for spousal support to meet that person’s reasonable needs. Another potential reason that might pique a person’s interest for seeking an upward modification of spousal support includes situations (although quite rare) where the person paying spousal support hits the jackpot on the lottery and arguably now has a much higher ability to pay.
A request for a spousal support modification requires the party seeking the modification to show that there has been a material change of circumstances since the most recent order. The Court will consider whether there has been a significant change in any of the factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 (the same criteria considered for initial order) when making the subsequent modification order, if any. These factors include, among others, the supporting party’s ability to pay, balance of hardships to each party, and the needs of each party based on the Marital Standard of Living (“MSOL”). The MSOL is the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties during marriage and is typically measured by the parties’ expenditures during marriage, including any funds put towards savings.
While the Court has broad discretion to modify spousal support so long as there has been a material change of circumstances, the Court does not always have jurisdiction to do so. In many cases, spousal support is subject to subsequent modification (or even termination) so long as the spousal support order has not already expired and the court still has jurisdiction over spousal support. However, in accordance with Family Code section 3591(c), if the parties’ judgment has a provision that expressly states that the parties agreed to make the spousal support award non-modifiable, then spousal support cannot be modified post-judgment. In the absence of such an agreement, the court retains jurisdiction to make a decision to increase, decrease or terminate support in a later proceeding (post-judgment) pursuant to a request by one of the parties.
It is also important to note that a post-judgment increase in spousal support being granted by the Court is highly unlikely. While there is nothing that prevents the Court from increasing support, it is simply not very common in California Family Law Courts. And even if the Court is willing to entertain the idea of an upward modification of spousal support, the spousal support award would still be capped at an amount that meets the MSOL. Even if you have an experienced attorney on your side it’s important to have realistic expectations and understand that getting a significant increase in spousal support, or any increase for that matter, is not very common.
As a family law litigator, I see on a first-hand basis how much clients are shelling out just to get a divorce. The entire process can very quickly take a dramatic toll on someone both financially and emotionally. In today’s economy, most of us don’t have unlimited funds set aside to spend on a divorce. Instead, we would rather save our pennies for our children’s college education, our retirement, our mortgage, paying off student loans, etc. If you are in this situation, consider the little-known secrets below from an attorney’s perspective to help you save money on your divorce case.
Organize Your Documents for Your Attorney:
Often times, clients will just drop off a pile of documents that we have to sort through and try to make sense of. Keep in mind that your lawyer will never know your life as well as you do. So make it easier on your lawyer by providing him/her will a three ring binder with tab dividers and make a tab for each of your assets and their supporting documents. This will allow your lawyer to draft your declarations of disclosure much quicker and will reduce the amount of times your lawyer has to call you to get additional documents and information.
Don’t Use Your Lawyer as a Therapist:
Sending lengthy emails to your lawyer about non-relevant legal matters or talking on the phone with your lawyer for hours about your situation will only serve to rack up your attorney fees. Unless it’s truly relevant to your case, don’t copy your lawyer on emails between you and your spouse. And think about getting a therapist to talk to instead of your lawyer. Chances are your therapist’s hourly rate will cost much less than your lawyer’s.
Email Your Lawyer Instead of Calling or Meeting in Person:
Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly rate. If you call your lawyer, he/she likely won’t be available immediately and will instead need to schedule a phone call for a later time. Chances are that preparing for and taking the phone call will take more time than simply responding to an email. Same thing goes for meeting in person. If you just have a few simple questions that need to be answered, a quick email will likely take less time for your lawyer to review and respond rather than meeting with you in person.
Talk to Your Spouse:
It may seem impossible to talk to your spouse if you are amidst a heart-wrenching divorce. But if you can figure out a way to amicably talk to your spouse you will have a chance to settle smaller issues, like the division of household furniture or your frequent flyer miles, without accruing more attorney fees.
Separate Panic from a True Emergency:
Think about whether your situation truly warrants a phone call to your attorney. Perhaps a phone call to the police would better serve your interests. Or if it’s 4:00 pm on a Friday and you know that your attorney won’t be able to go to court or get ahold of opposing counsel, perhaps you should wait it out.
Choose Your Lawyer Wisely:
Choosing the right lawyer can make all the difference in your divorce case. You want to choose a lawyer who will see you as a valuable and important client at the firm. Hiring the biggest firm in town might cause you to get your case ignored if you don’t fit or exceed their client profile. Also, keep in mind that a lawyer who practices exclusively in family law and is a certified family law specialist will likely have more knowledge about the divorce process than a lawyer who just does family law on the side.
Unless Truly Necessary, Avoid Changing Lawyers Mid-Divorce:
If you change lawyers mid-divorce, your new lawyer will have to charge you to review your file and try to catch up, which will likely cost you a considerable amount of money that could have been avoided by just sticking with your original lawyer.
There are so many experienced family law attorneys in San Diego that it might be difficult to decide which one you trust to handle your family law matter. In addition, your idea of how your family law matter should be handled can evolve as your case progresses. Especially in complicated divorce cases, litigation can drag out for months or even years. Due to the nature of family law, family law litigants work very closely with their attorneys during the pendency of their actions.
Over time, the attorney and client may reach disagreements about how the case is handled and either party may wish to end the professional relationship. In addition to strategy disagreements, litigants may also change counsel as a result of personality conflicts or other practical impediments to communication. Both the client and attorney may agree to terminate the attorney-client relationship in order to further the client’s interest. For instance, the attorney may not have an efficient working relationship with opposing counsel. If the relationship between attorneys becomes too adversarial during the pendency of a case, the entire case could lose focus and become more expensive for both parties. In this type of situation, a change of counsel can give a family law case new direction and focus.
If you are a family law litigant and are considering making a change of counsel, it is important to consider how this change may affect your case. First, hiring a new attorney will undoubtedly result in additional attorney fees and delay in your matter. Although your first attorney should not continue to charge you following formal withdraw as your attorney of record, your second attorney will need to “catch up” on your case. The time required for a new attorney to get up to speed on your case will depend on the size of your file, the level of litigation and how long your case has progressed for. The time spent by your new attorney getting up to speed will have a direct impact on the cost of your change of counsel. The longer the new attorney spends reviewing the case file prepared by your former attorney, the more expensive the transition will be.
Family law litigants should not change attorneys as a tactic to delay litigation. If an attorney feels the other side has changed counsel in order to stall the proceedings, he or she can file a motion for sanctions. If the judge determines that the litigant has interfered with the policy of fair dealing and settlement in family law proceedings, he or she will sanction (fine) the offending party.
In most states, the right to a jury trial in a divorce proceeding does not exist. In California, no such right exists. Rather, all divorces in California will be heard solely by the Judge, not a jury. However, in a limited number of states, including Texas and Georgia, whether you are the spouse who filed for divorce or the spouse who received a divorce petition, you have the option to request a jury trial during your divorce proceeding. Most of these states limit the right for a jury to only decide certain issues. In New York, for example, the circumstances are very narrow; a jury is only allowed to decide whether the parties meet the state criteria for divorce.
Texas offers the jury trial rights most broadly. In Texas, the jury consists of 12 jurors who may decide a number of issues. However, certain issues are still reserved for the Judge to decide. For example, the jurors in Texas can decide the issue of child custody, but the Judge will be the one to decide visitation and child support. Jurors in Texas can also determine the value of the assets, and determine which assets are considered separate property versus community property. However, the Judge will be the one to actually determine the division of such assets.
Offering the option of a jury trial in divorce proceedings is a hot topic of dispute. Supporters of offering a jury trial argue that it helps to ensure fairness by thwarting the Judge’s potential bias. Many also support jury trials because they believe that it gives litigants more of an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Another benefit of offering the option of a jury trial in a divorce proceeding is that it encourages parties to try and settle outside of court, since a jury trial is a risk for both sides no matter what the facts of the case are.
However, many oppose the idea of a jury trial in a divorce because they aren’t keen on the idea of having the details of their private lives displayed before a dozen strangers. Additionally, divorce proceedings are expensive enough. Adding the option for a jury trial is likely to cause the divorce proceeding to be even more time consuming and expensive Continue reading
It seems like we all spend so long trying to build good credit over the years just for it to be ruined with a snap of the fingers. A divorce doesn’t have to be the culprit in ruining your credit. If you take certain measures while going through a divorce, you can help protect your credit rather than sending it and your financial future to its demise.
Review Your Credit Report
The first step in protecting your credit is to get a copy of your credit report. Once you have a copy of your report it is important to thoroughly review it so that you are well aware of all individual and joint accounts. Perhaps you forgot about a department store credit card that you opened quite some time ago. Reviewing your credit report will get you up to speed on all of your accounts.
Closely Monitor Joint Accounts
After reviewing your credit report and refreshing your memory of all of your accounts, the next step is to closely monitor them, especially the joint accounts. During or after the divorce, transferring or closing accounts might not occur as quickly as you hope. During this time, it is important that you monitor those accounts closely and catch any missed payments (even if your ex-spouse has agree to make the payment) before your credit gets damaged. If you can’t access the account statements online it would behoove you to request the lender to send you a copy of the account statement each month.
Be Budget Savvy
During a divorce, many people tend to feel like they are drowning financially, either due to various expenses related to the divorce or from frivolous spending habits as a result of the emotional affect that divorce tends to have. The best thing to do in order to tackle the financial woes associated with divorce is to create, implement and track a post-divorce budget that takes into account your income and all of your expenses. Being budget conscious will help you to not allow your expenses to exceed your income and hopefully leave you with a whole lot less debt.
Be Mindful of Authorized Users on Credit Cards
After reviewing your credit report you will be able to note which accounts your spouse is listed on as an authorized user. Being listed as an authorized user means that the person has permission to use the credit card to rack up charged but that he or she is not responsible for paying the bill. This is different than joint credit in which both parties are responsible for paying. If you notice that your ex-spouse is listed as an authorized user, it might be worth it to give the credit card company a call and remove his or her name to avoid any additional problems.
Although divorces can be extremely emotionally draining and time consuming, it’s crucial to your future that you do not to push your finances to the back burner. Being proactive about managing your credit during your divorce will surely help you post-divorce.
One of the first things that most people do when they decide to get a divorce is to find, interview and hire a divorce attorney to help them through the divorce process. The relationship that you develop with your divorce attorney is an important one as it will likely continue throughout the entire divorce process and even possibly years down the line. Depending on how well you work with your divorce attorney can have quite a significant impact on the pace of your divorce proceeding and the amount of legal fees you will incur. The best way to ensure that you work well with your divorce attorney is to outline your expectations and understand what your attorney expects from you in return.
What You Should Expect From Your Attorney
After hiring an attorney some things that you should expect from him or her include the following:
1) Your attorney should begin with developing a strategy.
2) Your attorney should explain your options to you and help you decide which route to take.
3) Your attorney should consult with you before making any major actions.
4) Your attorney should return your phone calls and/or emails within a reasonable time frame.
On the other hand, you should not expect your divorce attorney to act as a therapist for your emotional issues relative to the divorce, nor should you expect your divorce attorney to act like the attorneys you see on television or to act unethically to appease your unrealistic or illegal expectations.
Understanding What Your Attorney Expects from You
In order for your divorce attorney to attempt to meet and perhaps even surpass your expectations, it is essential that you also understand what your divorce attorney expects from you in return throughout his or her representation of you.
Shortly after hiring a divorce attorney, he or she will likely ask you to provide and produce a significant amount of information and documentation. When your divorce attorney does so, it is very important that you respond in a quick, concise and complete manner. More importantly, it is vital that you always tell your attorney the truth, even when it might be unpleasant, embarrassing or not in your favor. It’s very important that you maintain a trusting relationship with your attorney if you want to get the best possible representation and avoid backtracking (i.e. more legal fees for you).
In addition, your attorney will expect you to be well prepared and willing to openly listen to his or her advice. And as you likely suspect, your attorney will also expect to be paid in full and on time Continue reading
My previous blog, “How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I” I discussed how to mentally prepare for court, what to bring with you to court and what to do when you arrive at court. Part II aims to prepare you for your day in court by helping you becoming oriented with who you will see in court and how the proceeding will occur.
Who You Can Expect to See In Court
As you likely know, from watching a little too much Law and Order perhaps, the judge is the person who presides over the court. However, there are no jury trials in family law in California. In addition to the judge, there are typically three other people in most courtrooms: the bailiff, the court clerk and the court reporter.
The bailiff is a uniformed officer and is usually the first person that you will talk to when you check into the courtroom. The bailiff’s primary job is to maintain order in the courtroom. The bailiff also acts as the middleman in handing documents from the attorneys/parties to the court clerk or to the judge directly.
The court clerk sits near the judge and is in charge of managing the court. Prior to the morning calendar, the court clerk will give the judge all of the case files. Once court is in session, the court clerk will be the one to administer the oath to any witnesses and also serve as a clerical assistant to the judge.
The court reporter is the person who is in charge of recording everything that is said while the court is in session. Following the hearing, you or your attorney may request the court reporter to prepare a transcript, which is a verbatim script of the court proceedings.
Typical Order of Events in Court
Calendar Call: The first thing the judge will do once he takes the bench is to do a calendar call in alphabetical order to determine how many cases are going to be heard and the time estimate for each. Based on this information, the judge can put the cases in the order of his choosing. Once the calendar call is completed, the judge will typically call the cases with the shortest time estimates first.
Statement of Appearances: Once your case is called, both the attorneys and the parties will step forward and take their place at their respective tables (Petitioner on the left of the podium and Respondent on the right of the podium). The attorneys will state their appearances for the record. If you are not represented by legal counsel then you are responsible for stating your own appearance.
Administer Oath: Next, the court clerk will administer the oath to both parties and instruct them to raise their right hands and say “I do”. This means that your testimony will be given under penalty of perjury such that you can be convicted of a crime if you knowingly tell a lie during your testimony.
Determine Resolved and Unresolved Issues:
Before the actual hearing begins, the judge will want to determine which issues, if any, have been settled by agreement and which ones still remain unresolved. The judge will review any written agreements or listen to statements regarding settled issues. The judge will then ask the parties if they understand the agreement and then he/she will typically make a statement accepting the stipulation and confirming that the agreement is a court order. Once this is completed the actual hearing will begin.