DIVORCE AND OTHER FAMILY LAW ISSUES
Facing a serious family law issue can be the absolute worst thing that has happened in your entire life. The issues are complex, and the emotions can be overwhelming. The resources of my firm are here to help you with legal technicalities and strategies that must be considered. The retainer you paid me is typically a non-refundable earned advance on fees and costs which is deposited in my firms general account. However, if the work that my firm does on your case is less than the retainer, the difference in proceeds will be returned to you.
We also have the $750.00 no-hassle divorce. This is for amicable divorces that stay amicable throughout the divorce process. For a flat fee of $750.00, we will pay the $200.00+ filing fee, and actually represent you in court. All of the formalities will be taken care of by us, and we will be there to face the Judge or Court Commissioner at your Final Hearing. Of course, if the divorce becomes contentious, the fee arrangement will have to be changed.
For divorces that are less amicable, feel free to read about the terms and procedures that follow:
Summons & Petition
These are the first documents which have to be filed and signed. The filing fee and service fee for the initial papers approaches $200.00. These are the papers which commence the divorce, and a divorce cannot be finalized until four months (120 days) from the date the Summons & Petition are served.
In many cases, a hearing before the Family Court Commissioner is necessary to put into place an Order of legal effect while the divorce is pending. The issues decided at a Temporary Hearing (for a temporary basis) include child placement, child support, maintenance, temporary division of assets, and temporary responsibility for debts. The Temporary Order serves as a mechanism whereby both parties are alleviated from calling the police or lawyers on a regular basis to solve their problems. A Temporary Order can be appealed from the Family Court Commissioner to the Circuit Court Judge assigned to the case, but this is a somewhat extreme step to take. The Temporary Order has no legal effect upon the final resolution of the divorce, but it may serve as an informal precedent.
Financial Disclosure Statement (FDS)
This is a lengthy snapshot of the persons finances. It includes a monthly budget, a tabulation of all assets, a listing of all debts, and tax information from previous years. It is my practice to have abundant attachments to the FDS (tax returns, appraisals, etc.) in order to be as forthcoming as possible. This is preferred by judges and allows settlements to be reached more easily, when possible.
This is an informal conference with the Judge at which many documents have to be filed ahead of time. The Judge may give some indication as to how he will decide any contentious issues, but he does not have to. The Pretrial Conference is usually successful in obtaining future court dates and deadlines for trying to conclude the divorce.
The trial is a hearing at which all issues are decided. Very few divorce trials are wide open with respect to all issues; most cases have at least a partial settlement before they actually go to trial. A divorce trial does not include a jury, it is merely to the Judge (bench trial.) Witnesses can be called and arguments can be made. The Judge then makes a decision based upon the information that is made available. Fewer than 20% of all divorce cases actually go to trial.
Motions to Modify Divorce Judgments
These are relatively common, especially when children are involved. Changes can occur in placement schedules, financial matters, etc., often without the usual need for court and lawyer intervention. Many divorces have at least one post-judgment document or Motion in the court system.
Child Support is usually paid from the person who has the children the lesser amount of time to the person who has the children more of the time. There is a trend at this point for children to spend similar amounts of time with both parents, but many exceptions to this arrangement occur. For one child, the presumption is that the payers obligation will be 17% of his/her gross income; 25% for two children; 29% for three children; plus 2% for each additional child.
Custody & Placement
The term Custody does not mean much; it generally refers to the very large infrequent decisions in the childs life (elective surgery, joining the Armed Services before the child turns 18, etc.). Placement is the big issue, which involves daily decisions and the regular periods of time that the child spends with each parent. Child support is derived from looking at the placement schedule, not the custody arrangements. In previous times, the husband customarily ended up with far less time with the children, and would usually have every other weekend, and one night per week. This is changing to provide more meaningful and frequent time with each parent. Because of this, shared placement and mixed child support calculations are often needed, and this can be complicated.
Many factors are considered when deciding child placement. These include the parties work schedules, history with the children, distance between parties homes, special needs of the children, and other issues which can affect placement issues on a case-by-case basis. No two divorces are the same in this regard. It should also be noted that as children get older, the placement decisions are often left to them. After all, teenagers do not spend as much time at home as they do when they are younger. Technically, the court implements placement schedules until the child turns 18. However, as a practical matter, teenagers opinions can greatly impact placement decisions.
This used to be called alimony, and is essentially a method by which the parties incomes are equalized for a period of time after a divorce. Generally, maintenance is paid from the higher income payer (who is traditionally the husband) to the lower income receiver. Maintenance is something of a leftover from a time when wives remained out of the workforce in order to raise the children and take care of the home. However, maintenance continues, rightly or wrongly, as an equalizing income method. Generally, the parties have to be married about 7 years in order for significant maintenance to be awarded. Exceptions occur when one party helps pay for the education of another, helps start a business, or when one party is disabled and unable to work.
Generally, the Marital Property Laws split the debts and assets of the marriage on a 50/50 basis. There are many exceptions to this, including whether or not one party or the other received an inheritance, a gift, a personal injury settlement, etc
However, nearly every case begins with the assumption that the assets and debts will be split 50/50. This means that valuation questions, the ability to pay off debts, and other issues can come into play to affect the 50/50 split. Most judges will essentially refuse to hear a trial on relatively small personal property issues (furniture, stereos, appliances, knick-knacks.)
Who pays what debts? This can be a very divisive issue in many cases, especially those in which the debt situation of the parties is extreme. As a general rule, the person who has the asset relating to a secured debt (house or car) is responsible for that debt. The misery occurs with significant credit card debt or other unsecured payments. Unfortunately, bankruptcy becomes one option in extreme situations. In most cases, the person who incurs the debt after the divorce is filed is wholly responsible for that debt.
When one party significantly and/or repeatedly disobeys a Court Order, a Contempt Motion may be used to seek compliance. Often, the threat of contempt results in compliance.