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What Do You Want Out of the Divorce Process?

What Do You Want Out of the Divorce Process?

What Do You Want Out of the Divorce Process?  People don’t live their lives expecting litigation, a terrible separation or the other parent taking their children away from them. Although it is not always the case, people often find themselves overwhelmed by unexpected circumstances by the time they make it to the attorney’s office. It is not uncommon for a client to schedule an appointment after recently discovering the other spouse (or the other parent) has been making plans to separate for some time. Almost all cases begin in the “triage” stage, when someone’s day to day life has just been turned upside down. The “emergency phase” of a case usually involves necessary arrangements for the short-term, such as where to live, what to do about immediate financial support, and when a parent has visitation with a child. Once that emergency phase of the case settles down, perhaps there is a temporary agreement or temporary court order in place. What Happens Now? After the emergency phase of a case, the real work begins. Take inventory of what matters in your life. Clients who seek counseling or therapy tend to uncover important goals, especially when they’ve made accommodations for their mates over many years. Turmoil can provide new opportunities. You might decide to return to school or consider relocating to another city or state. Or, you want to make healthy long term co-parenting a priority not only for you children but your future grandchildren so your family won’t have to endure drama at events such as graduations and weddings. A career change might also be an option based on your new situation. Talk To Your Attorney Like any other relationships, attorney-client relationships involve all kinds of personalities. Some clients have clear objectives and take an active role in their case, others don’t. By default, your attorney should be advocating for as much of the marital property as possible, and if you are a parent, the goal is to get as much time with the child or children as possible. That’s obvious. But there’s so much more than that. Make sure to share your personal goals with your attorney if he or she doesn’t specifically ask. Although our job is to advocate for you, we will do a better job of advocating if you clearly express your plans. For example, we could try to structure alimony to coincide with the completion...

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Ten Things Your Lawyer Wishes You Knew

Ten Things Your Lawyer Wishes You Knew

Ten Things Your Lawyer Wishes You Knew By Amy A. Edwards # 1. WARN US. If you have assaulted your spouse, been arrested or highly intoxicated in the presence of the kids, had compromising photos taken of yourself, or struggled with substance abuse, we need to know! People are naturally reluctant to tell us the negative or embarrassing things they have done. If you are embarrassed to discuss something, tell us by e-mail or in a letter. Truly, we’ve seen it all. Your ex knows about it which means the other attorney knows. The only person who can help you wade through it is your lawyer, who can’t help you if he or she is the only one in the room who is clueless about what happened. In that event, we are left to watch as you crash and burn during cross examination. With advance notice, we can try to minimize it or at least take out the sting. We might be able to ask you questions about it in court first, allowing you to explain it in your own terms, robbing the other attorney of the chance to frame it the way he or she chooses. #2. YOU ARE AN OPEN BOOK. In divorce court, there is no such thing as privacy. Bank statements, credit card statements, e-mails and any number of other things will be analyzed. In a custody case, is it noticeable that you eat fast food every day for dinner? Do you use your credit card at the liquor store twice a week? Did you buy flowers for your girlfriend with whom you are cheating? Will your bank account statement indicate payment for a membership for an online dating account or pornography? Believe it or not, this happens all the time. #3. PICK YOUR BATTLES. A good (or at least a better) outcome might mean cutting your losses. Unlike personal injury cases, where the insurance companies are essentially paying the tab, divorce and family law cases are paid out of pocket by individuals who are going through what is probably the most emotionally and financially stressful time of their lives. Even if finances are not a problem, don’t waste your money paying the hourly rate of several hundred dollars to  argue over a five year old lawn mower or a coffee maker. I actually had a client who added gravy mix to her list of property. In custody cases, consider whether it is worth it to have a trial on whether you get three weeks of me in the summer or four weeks. Are you paying your attorney $2,500.00 to...

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What is a Daily Money Manager and What Can They Do in Family Law Cases?

What is a Daily Money Manager and What Can They Do in Family Law Cases?

What is a Daily Money Manager and What Can They Do in Family Law Cases? By Kelly Kurz  We’ve all heard someone say, “My husband (or wife) handles all that financial stuff.” This often seems like a good plan; however, what happens if that spouse is no longer in the picture? We usually think of widows or widowers facing the overwhelming task of understanding a spouse’s bookkeeping system, but divorce can also wreak havoc on financial record keeping. More often than not, one marriage partner assumes responsibility for bill paying and record keeping and acquires a greater knowledge of the family finances than the other partner. Sometimes, before a trusting marital relationship deteriorates to the point of divorce, one partner has deferred to the other for so long that they no longer know the most basic elements of family cash flow. This makes equitable distribution of assets and debts difficult. Fortunately, a group of professionals known as daily money managers (DMMs) can open step in to help those who are unprepared for the organizational challenges of divorce. The skills DMMs have developed to help clients manage personal monetary affairs can be applied to gathering the information required for financial affidavits. DMMs also offer ongoing services such as organizing financial records, maintaining bank accounts, budgeting, coordinating benefits and paying bills. Daily money managers work with a variety of clients. Many practices have a senior client base who needs DMM services due to changes associated with aging such as poor vision, limited wring ability or dementia. Other practices focus on high net worth clients or busy professionals who prefer that someone else handle routine financial tasks so they can enjoy their spare time. Although some DMMs have separate professional credentials, most do not provide legal, investment or tax advice. They do, however, provide services that complement the work of other professionals and can often refer you to appropriate service providers.  Kelly Kurz, founder of Paperwork Solutions, LLC, is certified as a Professional Daily Money Manager (PDMM®) by the American Association of Daily Money Managers. Kurz has been serving clients in Pitt and surrounding counties since...

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A Road Map For Getting to the Finish Line in Your Case

A Road Map For Getting to the Finish Line in Your Case

A Road Map For Getting to the Finish Line in Your Case At the beginning of a case, we usually focus on documents, lists of assets and debts if marital property exists, and detailed budgets. That documentation is necessary to evaluate your case and consider what you are entitled to, or what you must pay or divide. With so much “busy work” it might appear as though we lose sight of the main question, which is . . . how will all of this be done? There are five typical methods to reach the finish line in North Carolina. Method #1 – Negotiation Negotiating can happen at any point, even after a trial until the judge signs an order. When a client has all the necessary information about the assets and debts, one good strategy at the beginning of a case is to prepare a proposal, such as a separation agreement. After the other side responds, you will then see how far apart you are from reaching an agreement. There is no way to force the other side to negotiate. It is done only by mutual agreement. After a lawsuit is filed, the proposal might end up being an agreed upon court order the judge signs without a trial. Method #2 – Collaborative Family Law (CFL) Collaborative Family Law cases are appropriate in select cases when both parties agree to participate. With this method of finalizing a case, there is a series of meetings with both attorneys and clients in one room. Instead of adversarial negotiation, the parties and their attorneys make a commitment to work together to figure out solutions for their disputes. They also sign an agreement requiring them to be honest and forthcoming about the matters they will discuss. The system of checks and balances requires the pares to hire new attorneys if one of them decides to ligate. That way, both pares have a financial investment in working together in good faith. The spouse with beer financial resources can’t try to starve out the other spouse without his or her own significant financial consequences. Settlements can also be kept private, especially because CFL cases will not address marital fault. Method #3 – Mediation In Family Financial Mediation, the parties and their lawyers are in separate rooms and the mediator facilitates the negotiation going back and forth between the parties. The mediator’s only job is to help the two sides find common ground. The decision of whether to settle the case is made only by the parties. In most NC counties, mediation must occur before the trial is...

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Your Case & the Cutting Room Floor: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Your Case & the Cutting Room Floor: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Your Case & the Cutting Room Floor: Too Much of a Good Thing? There are all kinds of family law cases, and each one is unique. Some are straightforward and others are complex. Attorneys highlight the favorable aspects of their clients, and de-emphasize the unfavorable. Trials take on lives of their own regardless of what clients, attorneys or even judges expect. There are a lot of moving parts, especially when cases are lengthy and complex. Especially with the best cases, editing is the hardest part. Too much of a good thing can backfire when the judge is knee-deep in “good” information. Clients and attorneys don’t always agree on where to draw the line. In the Court Room In Pitt County family court, each side has a specific number of hours assigned to try their case. A two day trial might be distilled to 5 or 6 hours for each side, after taking into account lunch breaks and short breaks throughout the day. That might sound like a lot but it really isn’t because that includes any opening remarks, questions to witnesses, cross examination and closing argument. The court has to keep cases moving through the system, which is already tremendously over-burdened. Time is of the essence. Trial Exhibits Exhibits are usually documents each side admits as evidence for the judge review before deciding the outcome of the case. Depending on the type of dispute there is, exhibits might include photos of the children, copies of grade reports and medical records, text messages and e-mails between the parties, records of each party’s wages and insurance, bank and credit card statements, or tax returns. A complex case might have 30 or 40 exhibits, each being multiple pages. The judge has to review two stacks of “basic” exhibits, one for each party. Frankly, they can be rather dry and boring. Less is More? Like anyone else, some judges have longer attention spans than others. If it is a custody case, they don’t mind five or ten photos of the child at issue. They do mind thirty photos unless there is some specific reason. For a trial, a good attorney creates a cake, so to speak. The cake itself forms the foundation, the basics. The “goodies” are the decorations or icing on the cake. One example of goodies might be love letters written to a third party by a cheating spouse. It is usually more powerful to select four or five of the best “goodies” instead of diluting the value by heaping them on indiscriminately. These exhibits must be distinct...

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Why Do I Have to Get All These Documents To Start My Case?

Why Do I Have to Get All These Documents To Start My Case?

Why Do I Have to Get All These Documents?  When a client hires us, the first order of business is to review documents. The typical list of documents we request includes tax returns and statements (i.e., W-2 or 1099 statements), bank and credit card statements, deeds and mortgage statements, health insurance and daycare costs, and vehicle registration or title, to name a few. Reason #1 – To Identify the Marital Estate Your attorney doesn’t know (with enough detail) what assets and debts you have. For example, a client might not realize a cash/sweep account is associated with an IRA or could forget there is an outstanding loan against the account. Only by analyzing the documentation can an attorney properly advise you or start meaningful negotiation with the other attorney. Reason #2 – Civil Discovery & Subpoenas Just because you don’t plan to take your case to court doesn’t mean your ex won’t file a lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, either party can serve civil discovery  which is the process by which the documents are made available to the opposing party before court. In a family law case, your life is an open book so to speak. Subpoenas require people to testify and/or provide documents. An attorney has the ability to prepare and serve a subpoena on you and anyone else. Reason #3 – Court Rules Court rules now require mandatory disclosure of these records, regardless of whether there is discovery and/or subpoenas. Even if there is no subpoena or discovery in a child support case, state Guidelines automatically require: “Income statements of the parents should be verified through documentation of both current and past income.” They go on to say “Suitable documentation of current earnings . . . includes pay stubs, employer statements, or business receipts and expenses, if self-employed.” Documentation of current income must be supplemented with copies of the most recent tax return to provide verification of earnings over a longer period.”  Reason #4 – Documents Are Evidence If there is a lawsuit filed at some future date, you’ll have the proof to show the classification of assets and debts, whether assets and debts are marital, separate or divisible. Showing values of property and balances of debts and interest on specific dates is key, especially around the date of separation. For example, property in equitable distribution cases is valued as of the date of separation, but the mortgage payments made after the date of separation might also be a point of negotiation....

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