Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Retaining Custody - Step One

Okay, so you are getting a divorce. I realize this on it's own is difficult, but take a deep breath, try to shove the grief aside for now, for the sake of your children you need to be proactive and effective immediately.

First, find an attorney!! Do not share an attorney, regardless of how generous or rational your ex may seem. It protects both of you to have independent representation. The cost of hiring one on the ground level will be much cheaper than hiring them down the road and paying them to catch up on your case. Also, having an attorney up-front may prevent your ex from taking a more unscrupulous legal route. Maybe not. But if nothing else, it will send a message that you are not messing around nor will you be fooled into agreeing to any bunk arrangement.

Most importantly your attorney can advise you on the best IMMEDIATE (We have found being proactive very successful) route to take with your case.

I have to run, I'll add more to this later. Sorry, MC

So sorry about that, client emergency that required I be out of town for that past week. Let's finish this post.

As for attorney, I am going to re-print a previous post about locating an attorney: If you are looking for a lawyer referral there are far better places to start. If you know anyone in your area who has gone through a similar process ask about their attorney and their spouse's attorney. Ask as many people as you can and see if the same name pops up repeatedly. If this is not possible, the American Bar Association has an area on their website for public information. You can access lawyer locater, legal aid and research through their website. This is a free service to locate a lawyer in good standing with the bar and in your area. Link to the ABA.

In my county there is a local chapter of the ABA and they also offer a lawyer referral program. If you receive a referral through this chapter you are allowed a free 1/2 hour introductory visit. You can utilize this service for as many attorneys as you are referred. This is a good way to get a feel for an attorney before you have to start paying them. You want to hire someone you feel comfortable with in personality, methodology and knowledge of family law. Try to look in your phone book for your local chapter of the ABA or search online (I prefer Google) using your county, state and the terms bar association. Each state also has their own bar association so if you are unable to find one for your county, start with the state.

Your local chapter of the bar association should also be able to provide information on legal aid if you are unable to afford an attorney. Know, however, that the requirements of legal aid are very strict and only a limited number of people qualify for assistance. Most likely you will have to hire your own attorney. This will not be cheap. If you look for a cheap attorney you will get what you pay for. I know this process can be astronomically expensive, believe me, but you have to weigh the costs.

Many attorney's will require a retainer fee upfront and this may be several thousand dollars. Be prepared to hear this. What they are effectively telling you is that custody cases in particular have a tendency to draw out for extremely long periods of time. They need to know up front that you have the capacity to pay for the long haul if necessary. Your retainer will be placed in an account through which the attorney will effectively pay himself. You should be sent copies of the bills indicating for what and how much that attorney is billing you. After the retainer runs out, your attorney will either begin to bill you directly or ask that you provide another lump sum as a retainer. If you are billed directly, request that you be billed frequently so you can pay in smaller sums and so your bill never adds up to something you find unmanageable. If there is any money left over from your retainer after your case is finalized, your attorney should give that money back to you. In my area the average cost for an attorney is between $150 - $200 an hour.

Even with an expensive attorney there are ways to keep your costs down. To do this you will have to try and do as much of the legwork as possible for your attorney. If you can, until you go to court, utilize the attorney to do only the legal things that you are unable to do. Do your own research and have your own objectives in your mind. Obviously you need to discuss with your attorney to make sure you are on the correct path, but try to take as much initiative as possible. Don't call your attorney with every question that comes to mind, try and research the answer yourself. Ask your attorney what you should or could be doing to help your case.

Use word of mouth and the bar association for help, do not hire the first attorney you see with a commercial or a full page ad in the phone book.

Another good source in your search for an attorney: martindale.com. Look for a rating of AV.

Do, if at all possible, retain an attorney and do so as quickly as possible. A good attorney will be an invaluable resource for you.

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