A family law case usually starts with a consultation. The most important thing you should expect from a lawyer in a consultation is for them to …listen. Everyone has a unique story and needs. Rare is the case that a divorce means wiping the other person from your life and memory. And, if there are children? They will remember the strangest things about family conflict….that they had to give up basketball, that the lawyer was mean, that they had to start taking a bus to school, that they miss the dog. The family law attorney has a special responsibility to truly listen to the client, to advise the client properly, with understanding and compassion, but never hiding the truth from the client.
Family law is not just about divorces. I have shared many joyous events with clients, from step-parent adoptions to helping a parent save a child from drug abuse.
The family law attorney should be able to take a case to court and present the case to the judge. This takes skill, experience, and preparation. The attorney must prepare the client and witnesses for testimony, and present evidence to obtain the best result possible for you. Often it takes a team. The lawyer should be able to use a team that may include a forensic accountant, a mental health expert, and others with expertise in the issues at hand. Litigation is a skill, but avoiding litigation is extremely important and just as valuable a skill for the family lawyer. The lawyer should not create unnecessary litigation, and not encourage a litigious attitude. It should be the rare case that requires a trial because the lawyers should be so knowledgeable and so prepared and so skilled at negotiation, that the result is a reasonable settlement.
While I no longer represent clients in litigation, my practice history in family law included the full spectrum of family law matters. Here are a few of the issues for which I served my clients over a forty-plus year career:
Dissolution of Marriage
A divorce can be simple or complex. It can settle quickly, even before filing a petition, or it can take lengthy complex litigation. I have handled hundreds of divorce cases. I communicate directly with my clients, not through a secretary or paralegal. I know how to keep costs from getting out of control. I am very experienced in taking cases through mediation to settlement, and when necessary, to litigation and trial before a Judge or Magistrate. For complex cases I know how to work with a team, including a forensic accountant, to simplify the task of identifying, valuing, and distributing assets and debts, and to determine support issues including alimony, child support, and attorneys fees. My client will always know and understand the process, the choices, and the risks. I respect my client’s decisions because I will have given my client the foundation for making the best decisions possible.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
One of my favorite parts of family law is drafting contracts for people who are marrying, or those reaching a settlement for a divorce. Before I made a major shift in my practice in 1987 resulting in my special concentration in family law, I worked for a number of years in a firm that handled the purchase and sale of businesses and other business transactions. Writing and reviewing contracts was extremely important in a transactional law practice. Getting the words just right in a contract requires experience and concentration on the client’s needs. Preparing these contracts includes specific responsibilities from both the lawyer and the client and, I have the experience to do the job right.
Child Custody and Timesharing
When I graduated law school in 1980, for a father to get majority custody of a young child took proof that the mother was virtually incapable of parenting. If a parent was under psychiatric care, he or she was often prevented from any unsupervised contact with their child. Domestic violence was swept under the rug and courts engaged in victim-blaming. So much has changed in society. I have extensive experience in the area of child abuse, neglect, special needs, domestic violence, and mental illness. I have been a trained Guardian ad Litem since 1987, including specialized training in sexual abuse protocols. I have studied child development and care deeply about fashioning timesharing solutions for each child. I also know how to work as a team with mental health caregivers and forensic mental health professionals for the best interest of the children. In my practice, these issues often result in post-judgment modifications, and contempt and enforcement proceedings. I have handled many hundreds of these proceedings.
Same-Sex Couples Issues
For twenty years or more, I have seen LGBT issues arise in my law practice. I have used inventive ways to bend the existing laws to help same-sex couples with problems that the law addressed for heterosexual couples. I have handled issues of domestic violence, dividing assets acquired together, and parenting children after the couple has split up. Finally, we are seeing the law change, and the statutes and courts are opening to same-sex couples. We are a society of laws, and the legal system should encompass everyone for a more stable and just society. No one should have to exist outside the system of justice, for any reason.
Extended Family Custody
Many families face the death of a parent, drug abuse, financial difficulties, and a myriad of problems. Sometimes the solution is that a child goes to live with the grandparents, an aunt, or an older sibling. Sometimes this is done informally, with the relative custodian getting nothing more than a Designation of Authority. Sometimes, it is done with the formalities of a judgment under the Temporary Custody of Minor Children by Extended Family Act. Either way, to ensure the safety and stability of the child, a lawyer should be involved. I have handled many of these cases. Though sometimes the underlying reason for the service is sad, the end result is a more stable home for the child.