Experienced & Aggressive North Carolina Lawyers
Family Law FAQ's
How do I hire the right attorney to handle my family law situation?
Finding the right attorney to assist you with your particular situation and needs begins with finding one that you trust, feel comfortable with and one with which you can clearly communicate issues and concerns. During your consultation, the attorney needs to be able to ask you the right questions and spot potential issues during your consultation to ensure your rights are fully protected. A high comfort level with your attorney is extremely important so that you are able to give full disclosure of your situation that ensures that all possible legal issues and claims are addressed by your attorney. Good listening skills are another key characteristic you should look for in your attorney. It is extremely important that clients feel that their attorney is listening to them and really hearing their concerns. A clear understanding of the terms of hiring an attorney is very important as it will prevent hard feelings that often arise from these types of misunderstandings. Before you leave the attorney’s office, you need to be certain that you fully understand their billing practices and how they intend to handle your case. It is a good idea to meet with a few attorneys to be sure you find the right fit for you and your situation.
I am concerned about confidentiality; can I really share all the details of my case?
We must have all the facts to represent clients properly. Again, you must trust your attorney so that you feel comfortable in making these disclosures. Our firm holds confidentiality in high regard and you can trust that anything you tell anyone in this office is strictly confidential and will not be disclosed without your permission. You should also feel free to discuss the details of your case without fear of judgment. Our firm is here to help you and not pass judgment on any past actions or allegations that have been made in your case.
How much can I expect to spend in legal fees?
This is the most commonly asked question by clients and the most difficult one to answer. Each case is different, and as a result the amount spent on attorney’s fees is different. While we can make general estimates of ranges of anticipated fees based on our past experience, you must understand that these estimates are not guarantees. These estimates are for your financial planning purposes and preparation.
Our firm offers an hourly rate basis of charging. The hourly rate varies from attorney to attorney. Staff time is also billed at an hourly rate. Any specific concerns regarding the fees charged by your attorney should be explained in your legal services contract. You should always contact your attorney if you have questions or concerns about the fee arrangement as soon as possible.
How much can I expect to spend on expenses?
Expenses are about as hard to predict as legal fees, unfortunately, as it depends on the case. If your case is in litigation, you can expect to pay court filing fees that are around $100.00 and service fees that can range from $15.00 to $100.00. If depositions are taken, not only are you paying for your attorney’s time, but you also have expenses related to the court reporter that can range from $300.00 to $600.00. If a psychological evaluation is required related to a child custody matter, this cost can range from $1,500.00 to $6,000.00. Experts are often used related to equitable distribution claims so that if you need your home appraised, for example, that may cost around $300.00. If you need a business appraised, this could cost from $5,000.00 to $10,000.00. You will be responsible for the payment of all these expenses as they are incurred unless you have an agreement otherwise; therefore, it is very important that you are part of the process when determining what expenses you are incurring and if it is is beneficial to you from a cost/benefit standpoint.
My Spouse and I are on great terms; we both want to end the marriage. Can we both hire the same attorney to save on the expenses?
It is not ethical for an attorney to represent two people who have interests that are in actual or potential conflict. In cases of separation and divorce, the spouses’ interests are necessarily in actual or potential conflict. As a general rule, we cannot represent you and your spouse. This does not mean that your spouse must hire their own attorney; however, we cannot give your spouse legal advice because we represent our client’s interests. This can limit what questions we can answer for your spouse. If your spouse does not have a lawyer, we can meet with you and your spouse to discuss your case and any agreement that the two of you are contemplating; however, again we cannot give them legal advice.
What can I do as a client to make my case progress in a more cost effective manner (i.e. how can I keep my legal expenses down)?
Always notify your attorney of any change of address, telephone number, email address or employment. Be truthful; if you are not, you attorney may not continue to represent you and this may also create undue delay in your case causing unnecessary legal fees and expenses. Be cooperative and available to meet with when requested if at all possible. Attempt to cooperate with your spouse where the children are involved. Remember, if you are difficult, your spouse is likely to respond accordingly. By engaging in good behavior, perhaps your spouse will mirror the same. If not, your good behavior will serve you well in court. Handle your financial commitments to your attorney in a prompt and business like manner. Our firm understands that separation can cause significant financial strain. As a result of this, we want our client to be informed of the amount of funds left in their retainer and when it is about to be depleted. Before you get to that point, we will advise you in writing of the status of your case, your options toward resolution and the related retainer amount to pursue each option. By doing this, our firm hopes to avoid high outstanding balances that cause strain for both you and the firm.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to Separation Issues
I am contemplating leaving my spouse, what can I do to protect myself financially prior to separating?
If you are thinking that separation is a real possibility, it is very important to begin gathering your financial records and other important documentation to copy for your records. Some examples of these records would be bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns going back ten years, mortgage statements, appraisals, car titles, deeds, retirement account statements, life insurance, homeowners and automobile insurance policies, any financial records relating to a business interest, payroll records, etc. Unless otherwise noted, it would be best to gather these documents from the previous 12 months. The records would include electronic/computer files as well as paper copies. These documents need to then be stored in a safe place to use in the future should it be necessary. A safe place is considered to be anywhere that your spouse has no access. Your vehicle, for example, is not a good idea if your spouse has access to the car. A better approach would be to obtain a safe deposit box or keep the records at a trusted friend’s house. You should do the same with valuables or items that you would not want to risk losing, such as photo albums.
In talking to my friends and family about a possible separation, I am getting so much advice that I do not know what to believe or who to talk to. What should I do?
The facts surrounding your marriage, divorce, children and property are unique. Although your friends and colleagues may have the best of intentions giving you advice about your case or anecdotes about others who have gone through the process, more often than not you are getting advice that is not accurate and you should be cautious when following advice that is not from your attorney regarding your case. Also, be careful when discussing sensitive details about your case with friends and family as this can often be passed on to other people, which can lead to your spouse finding out about it. This type of action can defeat all of your attorney’s efforts to help you.
Are there any issues regarding communication that I should be concerned about?
You should create a new email account to use to communicate to discuss issues related to separation and you should not use your home computer, or any computer that may be accessible by your spouse. New passwords should be random; do not use passwords, such as children’s birthdays, that can be easily guessed by your spouse. The concern regarding using computers accessible by your spouses arises as a result of the possibility of computer software being installed on a computer without your knowledge to monitor computer use. As a result, you spouse can read your emails or obtain new passwords to email and financial accounts. In addition to concerns regarding “spyware,” your spouse may copy the hard drive of the family computer or a computer to which he or she has access, and recover information you may think has been deleted, but can be recovered by a forensic computer expert. These issues can be more fully discussed at your consultation with your attorney. Using a cell phone on your family plan can give your spouse the opportunity to review itemized billing statements and see to whom you have been calling or texting. You need to get your own cell phone to use that cannot be accessed by your spouse. Prepaid cell phones can be a good option for this purpose.
My plan to separate is imminent, what do I do about my bank accounts and automatic draft of my paycheck?
When separation is imminent, you need a secure place to put funds to live on that cannot be accessed by the other spouse. Open a separate bank account, stop your direct deposits from going into your joint account and close joint accounts. If your paycheck is directly deposited, you will want to change it so you get a hard check to deposit prior to your separation. If your spouse is the bookkeeper of the family, they may notice this change, so it needs to occur as close to the separation as possible to prevent a problem being tipped off to your spouse. You will want to fund your separate account as soon as possible simultaneous with or very soon after the separation. The risk with joint accounts is that your spouse can wipe out all joint accounts with one keystroke now with internet banking. You should also consider canceling or freezing joint debt related accounts, such as credit cards, lines or credit or equity lines, to prevent your spouse from withdrawing funds or taking cash advances that could result in high interest costs, which you may ultimately become responsible for paying.
It is important that, as soon as possible, you sit down and make a list of your debts, your expenses, your income and your assets. It is important to determine your net worth so you know what an equitable division of the marital estate will be, and what income you will need to support yourself in the future. In addition, you need to prepare a post-separation budget and set realistic financial goals. Now operating two households on that same amount of income that once funded one household can cause a great deal of financial strain. It may be a good idea to meet with a financial planner to get professional advice as to the best way to manage your money to ensure financial security in the future.
You also need to review your credit report to determine the status of your credit and identify any debts you owe that either you were not aware of or were fraudulently incurred.
What should I think about if I or my spouse own an interest in a business?
If you or your spouse own any interest in a business, you need to understand the following:
- What type of business is it?
- What interests do you or your spouse holds in the company?
- How profitable is the business? What is the future potential of the business?
- Are you are personally liable for any of the business’ debts?
- Are dividends paid on a regular basis?
If you have access to copies of the business’ tax returns, financial statements or other financial records, etc. The easiest way to hide income from another spouse is through a business. These records are extremely important to obtain as soon as possible.
What should I tell my child or children about the separation?
All your children need to know, initially, is that their parents love each other very much, but unfortunately they cannot live together anymore and it is not their fault. If you have additional questions or concerns for how to discuss separation and divorce matters with your children, you should consult a counselor. Parents that use their children as a way to hurt the other party in their case is not viewed positively by judges. The judge’s main consideration is what is in the best interest of the children; therefore, parents need to make this their priority. Revenge against the other party is NOT in the best interest of the children.
I am so overwhelmed with what is going on in my case, what can I do to stay organized?
Keeping a journal or calendar can help you take notes on incidents that have occurred with your spouse, such as arguments that may have become heated, specific dates money was withdrawn from joint bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. If you have children, you can keep a record of when you have custody and when your spouse has custody, when your spouse was late picking up the children, etc.
When can I start dating again?
Having gone through this process myself personally, I would suggest to you to take advantage of the one-year period of separation before entering into a serious romantic relationship. Take the year to connect with old friends and make new ones. Get acquainted with who you are and what you want for your future. Explore hobbies or other social groups and activities. Of course, if you are ready to get back into the dating scene before you are divorced, please proceed with caution. Adultery prior to the date of separation is marital misconduct and could give rise to a claim for alimony. Post-separation adultery is generally irrelevant, expect to the extent it helps to prove pre-separation adultery. However, post-separation adultery may be upsetting to your spouse and may affect his or her willingness to reach an agreement with you. If you are involved with someone else, please be discreet, be truthful and tell your attorney about the relationship.
I am having issues that relate to my divorce that are not “legal” in nature, what should I do?
Divorce is essentially the death of a marriage. It is traumatic whether you wanted the divorce or not. It is normal to go through a grieving process. Many times, people experience depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions upon the breakup of a marriage. If you feel this way, please seek help from a mental health professional immediately. This help can come from counselors, trusted clergy, psychologists or psychiatrists. There are often support groups, which are free of charge and sometimes even provide free childcare, such as DivorceCare. You can go to www.divorcecare.org to find a group near you and to learn details about what options they have for you in terms of cost, childcare, etc.
It is also important to take care of yourself physically. Exercising can help reduce stress and has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of depression. If you cannot afford to join a gym, walking or running in your neighborhood is a good way to get exercise for little or no financial cost, of course consult with your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen. Many sporting goods stores offer free running or other exercise opportunities for all speeds and skill levels. Yoga is another great option for stress reduction and can be done at a gym or in the privacy of your own home. Exercise can help improve not only your physical body but can also help improve your confidence and self-esteem, both of which can be badly damaged during the divorce process.
Now may also be an opportune time to explore your own spirituality. Visit churches in your area. Many offer great children’s programs, and some have specific programs for single parents. This activity may present an opportunity for you to expand your support network, which can be of the utmost importance during the divorce process. A good support network can be helpful to not only you, but also to your children and even extended family.
What if I am thinking about reconciliation but the case is now in the middle of litigation, is it too late?
No. Sometimes after a case is moving forward and time passes, emotional wounds can heal; folks can reconsider some of the issues that initially resulted in the separation and change their ways. You should always feel free to discuss these thoughts with your attorney. It is our policy to encourage efforts toward reconciliation and we will make any effort to help our clients get the resources and assistance they need if that is their desire, such as marital counseling or financial advising.
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