Wednesday, October 30, 2013

IF YOU THINK YOU CAN'T AFFORD A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY, YOU'RE PROBABLY WRONG


If you think you can’t afford a Family Law Attorney, you’re probably wrong.  Consider what’s at stake:  Your children.  Your assets.  Your future.  Placing these important matters in the hands of an experienced professional, rather than taking a do-it-yourself approach, is likely to pay dividends.  While it is true that contested divorce and/or custody cases can become expensive, there are strategies you can utilize which are designed to maximize the odds of a favorable outcome, while minimizing the cost.

FIND A QUALITY ATTORNEY:

When hiring a Family Law Attorney look for someone with extensive experience and an excellent reputation.  One good way of doing this is to ask for a recommendation from a therapist, a counselor, other attorneys, or people you know who have gone through a divorce or custody case.  When you have narrowed your search, meet and talk with the attorney to make sure you are comfortable with him or her.  Prepare a list of questions to ask at your consultation, so that you can make sure you understand how the process works and what the attorney will be doing for you.  If you do not feel a sense of trust and confidence in the attorney, find another.   A strong, experienced attorney may have a higher hourly rate than an inexperienced or sloppy one, but he will not spend his time - and your money - “spinning his wheels.”  He knows what needs to be done, and how to do it.  

LOOK FOR WAYS TO NEGOTIATE:

When a person becomes embroiled in a heated divorce or custody dispute, it is easy to simply “shut-down” and refuse to communicate.  This is a recipe for a lengthy and expensive litigation.  Certainly, there are times when you need to stand your ground and fight (for instance, you wouldn’t want to give joint decision-making authority and equal parenting time to a child abuser); however, in the vast majority of cases a negotiated solution is possible, and it's likely to be the quicker, less expensive, and better option.  There are a number of dispute resolution alternatives that you can use to simplify the process and save money.  These include private mediation, court ordered ADR conferences, and settlement conferences conducted by a judge pro tempore   You can also set up a settlement meeting with the parties and their attorneys.  

By being willing to negotiate, you take control of the situation rather than placing your life in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you and has only a limited amount of time to hear your case.  When parties to a divorce or custody case are able to successfully negotiate their own resolution, they tend to “own it” and are happier with the outcome in the long run.  They have “built a bridge” and learned to communicate.  Therefore, they are less likely to run back to court, and spend their hard-earned money on attorneys, whenever a future dispute arises. 

It helps to view mediation or a settlement conference as a business negotiation.  Taking strong emotions out of the equation allows you to view things more objectively and make better decisions.  Your attorney can assist you in preparing for the negotiation, so that when you walk into the meeting you will be confident and well-organized.  This will increase your chances for success. If the negotiation doesn’t result in a settlement, your attorney is standing by, ready to go to battle for you.  However, a strong, experienced attorney who is looking out for your best interests can often save you tens-of-thousands-of-dollars by helping you reach a favorable settlement and avoid a lengthy, contentious, expensive litigation. 

CONSIDER “LIMITED SCOPE” REPRESENTATION:

If you have a relatively simple matter, or if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you on a full-time basis, you can still make effective use of an attorney by having him or her assist you on a “Limited Scope” basis (sometimes referred to as “unbundled services”).  Lawyers in Arizona are now allowed to assist a party by performing a particular service, such as writing a letter, or participating in a deposition, or drafting a legal document to be filed with the court, or even by appearing on the client‘s behalf for just one hearing.  This procedure requires the attorney and client to enter into a written agreement specifying the action to be performed.  Thereafter, the lawyer files a Notice of Limited Scope Representation and appears in the case for the purpose of providing the service described in the agreement and the Notice.  When that service has been completed, the lawyer files another notice and withdraws from the matter, and the attorney-client relationship is terminated.  If the lawyer is needed later in the case, he can once again become involved, but a new attorney-client agreement and Notice of Limited Scope Representation is necessary.  By using an attorney on a Limited Scope basis you are able to save money, since the attorney is working only on a specified project and is not representing you in the case as a whole. 


USING AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT:

If you cannot afford full-time legal representation in a Family Law litigation, you might consider using an attorney as a consultant.  You can do this by scheduling consultations with the attorney, as-needed, in order to help you understand the process, so that you can effectively represent yourself.  The lawyer does not represent you in your case.  Rather, you are going in for advice, from time to time.

When a litigant steps into the courtroom, he or she is expected to understand the applicable law and the proper procedure.  This is where many self-represented litigants get lost.  The result can be disastrous.  Presenting a legal case is not simply a matter of writing a letter to the court, or standing before the judge and telling your story.  There are rules of procedure, and rules of evidence, and you need to know what documents to file and when to file them.  There are also time limitations.  Imagine stepping on a baseball field to play in a game without knowing the rules.  Which end of the bat do I use?  What is a “Ball” or a “Strike?”  After I hit the ball, which way do I run?  In court, just like in a sporting event, there are rules to the game, and if you don’t know those rules you are at a huge disadvantage.  This is why so many self-represented litigants come into the courtroom full of hope, and walk out distraught, having suffered a terrible outcome, and feeling as if they were never heard.  They lost because they didn’t know the rules of the game.

Presenting an effective argument to the court requires much thought and a great deal of organization and preparation.  For instance, it is not enough simply state that your opponent is lying about his income, or that you earn less now than you did the last time you were in court.  You must have documentary proof in the form of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, bank statements, and/or other income information.  Putting together the necessary proof and presenting your argument in a persuasive manner are critical to achieving a successful outcome.  This is where a consultation with an attorney can be of great value. 

In a consultation, the attorney can help you understand the law and your legal rights.  He can help you learn the rules of court.  He can help you put together your documents and organize the evidence in a manner that will allow you to prove your case.  Finally, the attorney can assist you in determining the best way to present your argument to the judge. 

 There are many ways in which you can use an attorney to help you achieve a favorable result in your Family Law Case.  It’s not only wealthy people who can afford a good lawyer.  You can, too.





Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, spousal maintenance, child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We'd be happy to help you.