Although the weather is just starting to change to cooler temperatures, the holiday season is fast approaching. Holiday displays are up, holiday music is already playing and even the pre-Black Friday sales have started. It seems that with the warmer temperatures well into the fall, the holidays have snuck up on us all. While it is easy to get wrapped up in the spirit of the season, if you have minor children and a custody agreement or order, it is time to take a look at your custody documents and give some thought to what lies ahead in the next several weeks.
Before you make plans with your children, it is important to see what the holiday schedule is for this year. Which days of the holidays are your children with you, what times are they with you, and who is responsible for transporting the children? It is important that you know the answers to all of these questions. Take out your custody agreement or order now and look through the schedule for Thanksgiving through New Year’s. If you have questions, now is the time to ask your attorney, not on Thanksgiving morning. We all know that a lot of advance planning occurs for the holidays, and family gatherings are scheduled. If it is important to you that your children celebrate with you and your extended family, you want to be sure to make your plans around when you have physical custody of the children. Knowing the details of the holiday schedule now will enable you to make plans based upon the custody schedule and keep everyone happy, which should result in a more peaceful holiday for you.
By Elizabeth Fineman, Esquire
As a family law practitioner, I’d like to share some information that could help prepare potential clients for the kind of personal questions they will be asked when they make their first call to schedule a consultation. Many people are taken aback by being asked for details about sensitive personal and financial details on their initial contact with a family law attorney’s office. I want to reassure you that, while these initial interviews can be difficult, there are good reasons why the questions need to be asked, and ultimately, you are better served if we gain a fuller picture of your issues before the first meeting with the attorney.
First things first. The firm is ethically obligated to take names and identifying information related to all parties involved in the case before the attorney consults with the client. We do this so that we can confirm that there are no conflicts. A conflict check involves a review of prior cases that the firm and attorneys have handled to make sure that we have not previously represented the opposing party. Once the firm confirms that there are no conflicts, a meeting with a domestic relations attorney can be scheduled.
You should also expect to be asked some questions related to jobs, incomes, assets and liabilities. This information is all provided to the attorney before you meet, enabling that attorney to walk into the initial consultation knowing what issues (divorce, child support, alimony pendente lite, spousal support, alimony and/or child custody) are pertinent to your case and time can be allotted accordingly so that all areas are covered in enough detail at the consultation.
While the first steps in a divorce or family law matter are, by their nature, very personal and fraught with emotion, knowing what to expect before you make that call can hopefully lessen the impact, and lead to a better and more productive exchange.
People are often surprised to find out from their domestic relations attorneys that there are two different types of custody that have to be addressed: physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody is simply which parent the children are with at a given time. This is generally addressed in a custody agreement or custody order based upon three time periods. First, who has the children on a regular weekly basis. This is for both days and nights. Second, how much vacation time does each of the parents have with the children. Third, who has the children on holidays. The parents can decide which holidays are important for them to address, and usually not every holiday is considered. Primary physical custody occurs when one parent has the child or children more than half of the overnights each year. The other parent is then considered the partial physical custodian. Even if there is a primary and partial physical custodian, this custodial arrangement is still considered a form of shared physical custody. Equal physical custody occurs when the parents each have half of the overnights in a calendar year.
Legal custody relates to legal decisions that impact the children. The major areas of legal custody are education, religion and healthcare decisions. In the vast majority of custody cases, the parents will share legal custody and therefore make these decisions jointly. Parents with younger children will have to make more legal custody decisions as compared to those with older children, for whom many of these determinations have already been made.
Custody schedules can be structured many different ways based upon what is in the best interest of the children, and what works for the parents. Parents are highly encouraged by the court to work out custody schedules. If they are not able to, the court will make a determination and issue a custody order.
Custody is often the most emotional aspect of a divorce or separation. We strongly recommend that parents facing custody issues contact an attorney to be sure they understand the process, and their rights under the law.
The initial divorce consultation is your first meeting with the attorney. It occurs before you retain the attorney and can be utilized to determine if you and the attorney can work effectively together. Sometimes this meeting occurs because you want to have the knowledge and information if you foresee potential divorce, support or custody issues in the future or are considering a prenuptial agreement. Other times, there may be issues which require you to hire a family law attorney immediately.
Prior to the first meeting, our office will ask you to be aware of relevant topics and materials to ensure a productive meeiting. At the first meeting you are asked to bring information related to your income, assets and liabilities. If you do not have access to this information, the meeting can go forward without the information, as it can be acquired from the other party during the divorce process. Expect to be asked questions related to these areas as that will allow the attorney to provide you with a better overview of the anticipated range for a resolution of your case, whether by agreement or court order. The asssessment made at the initial consultation is based on the financial data provided, and may change as more specific information is made available. It's a good idea to make a list of your questions in advance of the initial consultation, so that the meeting will be more productive, and you do not forget to ask about your concerns.
The purpose of the first meeting with a domestic relations attorney is to gain information and have your questions answered. Over the course of an hour you will be provided with an overview of aspects of family law that may affect you: divorce, support (child support, spousal support, alimony pendente lite and alimony), custody and/or a prenuptial agreement. You may be provided with the anticipated range of outcomes for your case based upon the information provided at the consultation. Most importantly, you will have an opportunity to have your questions answered. Having a general understanding of the process and answers to your questions is important at a stressful time like this.
While this is a difficult meeting for many clients, it is important to remember that the attorney is the one who is providing information and answering questions. Family Law practitioners are well aware that clients are going through a very emotional process, and it the attorney's responsibility to put the client at ease, and help to navigate this unfamiliar and emotionally fraught territory as painlessly as possible.