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.
By: Elizabeth J. Fineman, Esquire
Social media use has become pervasive in modern culture. More and more people regularly engage in social media activities across several platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram and Google+. Unfortunately, many people post to various social media sites without giving sufficient consideration to the possible consequences. For those who are going through a divorce, engaged in a custody dispute or paying or receiving support, it is essential that you evaluate your social media habits and apply a higher level of discretion to your social media communications.
Family Law cases are often tumultuous and there are a lot of emotions involved. It is not uncommon for some to use social media as an outlet to vent their frustrations, conflicts, or interpersonal issues. That is never a good idea. Any time you post something to social media, you should ask yourself, "How would a court view this post?" If this is not something that you would want raised at a future hearing, do not post. For many, this kind of self-editing or “filtering” is difficult. My strong advice to them is to take a break from social media, and develop some “rules” for posting before resuming social media activities. A few good guidelines are; never post when you are angry or upset, give yourself a cool down period, don’t engage in a public debate or correction of others on the internet, stop and take a moment to think and re-read before posting. It’s important to remember, once you tweet, share or post, you have effectively put something out on the web that you can’t really take back.
For parents, if the other parent objects to the children's photographs being posted to social media sites, you should respect their wishes. There are other ways to share photographs with family and friends other than social media which are much more secure.
It is important to understand that information posted on many of these sites can be obtained, even after posts are deleted. Therefore, posting and later deleting may not be sufficient. There have been too many instances where social media postings have negatively impacted results in domestic relations matters. In custody, some people post photos and "check in" places during their periods of physical custody, making it clear the children are regularly left with a babysitter. If seeking additional custodial time, this is never a good idea. Some people involved in support litigation post information that makes it clear that their income is higher than they have disclosed. These can all have a detrimental impact their results in court.
I hope the take away here is clear; you must use extreme discretion when utilizing social media when divorce, child custody and support are at issue.
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.