California Divorce: 4 reasons why waiting to hire a divorce attorney is a mistake you don’t want to make

Even if you haven’t filed paperwork with the court or even if you haven’t decided 100% that you want to get divorced, you may want to consider consulting with a qualified, local divorce attorney.  When you consult with an attorney, there should be no obligation to hire them, and you should be able to come in and get the advice you need and your questions answered.  At least, when you visit my office, that’s what happens.  I even have my clients fill out a form that specifically asks them what questions they most want answered in the consultation, and I ask for their information and documents before we meet, if appropriate, so I can review them in advance of our appointment.

Here are some of the reasons why consulting with an attorney before you file is a good idea:

  1. If you’ve not decided to divorce yet, you can then at least make an informed decision about what the process is like, the time it takes, the cost, and what you’re entitled to.  Relying on what your cousin Susie or your neighbor John got in his/her divorce will NOT help you.
  2. If you have decided to divorce, then you can make sure that you have all the information – documents, financial information, deeds, insurance documents, etc. – gathered together that you will need.  It only takes a flash of anger from your ex to make this information disappear once you’ve filed and served papers.
  3. You may make a mistake and not even know it.  On countless occasions I have had to unravel mistakes made by unrepresented clients or clients who have gone to a document preparer or a paralegal to file their paperwork.  It costs much more and takes a great deal of time to undo a mistake than it does to do it right the first time.
  4. Mistakes can happen in paperwork, and they can happen in court.  A trained and experienced lawyer is going to know how to act in court and in front of the judge, and if you do so improperly, then you can dig yourself into a hole that’s nearly impossible to get out of.  Your whole life is on the line: your children, your home, your income, your assets, and your future.  Isn’t that worth getting proper advice?

A divorce attorney consultation is a few hundred dollars that will serve you in the long run, and help you to avoid these costly mistakes.

Ready to schedule a consultation? Contact us today!

Estate Planning 101: Putting your affairs in order – what documents to collect to save your family

Generally, we think of “putting our affairs in order” as something we do after we get the terminal illness diagnosis from the doctor.  There are many reasons not to wait for that time to get your affairs situated, but I’ll leave that for another time.  Today I want to talk about what it actually means to get your affairs in order. First, though, let’s see why it’s important:

Have you ever been the one “in charge” after someone has died?  No?  Imagine this: your nearest and dearest loved one has passed away.  You’ve talked to the hospital and picked a mortuary, so that’s a process that’s been started.  It’s really hard to talk about your loved ones “body” or “remains” while you’re still trying to process the loss in the first few minutes or hours.  But then you feel like you have to DO something, so you head to the house to see if you can find the “important papers.”  Two things can happen at this point:

Scenario one is that you arrive, and already know where the estate plan is, and head right for it.  With it are all of the life insurance policies, retirement and bank accounts, instructions, pre-need funeral planning receipts and contact information, and smaller things like an address book to get in touch with all his/her friends, a locked box (which you have the key) with all of the computer passwords, safe combinations and the like.  There seems to be a lot to do, so you contact the estate planning attorney, who, after asking you a couple questions, says, “there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to do.  Take care of you, your family, and the final arrangements.  Then call me back in a couple weeks if you have questions, but the instructions should all be there…just don’t worry about it now.”  So this is what you do, as you start calling friends and family members and bracing for the days ahead.

Scenario two is that you arrive, and don’t know where anything is.  Does s/he even have life insurance?  Where are the bank accounts?  Was there a will?  Where is it?  You start tearing apart the desk, closets, cupboards,…and find nothing.  Now you’re grieving, in shock, have a million things to do, and now you can’t find anything.  This adds to your stress, so you call in other family members, who are now tearing apart the boxes in the garage.  Everything is chaos, and still no information.  It’s overwhelming to the family.

Which would you prefer your loved ones experience?

The former?  GREAT choice.  Now, here’s what to put in the file:

  1. Your estate plan, with trust and will.
  2. Your powers of attorney.
  3. Your life/long-term care insurance information.
  4. Your retirement information.
  5. Bank account information.
  6. Pre-need funeral planning documents.
  7. Investment account documents.
  8. Deeds of property, such as homes, vehicles and boats.
  9. Health, disability, auto and property insurance documents.
  10. Income source documents (social security, employment, investments, child/spousal support).
  11. Credit card statements and evidence of other debt.
  12. Important papers, such as marriage/birth/death certificates, passports, tax returns, military or genealogical records.
  13. Names/contact information of trusted professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, gardeners, house cleaners or caregivers, home repair professionals (electrician, plumber, roofer, chimney sweep, etc.).

And one final thought: make sure you have at least one trusted friend or family member who knows where it is and what’s in it.

Need more information? Contact us today to schedule your free estate planning consultation.

Signs your spouse is considering divorce

It is not uncommon for one spouse to be surprised, blindsided even, by the divorce filing of their spouse.  Often, though, the surprised spouse can look back in hindsight and see the signs.  Here are some:

  1. A new vocabulary.  If your spouse starts saying words like “custody” or “community property,” “date of separation” or “dissolution” even (and these terms may not be in the context of your marriage, but may be dropped in conversation about someone else, for example), then this may be a sign s/he is talking to a divorce attorney, or at least gathering information.
  2. Shifting of accounts or money.  If your spouse suddenly wants to move money around, it may be a sign of impending division.
  3. Changes in his or her relationship with family members.  If your spouse has been estranged from her mother during the marriage and now they’re tight, it may be because the rift was due to the marriage.  Now that it’s ending, the rift is healed…you just don’t know it yet.
  4. Super Parent, or changes in parenting.  A spouse getting a divorce may suddenly become super-parent, trying to establish a pattern of caring for children when that wasn’t necessarily the case before.  Your spouse may be setting the stage for the impending custody battle.
  5. Sudden reduction in work hours, overtime, or business.  Many spouses, in the face of paying child or spousal support, find themselves with less work, business, or overtime, and sometimes bosses are complicit with this temporary reduction to avoid higher support amounts.
  6. Secret conversations.  Catching your spouse spending money or talking to someone on the sly may not mean an affair – it may be an attorney or s/he may be talking to others about you.

Divorce is difficult in the best of circumstances.  If you keep your eyes and ears open, though, you may be able to avoid being taken by surprise.

Looking for more help? Contact us today to schedule your divorce consultation.

Thinking of filing for divorce? Don’t do it before you read this!

I always tell my clients that getting a divorce generally will take much longer than you anticipate and will be much more expensive than you’d like.  In most cases, this is true, regardless of how hard we work to make it untrue.  It is a complex process involving a great deal of information that must be disclosed, but when you add to that the emotional component that is almost always present, the process can seem unmanageable.  One of the ways to make the process easier – from the very beginning to the very end – is to know and understand in advance what’s going to happen, what the options are, and how the general process can play out.  Too many people run out and file for divorce without really understanding what that means in terms of procedure, process, timing, strategy, and so on.  One of the best things you can do in your divorce is to become as educated as you can regarding the process.  Do some internet research, read some articles, buy some books, and/or consult with an attorney or several.  The more you understand about the process, the rules, and what you can do NOW to make the process easier later, the higher chance you have to maintain your sanity in the craziness that’s bound to come.  Finally, consulting with a compassionate, experienced professional can help, too, because it’s part of their job to ensure you understand everything that’s coming your way in the divorce.

Also, and probably most importantly, knowledge is power. If you’re considering a divorce, you want to know what you’re getting into. You want to know your rights. You need to understand your responsibilities (not making a mistake in the first place is much better than trying to correct one made hastily!). Making informed decisions will make the process easier, smoother, faster, and less expensive on everyone.

You may also want to read why a free divorce consultation isn’t worth the money (click here).

Ready to get some real, professional, personalized, compassionate & caring information & advice? Contact us.

Estate Planning for Blended families: Have step-children or a step-parent? Are you one? How to avoid (unintentionally) disinheriting your family

Estate planning presents unique issues for blended families.  Blended families are families in which one or both parents have children from a previous relationship.  The problem comes when one spouse dies without an estate plan, or an old or outdated one.  Generally, when spouses hold property in California (or anywhere in the US), they hold it in joint tenancy.  When one joint tenant dies, the other one gets the entire property.

Can you see where we’re going with this?

When one spouse of a blended family dies, then the other spouse generally gets all the property of the couple, often by default.  When it comes time to distribute the assets at the death of the second spouse, the second spouse can essentially disinherit the first spouse’s children.  The second spouse, with all the property in his/her name, has control over the ultimate disposition of the property.  If there is a family rift between the second spouse and the step-children, if the second spouse is negligent in creating an estate plan providing for the step-children, or in other cases, then the children of the first spouse to die can be left out in the cold.

Don’t leave your children out in the cold by failing to provide for them with an estate plan. Contact us today to schedule your FREE estate planning consultation.

Secrets of a divorce attorney: Why a free consultation isn’t worth the money

I came across an article recently that purported to give advice on how to select a divorce attorney.  One of the bits of advice was that most “reputable” attorneys will offer a free consultation.  I was stunned to hear this, as I think precisely the opposite!  The free consultation from the divorce attorney is a loss leader, which means that it’s free because the attorney is looking for the potential client to pay the big bucks at the end of the consultation. In addition, the attorney doesn’t offer anything of value to the potential client during the free consultation.

Remember, you get what you pay for!

Many attorneys offer a free or reduced-cost consultation and the appointment goes like this: the potential client arrives and fills out some paperwork, finishing after about 10-15 minutes.  Then s/he waits another 5-10 minutes, so the actual appointment starts at least 15 minutes into the alloted “hour.”  The attorney, naturally, want to know what’s going on, so the potential client spends at least 20-30 minutes – often this is closer to 45 minutes – telling their “story” to the attorney.  So, at this point, it’s been 45 minutes to an hour, and the attorney has yet to *do* anything but sit and listen.  At the end of the consultation, the attorney says, well, yes. I can help you with that.  And the retainer will be $10,000.  Or $5,000.  Or $20,000.  So the potential client has paid nothing to get nothing but a very high retainer quote, and the client has (unless s/he has the money) wasted an hour or so of time.

Is that worth it?  Are these the practices of a “reputable” attorney?

A paid consultation can be more worthwhile, as they tend to be a little longer and involve more attorney advice and counsel.  Often, the intake sheet is sent in advance, and the “hour” spent is really an hour.

Another option is our approach: We ask for your story ahead of time (!) in the form of documents, email, faxes, a letter, etc., send & have you fill out the intake form in advance, and we spend most of the full hour giving YOU real advice that you can use now.  Yes, the consultation costs, but you get what you pay for.

Which would you choose?

Looking for a kinder, gentler, better divorce?

As an initial note before I start the substance of this article: to ALL OF OUR RECENT NEW SUBSCRIBERS: Welcome and THANK YOU ! I see each of you as you subscribe & feel both grateful for the ‘follow’ & hopeful that I’ll be able to write & publish articles that speak to your needs in a changing world. If you have a specific request or question on a topic, you can email me directly at cmm@mcphersonlawgroup.com & I’ll try to address it in a future writing. I see you and I thank you!

I’ve said it so many times: divorce is hard. Like, really, really hard, even in the “best of circumstances.” There are a lot of reasons for this that I won’t go into now – I could write novels on the topic (as could most divorce lawyers) – but I’ll just say for now that for most individuals getting divorced (i.e. those not working in the ‘divorce industry’), divorce is surprisingly difficult. Likely because the troubles come from all angles, from systemic (courts!) to legal-culture (attorneys!) issues to economic (expensive!) to socio-political (no one agrees how to “make it better”) , and the list goes on. But tough in a, wow I knew it would be difficult but I had no idea it would be…THIS rough.

So it’s not hard to see why so many divorcing couples are looking for optionsthat really do improve those aspects of the situation and process wherever possible.

Here’s a bit of non-legal (perhaps non-traditional, outside the box, so to speak) advice – as I come upon 17 years as a family law attorney – about how to actually have a kinder, gentler, and better divorce:

  1. Trust your gut. Whether it’s about which attorney to hire or which route to take in the process, you’re going to have a lot of decisions to make in divorce. One of the first decisions is hiring an attorney – are you going to & if so, who should you choose? You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person, you’re going to need to trust them with the most intimate details of your life, and you’re going to be in a relationship where you’re at least a little vulnerable, financially, emotionally, mentally, etc. You don’t have to go with the most expensive, or the least expensive, & try not to let the well-meaning advice of others influence you on who to hire (you have to hire a shark! No you should hire someone local! No you should hire a [attribute here]!). It’s YOUR divorce, it’s YOUR family, it’s YOUR life that is changing. Work with someone you feel comfortable with, & who works in a manner that fits you & your particular style & personality. Trust your instincts & your gut to lead you to the right person & try to at least limit the influence of outside advice (even this advice!) – take it all in of course, but leave that which doesn’t serve you. Side tip: Talk to more than one attorney/have more than one consultation, even if you connect with the first one – at least to see a comparison & get a feel for how another attorney works. It may help you to solidify your first positive impression or help you to realize that you may want (need) something different.
  2. Be discerning. You have a lot of options when it comes to divorce. You can try mediation or other non-traditional routes (judge mediator, collaborative divorce, online services, document preparers, corporate attorney ‘deals’). Like trusting your gut, be discerning about who you’re working with & be sure the situation fits the proposed solution. Document services are less expensive & can be helpful, but when you’re working with non-attorneys, they can’t give you legal advice (not legally anyway), so aren’t generally appropriate where conflict is high. Where money is a concern, collaborative divorce may not be an option as it can be expensive working with several professionals. Mediation doesn’t generally work in a divorce situation where there is a power differential in a couple (which can manifest as abuse in more serious situations but doesn’t have to rise to that level to disrupt mediation), but that’s case-specific. So in choosing your route, be discerning in how to proceed and be sure the solution fits your needs. Side tip: The same goes for technology. Technology can be a great help in divorce, whether it’s a child and spousal support calculator, a child custody and visitation shared calendar, a message board for an extended family to communicate, etc., technology can be great. Indeed, I am a HUGE fan in the wonderful ways in which technology has been an amazing help to divorcing and extended/blended families – and I think it will only get better as resources improve – but just use your discernment to choose what’s right for you & your family & situation specifically.
  3. Remember your own sovereignty & free will. There’s lots and lots of help available out there, and lots and lots of businesses out there ready to help you and take your money for their help. There’s also a lot of help out there that’s out to really help those who are divorcing, who want to make it easier & better, kinder & gentler, and who really do actually care about their clients, their families, and the outcomes (over fees). Sometimes it’s a little tough to tell which is which, which is why we have the first two tips above this one (say that sentence 5 times fast!). But at the end of the day, your divorce is YOUR divorce, & handing over control to someone else, whether it’s your spouse (I’ll just let him take care of all the details…), your attorney (we even use the language, “will you take my case?”), your best friend who got divorced 11 years ago (& is still bitter), or perhaps you remember your own parents’ divorce 17 years ago (& are driven to do exactly the opposite of what they did), probably is not going to lead to the best result for YOU. So try not to forget that at the end of the day, the kind of divorce you have is up to you. If you give up control of the process, of who to work with & what path to take – and indeed of even the decisions made or results – well then can you see how you may come out of the process less than satisfied. Ask questions, remember it’s YOUR divorce, family, finances and future, & try not to lose sight of your own freedom to do what’s best for you, in your current situation, & let it be okay if what’s right for you is different from everyone else. Part of divorce is reclaiming yourself as a single, sovereign, independent person – not something we talk much about in the attorney-client relationship, but that doesn’t make it any less real or true in the divorce process – so having that in your mind as you progress can help to serve as bread crumbs, guiding you through the maze of divorce. Side tip: Divorce is like a death, so you may recognize the well-known “stages of grief” in the divorce process. I know I see them in my clients. Familiarize yourself with them so that perhaps when you’re overcome with a new and different divorce emotion, understanding the roots of it can help it to pass more easily and quickly.
  4. Finally…expect the unexpected. It’s common, natural, normal and human to want to know RIGHT NOW how long the process is going to take, how much it’s going to cost, what the outcome will be (how much support will I receive/pay? Who will keep the house?), and all of those questions currently burning in your mind as you search the internet for answers. But divorce is a process, and one of the biggest lessons that I see (for my clients) is that it IS a process. It (usually) takes a long, long time, there are a surprising number of variables to deal with (almost none of which you have any control over, unfortunately), things can change radically & suddenly, it’s a roller coaster of emotions unlike what you may be expecting, & no one can know how it’s going to come out…well, until  it’s over. Almost everyone asks me what my opinion is about their case, and surely I must have some insight on how the case will proceed/end up based on how long I’ve been practicing & the large volume of clients I’ve worked with over the years, etc…. But nope – families are unique like fingerprints, & their dynamics in conflict vary like the individuals that comprise them. Add in all of the variables, and you have a recipe for the unexpected. I’ve seen very high conflict cases suddenly settle, to everyone’s delighted amazement and satisfaction. I’ve seen “simple” cases for couples with few resources blow up into war-like conflicts that go on for years (though this has been rare!), and of course everywhere in between. I think it’s part of the divorce reflecting both the style & personality of the couple divorcing as well as those of the separating individuals (who change and evolve as they move from a mental & emotional space from “married” to “separated” to “divorced”), with a splash of the styles & personalities of those involved in the case, like lawyers, mediators, etc. But every case is unique to that case – which is why our representation is NEVER “one size fits all” and we tailor our approach to fit the client & case – so coming to terms with the unexpected can make the entire process at least a little easier. Side tip: This lack of or loss of control – of the situation, process & future outcome – can be one of the more difficult aspects of divorce, perhaps because it’s an aspect that’s….unexpected! Really! Honor that, & allow yourself time to deal with it specifically & that may make the rest of it smoother & less frustrating.

So take this advice, or leave it as it suits you. We hope it helps in some way, & if you’re getting divorced or have another kind of family law case/issue in California (paternity, adoption, child support/custody change), we’d be happy to chat with you about it if you think we could be of service.