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Jul 18, 2024, 07:09:53 AM

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Tips On Keeping Documentation

Here are some tips that one of the users of the SPARC site was kind enough to share with us. These are some great ideas and advice, the kind that only come through experience.

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Protecting Your Income

It's important to protect your income under any circumstances, but especially so when you're involved in any kind of divorce or custody situation.

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Child Support Spreadsheet

Please note that this Child Support Spreadsheet (CSS) has been replaced by the more powerful 'Support Tracker' function built into the Parenting Time Tracker (PTT).

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Can't Afford An Attorney?

Think you can't afford an attorney? Think again. If you're involved in any kind of extended or contested custody litigation, you need an attorney.
Not just any attorney- you need a competent and experienced attorney. Unfortunately, attorneys do not work for free, in fact, the better the attorney is, the more expensive he or she is likely to be.

When it comes to paying your attorney, keep in mind that a normal retainer is on the order of $1500.00 to $2000.00, unless your case is very involved or is an interstate case. The lower you can make this initial retainer the better. Don't be afraid to bargain a little.

If you cannot come up with the full amount in cash for the retainer, consider your options:
  • Use your existing credit cards to charge the retainer. This may drive the card balance(s) up to the limit, but you can pay it back in relatively small monthly installments until you can clear the debt.

  • Consider applying for an extra card or two. If you decide to accept an offer for more than one card it's best to do so at the same time so the credit checks are done as close together as possible. Credit card offers often come in the mail, in fact, as soon as your name appears on any court document related to a divorce, you'll get several offers from various credit companies. Your name and address is sold on a "divorce related" mailing list from the county court in most cases.

  • Many cards have a very low initial rate that then increases after 6 or 9 months. Take advantage of one of these cards, and plan to either pay off the balance or transfer it to another card before the rate increases to the higher figure.

  • Look into paying your attorney by trading services. Paint his house, fix his PC, build her a web site, whatever he or she needs to have done that you can do. Some attorneys are open to the idea of trading services, others are not.

  • Sell off all the useless junk you have that you don't need. Remember that in most states you are not supposed to sell off or dispose of communal marital property once you're legally separated.

  • Cash in savings bonds, insurance policies, coin collections, etc. Again, you are not supposed to sell communal marital property once you're legally separated, but before the separation has become legal, you (or your spouse) may do whatever you like with it. The fact is that once the money has been spent (paying an attorney, for example) it's very hard for anyone (like a spouse) to get it back.

  • As above, until the separation becomes legal, your 401K or retirement plan funds (if any) are yours to do with as you see fit. Most plans have provisions for emergency withdrawals, but be prepared to pay a hefty percentage in early-withdrawal penalties.

Finally, if none of these options can be made to work for you, look into Free Or Low-Cost Legal Aid.

What To Do If Your Attorney Wants To Quit

You've just spoken with your attorney and he's informed you that he's going to "withdraw from your case" and he will "no longer be representing you..."
Right away, you've got questions: Why is he doing this? How will this affect your case? What do you do about it? In short, what happens next?

There are several reasons why an attorney may decide to quit a case. Understanding these reasons and knowing how to respond to them allows you to have some control over the situation. Most instances where an attorney withdraws from a case fall into one of the four categories below:
  • Client financial problems (i.e. client is not able or not willing to pay the attorney's fees)
  • Client personality problems (i.e. the client is impossible to work with or just plain crazy)
  • Conflict-of-Interest problems (i.e. the attorney has some connection to another involved party)
  • Unethical attorney problems (i.e. the attorney is scared of court or just wants to bill you)

Financial Problems
If the problem is financial in nature, the answer is straightforward: Get Money. Borrow from friends, family, cash in stocks, bonds or other assets you may have. Talk with your attorney and try and work out a payment plan. Most attorneys are reasonable people and will work with you if they believe that you are serious about paying them. Some attorneys will accept services or barter work in lieu of cash payments. Look here for some other ideas on ways to pay your attorney.

Personality Problems
If the problem is "personality-based" and it's your personality that is causing the problem, you need to stop whatever it is that you're doing and start making amends (if possible). Maybe you're impossible to work with, maybe your goals are unrealistic, perhaps you're just a major kook. Maybe you've asked the attorney to do something unethical, or the attorney has discovered that you've perjured yourself. It almost doesn't matter- attorney's have plenty of unpleasant things they have to deal with already; they don't need difficult clients making their life harder. Usually by the time an attorney decides to drop a case because his client is unmanageable, it's too late to change his mind. Probably all you can do is to ask him politely for a referral to another attorney. See the section below on getting a referral to another attorney.

If your attorney is the one with the personality problem, consider yourself lucky to have found out about it while your case may still be salvageable. If his personality issues have seriously and demonstrably damaged you case, sanctions may be in order. Seek another attorney to represent you, then contact the local Bar Association or State Ethics Review Board and discuss the situation with them.

Conflict-of-Interest Problems
If the problem stems from a "conflict of interest" issue, you may be out of luck. An attorney cannot by law enter into a relationship in which the attorney, by virtue of his profession, receives or has appeared to receive confidential information involving any opposing party. For example, if your spouse consulted with your attorney prior to you retaining him, this would constitute a conflict of interest. In this situation your attorney may have gotten confidential details about your case from your spouse. In a situation like this, see the section below on obtaining a referral to another attorney.

Unethical Attorney Problems
This is the worst case- your attorney is unethical, unskilled, or only interested in billing you, not helping you. Perhaps he's scared of going to court. Whatever the real reason is, he'll attribute his desire to quit to something else. (After all, he's not going to tell you "I'm an unethical/crappy/lazy attorney, that's why I'm dropping your case.")

Approach him for a referral to another attorney as outlined below, but keep your eyes open. If appealed to properly he should be willing refer you to a more competent (and more ethical) attorney. DO NOT accuse him of unethical behavior, as this will not work to your advantage. After you have retained another attorney, document his actions and decide if they warrant a complaint against him. Contact the local Bar Association or State Ethics Review Board and discuss the situation with them.

Getting A Referral To Another Attorney
Leverage his guilt over abandoning you. Stress to him that you must now "go it alone" (pro se), as he is "abandoning" you. He will almost certainly advise you against this. Do some additional pleading, and ask for who the best family law only attorney is that he knows of. It is now to his benefit that you win, and he should refer you to a good one. Otherwise, he may face some serious ethics charges...it will worry him more if you "threaten" to go before the judge yourself (because you are being "abandoned"). Most judges are nor fond of seeing an attorney leave a litigant "high and dry" without a compelling reason.

Most attorneys are also very sensitive to the possibility of being sued. Every time an attorney is sued, his or her malpractice insurance rates go up- sometimes dramatically -and it doesn't matter if you win or lose, or even make it all the way to court against him. The mere fact of a lawsuit being filed against him will usually cause the insurance company to raise his rates.

You can find more information on hiring an attorney at these links:

Change-Of-Attorney Continuances
Because changing attorneys can be a complex and time-consuming process, it is not unreasonable that you may be granted a continuance. This allows your new attorney to review the case notes, court documents, and generally become familiar with the case. You are not required to take a continuance, but if you want one most judges will grant some sort of continuance.

The granting of a continuance is not automatic, if you want one you must petition the court. Evaluate whether or not a continuance is in your favor, then discuss it with your (new) attorney who will most likely have his own opinion on how to proceed.

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