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FAMILY LAW FAQs


I'm concerned that I may be on the verge of divorce.  What should I do?

Choosing a Family Law Attorney:

Some suggestions for those seeking a Family Law attorney:

1. When selecting an attorney from a Yellow Pages or other ad, notice whether they claim to handle many areas of law. If considering a lawyer recommended by a friend, ask what type of legal matter they handled for the friend. As explained below, Family Law requires skills that a "jack of all trades" lacks.

2. Get a retainer agreement from the attorney or firm and read it very carefully.  The retainer is a binding contract between you and the attorney.

3.
What about mediation?  As my profile page indicates, I served as a professional mediator for the Superior Court of New Jersey when I served as a Law Clerk in the Family Part, and have served as a professional Family Law mediator since opening my practice. When parties are unsure exactly what they want and what’s fair, but are determined to proceed in an amicable and honest fashion, mediation is absolutely preferable to the adversarial system.  It costs less, it takes less time, and it usually results in a resolution that is far more satisfying to both parties.  For about the cost of a single contested motion, we work together to find "win-win" solutions and to draft and execute a settlement agreement.  Each party is then advised to have the agreement checked by independent counsel.

4. During the initial consultation, keep the following questions in mind:


Basic Questions


What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Are you a member of the AAML? Would you like to be?

Are you a state-certified Matrimonial Attorney?

Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

Assertiveness and Tenacity

 


My Answers to the Same Questions


What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

What are the changes in Family Law, and how do they effect my case?

Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Are you a member of the AAML? Would you like to be?

Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

Assertiveness and Tenacity

Legal Fees

Trust your "gut feeling"

• What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

Family Law is no area for general practitioners or "jacks of all trades."  An attorney who may be excellent in other areas of the law may not have the particular skills and dedication that being an effective Family Law advocate requires. A good rule of thumb is to find an attorney who devotes at least 80 percent of their practice to Family Law. The most significant criteria for selecting a Family Law attorney are knowledge of and experience in family law.

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My Answer

• Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

Clerking for a family law judge is a unique experience which is almost impossible to duplicate by practicing law alone. As a law clerk, a recent law school graduate works for and with a Superior Court judge for a one year term, reviewing literally thousands of cases while observing and participating in the decision-making process. Perhaps most importantly, a law clerk has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of lawyers by seeing what not to do. 

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My Answer

• Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

At some firms, Family Law is viewed as being extremely profitable. While every attorney has expenses to meet, and some deserve to make a decent living at what they do, an attorney who cannot provide a convincing answer as to why they specialize in Family Law (profit aside) is someone you may not wish to retain.

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My Answer

• Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

If you and your spouse own large corporations with complex buy-sell agreements, you may need to pursue a mega-firm  to handle your divorce.  But if your case is closer to the middle to upper-middle class average, I believe you should steer clear of the large firms. A smaller firm or sole practioner that specializes in Family Law will usually be more responsive and will always be less expensive than the mega-firms.

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My Answer

• Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Read the firm's retainer agreement carefully. If your potential attorney or firm has "standard charges" -- for example, a minimum for court appearances, leave immediately and look elsewhere. Under no circumstances should a firm expect to be paid more than their hourly rate for "special services" such as court appearances or depositions.

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My Answer

• Are you a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers? Would you like to be?

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) is a group of extremely high-priced attorneys. If you believe that something that's the most expensive must be the best, well, they're waiting for you.

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My Answer

Are you a state-certified Matrimonial Attorney?

Unfortunately, our state Supreme Court has chosen to certify those attorneys who are unable to resolve most of their cases and are compelled to take them to trial, entailing great expense for their clients. Like the AAML attorneys, they often charge exorbitant rates. Ask around your area to see what matrimonial attorneys are charging. Don't get suckered into believing that a more expensive attorney is necessarily a better attorney. Don't find out the hard way that quite the opposite is too often the case.

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•Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

Most attorneys work on a forward-billing basis. However, if your case becomes involved, it may not be possible to continue pre-paying for legal services. Most attorneys will seek to secure their fees against marital assets that will eventually be sold, and will agree to a monthly payment arrangement in the interim. Avoid a firm that seeks to charge interest on an unpaid balance. Again, read the retainer agreement very carefully.

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My Answer

• Assertiveness and Tenacity

Make sure you choose an attorney who is willing and able to adapt to your changing needs. Though you may want a lawyer who is sensitive and compassionate toward you and always ready to reach a fair settlement agreement, keep in mind that these qualities alone are insufficient. There may be times when your attorney must be assertive and tenacious, especially when dealing with your spouse, your spouse's attorney, and the Court. A lawyer who exudes strength and confidence during your initial interview is more likely to be able to be aggressive if the need arises.

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My Answer

My Answers to the Same Questions

Coincidentally, I seem to score very high on the criteria I suggest for choosing a Family Law attorney.

• What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

About 90% is family law and family law appeals. The remaining 10% is general practice, including one fairly complex class-action federal civil rights matter. 

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• Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

I did indeed. I served under the Hon. Donald W. de Cordova, Chancery Division, Family Part during the 1996 term.

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• What are the changes in Family Law, and how do they effect my case?

Talk to me. The law is changing (for example, there is no more "visitation" - the correct legal term is now "Parenting Time"). New mediation requirements are on the horizon, as well as further movement toward shared parenting becoming a presumption, although many of the bills are being hotly debated.

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• Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

I went through the system myself while in the midst of studying for the Graduate Record Examination with hope of earning a PhD in history. At a low point in my experience in 1992, I literally threw away the G.R.E. book and picked up the Law School Aptitude Test book.  Years later, I now have residential custody of my son and have worked in the Family Court as a law clerk, which has given me a lot of perspective on all the various aspects of being involved in the system. I know how hard it can be - emotionally and financially - to be a litigant in Family Court. I went into law school with a strong Family Law focus, determined to become an effective and reasonably-priced zealous advocate.

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• Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

While the majority of my my clients are middle to upper-middle-class, I have handled complex and large asset matters with equitable distribution involving several million dollars.

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• Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Absolutely not. Although I offer flat-fee rates for some tasks (such as an uncontested divorce), I strongly believe that any firm that charges "flat fees" for tasks such as a court appearance is to be avoided.

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• Are you a member of the AAML or a state-certified Matrimonial Attorney? Would you like to be?

Never have been, never will be.  I think I explain why on the previous page.

My personal opinion is to avoid these attorneys.  Let me provide two brief but illustrative examples why I feel this way:

When I was a law clerk, I witnessed two AAML attorneys litigating which parent should pay for a child's college education. There is one Supreme Court case (Newburg v. Arrigo) that completely controls the issue. Although both attorneys submitted briefs, neither of the AAML attorneys (who were charging $275 and $300 an hour each) even mentioned the case. While I would certainly not go so far as to say that they're all incompetent, I would go so far as to say that better lawyers are available at lower prices. This is my opinion only, based on my experience clerking and based on my experience as a practicing Family Law attorney.

Another example: When I was a law student, I attended an American Trial Lawyers Association convention. A very well-known and ridiculously overpriced matrimonial lawyer (EG) was giving a lecture on family law. He gleefully discussed a recent case wherein a man in Australia had wired him $15,000 to handle a custody matter. The lawyer clapped his hands together and rubbed them, saying "he wired me $15,000! I had an associate deal with the situation in just a few hours . . . " and later he said "I didn't get into this line of work to save humanity -- I got into it to make money!" He went on to instruct the members in attendance in the most effective ways to increase billings and how to attach client's assets to satisfy overdue bills.

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• Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

I try to work with clients on payment issues. While I usually insist on forward-billing, if a client cannot afford this, I generally will make payment arrangements that fit into the client's budget. So long as the client keeps to the arrangement (e.g. doesn't completely disregard the bill) I do not charge interest.

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• Assertiveness and Tenacity

Theodore Roosevelt said it best - "talk softly, but carry a big stick." Settling on fair and amicable grounds is always preferable, and I seek to do this when it is in a client's best interests to do so; but if this becomes impossible, I enjoy the process of demonstrating the justice of our cause and prevailing in court.

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• Legal Fees

My concentration is on effective representation, not on maintaining an expensive image. I provide professional, aggressive representation at reasonable rates.

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• Trust your "gut feeling"

Office consultations are provided in complete confidence and without charge. If you don't feel I'm the right attorney for your case, I will be happy to discuss the reputation of other attorneys in the area, and even provide you with the names of other attorneys I'd recommend.

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