#FamilyFriday – I’m Getting Divorced: What Happens in Court?

A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide? 

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A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to give an overview of what it will actually look like in a courtroom the day of your hearing.

First, it’s important to point out that no matter what sort of courtroom you’re in, some things don’t change and all parties should remember.  For example, make sure to look presentable and put together.  Remember that the Judge can see everything and will notice if you’re laughing, rolling your eyes, or make any other facial or physical gesture.  And, most importantly, be honest.

Second, getting divorced is emotional.  It often involves children, hurt feelings, betrayal, loss of love, etc.  Stay calm and be prepared to be emotionally challenged.  This is part of the process and it is to be expected.  Your attorney will be there to help protect you and make your voice heard.

Third, many times last minute settlement discussions occur.  Often this happens just minutes before your hearing.  Don’t feel pressured to take a settlement.  Listen to what is being offered, considered what you want and how far off the offer is from your wants, and speak/listen to your attorney.  If you are the one suggesting a settlement, the same considerations apply.  Make sure you can separate your feelings and emotions from the case in a way that lets you see the potential settlement in the most rational and logical situation.  If you do not want to settle, say so.  Make your attorney aware so that s/he knows to deny any potential offering and move straight to trial.

The process is the same regardless of the county, Judge, or attorney.  If you are the Plaintiff – that is the person who filed the case – you will present your case first.  This will begin with an opening statement, calling witnesses, calling you, and presenting evidence.  Your testimony is arguably the most important piece of your case.  It is your voice, your basis for filing, your argument, and proving why what you want should be granted.  To do so, your attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to further support your testimony.  Presumably these witnesses are people who will show you as a great parent, good spouse, kind person etc.  Some witnesses may also be daycare providers, employers, etc.  Other times, you may call a witness to prove something.  For example, you may want to subpoena your spouses’ lover to prove s/he has cheated.

Your spouse’s attorney will then have an opportunity to ask you and your witnesses questions.  This process is called Cross Examination.  Your attorney will object to some questions asked and/or evidence presented.  If you hear your attorney object, stop talking.  The Judge will need to rule on whether or not to allow you (or your witness) to answer the question.  Be calm and be honest.  You may feel pressured, put on the spot, nervous, etc. and that’s okay.  Remember you have an attorney and s/he is there to protect you.

After you’ve presented your case, the Defendant will be given an opportunity to present their case.  They will be able to and will likely do the same things you did – the Defendant will testify, his/her witnesses and present evidence.  Your attorney will then have an opportunity to Cross Examine the Defendant and his/her witnesses.

When the Defendant concludes their case, both attorneys will have an opportunity to present closing arguments.  These arguments are spoken to the Judge and tend to recap what happened at trial, highlight important testimony or pieces of evidence in support of their case, and ask the Judge to do grant their client’s wishes.

Once the Judge has heard both sides and collected the evidence that has been presented, s/he will likely go back into their chambers to review and make a decision.  If the case is long, has many documents, many witnesses, etc. the Judge may state that they will make their decision in writing and dismiss the parties to wait on receiving that decision.  If the Judge does make the decision that day, s/he will return to the courtroom and state their decision for both parties to hear.

For questions and to talk about your case, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask to schedule your FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!

 

 

#FamilyFriday – Absolute Divorce v. Limited Divorce

Many families are confused about the difference between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help explain the two types divorce.

Many families are confused about the difference between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help explain the two types divorce.

An absolute divorce is absolute and terminates the marriage.  Any award made by the Court under the limited divorce may be finalized and incorporated into the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

A limited divorce is a legal separation.  When a party files for a limited divorce it usually means one of the following: (1) the grounds for an absolute divorce have not been met, (2) there is an immediate need for financial relief, and (3) the parties cannot work amicably to settle their differences.  During the limited divorce, the parties are still married, cannot enter into sexual relations with other persons, and must live separately.  The Court may determine which party is at fault, child custody, child support, health insurance coverage, and make additional awards.

Many couples file a Complaint for Limited Divorce or, in the alternative, an Absolute Divorce for tactical reasons.  For example, perhaps your spouse refuses to discuss some or all the issues such as establishing an access schedule, paying child support, contributing to household expenses, etc.  If your spouse won’t have these conversations you may want to immediately file in order to obtain said support.  Because it may take nearly a year, or more, for the Court to schedule your final hearing, you may end up meeting the requirements for an absolute divorce.  In the off chance you don’t, filing the limited divorce may get your spouse to work amicably with you or, at the very least, adhere to an Order of the Court.

If you are separated and need assistance, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: My Role as Court Appointed Counsel

Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself. Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.  The Court Appointed Counsel is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status. 

What is guardianship and do I need it?  Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself.  It is what the court calls, “the means of last resort” because the court prefers alternatives over guardianship because it is so restrictive.  Such alternatives are powers of attorney, joint account ownership, etc.

Guardianship is taken by the court very seriously.  Why? The answer is actually simple.  When a person is incarcerated in prison, he or she has lost their liberty, i.e., their ability to make their own decisions.  With guardianship, even though it is a civil matter and not criminal, the court is making a determination that a person is not competent based on medical evidence, and essentially taking that person’s rights away to make medical and financial decisions from that point forward.  The only way to get guardianship removed is to prove that the medical condition no longer exists or the person has regained the ability to make their own decisions.

Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.   That attorney is referred to as the Court-Appointed Counsel or CAC.  The CAC is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status.  That means that if a person with end-stage Alzheimer’s Disease does not believe anything is wrong and does not want a guardian, it is the CAC’s job to tell the court the ADP does not want a guardian.

Additionally, as part of the job of a CAC, he or she may also interview family members, review medical records, request depositions of medical professionals, and although very rare, conduct a jury trial on behalf of the ADP if competency is strongly contested.  Often times, the ADP is either unconscious or non-communicative due to a disease or physical trauma, like a head injury.  The court will regularly call on the CAC to opine as to the best-suited person to serve as guardian because the CAC is the court’s eyes and ears during the guardianship process.

Since the guardianship process can be very intense and contentious, it is best to be prepared and get your estate planning documents in order.  The best part about estate planning is YOU get to choose who makes those difficult medical and financial decisions.  If a guardianship is initiated, you may not get who you want.  For example, you might not get along with your child, and would prefer your sibling be your guardian; however, if a guardianship is initiated, your child stands in a higher priority of appointment than your sibling.  Therefore, if the matter is contested, your sibling would have to prove that he/she is better suited to be your guardian than your child.  So as parting words of wisdom…make sure you are prepared!  Get your estate planning documents together so you can avoid guardianship at all costs!  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#TuesdayTips: DIY Estate Documents Gone Wrong

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents? 

Did you create your own documents?

Why pay a lawyer when I can get my estate documents online for free (or at least at a lesser cost than a lawyer)?  Every estate planning attorney has fielded that question at some point or another.  My response is usually: “I love online documents…because it usually means I’ll have more work that makes more money in the future.”  After I say that, I typically get a grin across the client’s face and then they ask “why”?

Using online documents to accomplish your estate planning goals is not generally a good idea and in many cases can lead to severe consequences.  Have you ever heard the saying, “you get what you pay for”?  When you get your documents online, you don’t have the opportunity to talk to an attorney, to ask questions about your specific situation unique to only you or your family, and your documents will not be tailored to your specific circumstances.

Prior to your documents being drafted, you meet with an attorney to discuss your estate planning goals and objectives at the consultation.  My estate planning consultations usually last at least an hour if not an hour and a half.  During the consultation, we review your health status, family status and financial status all before we even mention the words “will” or “power of attorney” or “trust.”  You also have the opportunity to ask questions and receive specific answers related to your situation.  When you get your documents online, they are almost  never tailored to your specific situation.

What happens if you are a blended family?  I can almost guarantee you that the basic online Will does not address how to provide for your spouse and your biological children if you were to die first.  Many estate litigation cases arise from blended family situations where the surviving step parent does a new will after the spouse dies cutting out the spouse’s biological children from any inheritance.

What about your million-dollar IRA?  Who does that go to?  Many clients think the Will directs who gets that money.  WRONG!!  If you have beneficiaries on that IRA, then the beneficiaries listed on the IRA account receive the money and the beneficiaries named in the Will get none of it!  So many people believe the Will controls everything, and unfortunately, if you get your documents online, you will not be educated on what happens to each asset that comprises your estate.

What if you own property in multiple states?  Chances are you were not advised by the online website that you will have to likely do probate in each state you own property.  To avoid this common situation, often times estate planning attorneys will employ trusts so that ownership of those properties are consolidated into the Trust.  That way, upon the death of the owner, the Trustee can sell the properties and does not have to go through the probate/ancillary probate process in each state the Decedent owned property.

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents?  Instead, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 today!

#FamilyFriday – Parenting Plans

You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to discuss the importance of Parenting Plans.  You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future.

Frequently parties obtain their divorce, receive their Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and some form of an access schedule, holiday schedule, and child support.  What happens when this changes?  What about claiming the children on your taxes?  What about switching schools?  Sports?  Doctors?  The Judgment of Absolute Divorce is frequently silent on many of these issues which results in continuous litigation.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.

Attorneys and mediators can help you and your family create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  Additionally, attorneys and mediators often know what questions to ask, problems to prepare for, things to consider that many parents in the moment don’t think about.  Most importantly, settling the disputes between the spouses when it comes to them as parents also make the divorce process less painful for children.  Their parents may not be married but their family will have consistency and a plan in place.

Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our mediation and parenting plan services!

#TuesdayTips: Financial Powers of Attorney – To Be or Not to Be?

The purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.   

That is a valid question.  One that is not pondered enough and often results in a family member being thrown into a position of great responsibility without any direction or idea how they are to act or what they are to do.  In fact, most people sign power of attorney documents naming someone, but then never tell them or have a conversation with that person about what will be expected of them.

Instead, they leave the attorney’s office feeling relieved that they have a plan in place in the event something happens to them, and as soon as they get home, shove those documents into a filing cabinet, drawer or safe (not even telling anyone where they are located), knowing that when the time comes, they will let the named individual know.  Except, the purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.

The conversation needs to happen before naming anyone as your power of attorney so you can pick the right individual for the job (and it is a job, make no mistake).  Generally, a financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to manage your finances, and specifically itemizes everything your agent is allowed to do on your behalf.  However, a power of attorney does not list your assets or provide instructions regarding how those assets should be managed.  Only you know that.

 

Thus, it is imperative that you let your agent know about every asset you own – real estate, personal property, bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, trusts, etc.  Where the assets are located, what company or institution holds them, how they are titled, and their values also should be disclosed to your agent.  Your agent should also know your sources of income and when you receive your income so they can pay bills accordingly.

Additionally, you should tell your agent what your wishes are in the event you require long-term care.  Do you want your assets used to keep you at home, or would you want them preserved for your beneficiaries?  Either way, your agent will be in charge and if assets need to be liquidated, are there certain assets that he or she should liquidate first?  These and many more decisions should be made and discussed with your power of attorney.

Being a financial power of attorney requires a lot of organization, work and time.  It is a commitment that cannot be taken too lightly.  You should choose a power of attorney that is trustworthy and has the time available to devote to managing your assets.  And please, make sure your power of attorney knows what you have and what you want done with it.  Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!