Free legal Advice|How to Think Like a Divorce Lawyer.

Free legal Advice | How to Think Like a Divorce Lawyer.

Looking for free legal advice? How to think like a divorce lawyer.

Now is when we really start thinking like a divorce lawyer.

This next phase in your case will help you to develop your positions and move toward settlement or trial. If you do this part of your case correctly, the following phases of negotiations and trial become much easier. Without taking this phase seriously, negotiations and trial could be disastrous.

Going through a family court case, means one or more aspects of your life is in turmoil. There are incidents that happen everyday that cause you stress, mess with your emotions, and can cost you financially. Perhaps the most difficult part of representing yourself is determining what is legally relevant versus what is emotionally relevant.

We have already discussed that Arizona is a no-fault divorce state. That means your spouses bad behavior, which has left you feeling hurt and betrayed, may not be legally relevant to the judge. In family law, determining what is and isn’t relevant to the judge can be a difficult task for attorneys since we are dealing with issues like “Best interest of the children,” which is not exactly a concrete concept. For someone living in the midst of turmoil it can be next to impossible. That your spouse is an abusive alcoholic is certainly legally relevant to child custody issues,that your spouse is a chronic cheater is not necessarily relevant to spousal maintenance, but may be relevant to property division. This section will help determine what is legally relevant to your positions and how you need to prove it.

What is Evidence?

Evidence can be witness testimony or documents and other physical sources of information like photos. You must offer evidence for every element of every issue relevant to your case.

 

Rules of Evidence

In family court, the rules of evidence are relaxed unless one party files a “notice of strict compliance.” Under the relaxed rules, all relevant evidence is generally admissible unless it is repetitive or abusive. Generally, if it is relevant to the issues, a Judge will allow you to use the evidence. If a notice of strict compliance is filed, all of the rules of evidence including hearsay and authentication rules apply. If you are going up against an attorney and they have filed the notice, we suggest you seek advice from an attorney. He or she can help you properly prepare your evidence for submission to the court.

During the next 2-4 months, you will need to identify, compile and organize your evidence. This is a daunting task even for some attorneys, so here, I will give you step by step instructions for what to do.

Step 1: Identify What You Must Disclose and Evidence that You Need

When you argue your case in front of the judge, the judge will look at each legal issue one at a time. Your job will be to apply your specific facts to the existing law. When a judge decides the outcome of your case, it will be issue by issue. For issues such as legal decision-making and parenting time, they are required to make “findings of fact and conclusions of law.” We must keep this in mind when identifying potential evidence and later determining the evidence we will use to prove our case.

The First step in tackling this phase is to figure out what legal issues are relevant to your case, determined the legal elements within the issue, and the corresponding evidence that you need or that you have.

Potential legal issues in the case include:

  • Property division
  • Debt division
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance
  • Child support
  • Child custody legal decision-making
  • Parenting time
  • Attorney fees
  • Enforcement
  • Modification

Start by identifying which issues are relevant in your case. Then look at the substantive law for each issue to determine which elements must be proven. Once you know the elements that you must prove, then you can identify what piece of evidence is necessary to establish a basis for each element.

For example, if child support is a relevant issue to your case, we will look at the child support calculator or read the statute regarding what is necessary to determine child support.

We will find that, at a minimum, to determine child-support you need to I agree upon or prove the following elements:

 

  1. The names and ages of the minor children.
  2. How much income does each party earn?
  3. Who provides health insurance for the children and what is the cost?
  4. Do the children attend childcare? If so, what is the cost and who pays for it?
  5. Do the children have any extraordinary needs for expenses?

 

Then for each of the five elements we have listed above, we can determine whether witness testimony or documents will be used to prove our position. If we start from the very beginning of our case thinking like a lawyer, and organizing our documents and evidence around elements of the issues, it will help us to filter out things that are happening in your day-to-day life that will not be relevant to the judge.

 

Continuing with our example, for element number one, witness testimony will establish the names and ages the minor children. This is almost never in dispute and almost never requires documentation.

 

For element number two, incomes of the parties, proving this element can be simple or complex. Usually, each party’s affidavit of financial information will be sufficient to prove income of the parties. We will talk in depth about the affidavit of financial information later.

 

Element Number three should be fairly simple to prove, using Insurance statements, insurance cards, and paychecks or bank statements to prove the cost of insuring the children.

 

Element Number four relates to childcare. Be prepared to prove where the children attend childcare and how much you pay for it receipts, a written statement from a witness/your childcare provider, you may need a calendar to show the days and times the children attended childcare if this issue is in dispute.

 

The same analysis applies to element number five. If your children have exceptional expenses or needs, be prepared to show that they have these exceptional needs, why the additional expenses are necessary, why your spouse or ex should help you pay for them.

 

How to Put Together Your File

Many people have different ways of organizing a legal file. One popular way is to break down a file into pleadings, court orders or minute entries, correspondence with the opposing party, and disclosures.

While there is nothing wrong with that approach, and it may work for you, I am advocating a different approach.

When organizing your disclosures, keep the end in mind.

At a minimum, have one folder for each legal issue (depending on the size and complexity of the issues, you may need subfolders for each element of each issue). As time goes on and new evidence unfolds (like emails from your ex saying he got a new job making $100k) you can determine which element of which issue the email is relevant to and put it in the proper file or folder.

You will also need a folder for pleadings and orders, but by organizing everything else in relation to how the judge thinks, you can stay focused and save time when preparing for trial.

 

How to Identify Witnesses

 

In most Arizona counties, you will be given very little time to prove your case. Because of that, use of witness testimony is usually kept to a minimum, but can make or break a case. You will need witness testimony if your testimony is not sufficient on the issue or element of the issue, and there is no documentation to prove what you are trying to establish.

 

A witness can be anyone with personal knowledge on a relevant issue. A grandparent or friend could be a witness to an incident of domestic violence. An employer could be a witness on anticipated future income.

 

What about Expert Witnesses

 

Expert witnesses are people with special training or knowledge who are asked to give their opinion on a given issue. Expert witnesses like parenting coordinators, court appointed advisors, or forensic psychologists are often used to provide opinions and facts surrounding issues related to parenting time and legal decision making. They are most often appointment by the court, so there is no need to worry about disclosures.

 

The other type of expert witness frequently used in family law cases are financial experts. A financial expert may be used to testify about the value of certain assets, or the earning capacity of a spouse, or the value of a family-owned business. These experts are you usually hired by one of the parties or hired jointly to render an opinion. If you hire a financial expert or any expert witness that the court is unaware of, you must disclose the name, credentials, and subject matter the expert will testify on 60 days prior to trial. Sometimes you need only the report of the expert and you do not need them to actually appear in court and testify.

 

There are certain types of cases that are very difficult to prove without an expert.

  • If your case involves domestic violence and you don’t have direct evidence of that violence, you should consider hiring an expert or asking that the court appoint an expert for you.
  • If your case involves suspected parental alienation syndrome, these are very difficult to prove, and you will need an expert.
  • If you suspect your spouse has a mental illness but it is undocumented, you will need an and a psychological evaluation to prove the mental illness exists.
  • If your case involves a business and it must be valued, you will need a business valuator to render an opinion of value.
  • If you have already had a temporary order, presented evidence on an issue such as spousal maintenance, and received an unfavorable order, consider hiring an expert witness to offer different facts or back up your claims, at the next hearing.
  • If your case involves separate and community property, co-mingled funds, or other complicated financial issues, consider hiring an expert witness.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just examples for your consideration. Once you have identified each issue and the corresponding elements, and you have determined the evidence that exists for each element, you can evaluate the strength of evidence that you have and consider what role witnesses will play.

 

Given the framework, we can now dive in to disclosures and discovery.

 

Rule 49 of the Arizona Family Law Rules of Procedure lays out what you are required to disclose even without the other party asking for the documents and even if you do not intend to use the documents as evidence. In reality, self-represented litigants rarely follow all of the rules and rarely disclose everything that they need to under rule 49. Rule 49 can help you identify what might be important and what you may need to get from the opposing party.

 

Thankfully, it is also broken down by legal issues.

 

Mandatory Disclosures

 

In Arizona, evidence that is not properly disclosed cannot be used in trial. This means that if you do not follow the correct process for disclosing your evidence, the Judge may refuse to look at what you bring to trial despite all your hard work identifying, organizing, and preparing your evidence. This can be devastating and could mean losing on very important issues like child support or parenting time. It could mean you walk away with less than half of the community property. You could literally lose on every single issue, if you do not take this part of the process seriously and approach it with diligence.

 

Disclosure simply means that you have provided the opposing party a copy of the evidence you intend use. You may find it easier to organize your documents and online files. We do much of our disclosure with their law firm electronically to the opposing parties as well.

 

Disclosure statements are required under the rules and simply act as a guideline and cover page for your disclosures. Within the statement, you will identify the names of the documents, your position on the relevant legal issues, the names and addresses of any witnesses you intend call, Andy’s summary of what you anticipate they will testify to. It can feel very counterintuitive to tell the opposing party exactly what you plan to present to the court. However, it’s not only required under the rules, it should also help you to reach settlement. The idea being that if your ex knows how strong you’re cases for child support there is simply no need to litigate the issue.

 

Completing and filing a disclosure statements also puts the court on notice what you have disclosed and when. This prevents the opposing party for making false claims they have not received your disclosures.

 

You do not have to file your disclosure statements, but you can. You do not file the documents you are disclosing. They are simply given to the opposing party. Your first disclosure statement is due to the opposing party within 40 days after the response has been filed. You may complete several disclosure statements throughout your case since the duty to disclose is ongoing.

 

The Affidavit of Financial Information

The most important and non-negotiable mandatory disclosure is the Affidavit of Financial Information (AFI). If your case involves child support, spousal maintenance or attorneys fees, you and your ex will need to submit a completed and accurate AFI. This is one of the only disclosure documents that must be filed with the court.

It is very important that the information you put on your affidavit of financial information is accurate. Within the documents you will need to identify your household budget, your sources of income, your debts, your assets. We have broken the task down into a three step process.

 

Step 1-Assess Income

 

The first step is to evaluate the total amount of income of the spouses. If one or both people work at salaried positions, this is fairly straightforward.

 

Calculating income can be more challenging, however, if the other spouse is self-employed without a set monthly income. Income from sources other than employment, such as trust funds, retirement accounts, government benefits, and royalties should also be assessed.

 

For several aspects of a divorce, including child support and spousal maintenance, it’s imperative to know the income each spouse receives. If you still have access to the house and all of the documents and accounts, it is very important that we get this information now.

 

Go through the house and identify all of the information you possibly can regarding income. Identify where the accounts are held, the user names and passwords, statements, W2s, tax returns, 1099s etc.

 

Step 2- Document Income

 

Start Printing! There is no telling how long these accounts will be open. Print bank statements, copy W2s, tax returns, profit and loss statements etc.

 

For the self-employed spouse, it includes additional documents such as bank account and credit card statements, business records, and loan applications.

 

Determining the income of a self-employed person is not always simple, but having access to the appropriate documents can make it much easier. Once a spouse moves out, gaining access to those documents can diminish or even disappear.

 

Step 3- Create a Budget

 

After income has been assessed and documented, the final step in figuring out the financial situation involves creating a current and prospective budget. The budget should detail your income and expenses both currently and what you anticipate them to be in the future (if you are married and getting a divorce). The same painstaking detail used in documenting income should be applied here in gathering bills, financial statements, and other documents that show the family’s expenses. This is much easier to do while living in the home and without the possibility of anyone hiding assets or information.

 

You will use the AFI to state both current and future anticipated expenses. This requires planning!

 

This budget can be critically important in determining how much spousal maintenance will eventually be paid or received. The laborious work of creating a thorough budget is well worth the effort, and proving the accuracy of the budget with documents is even more valuable in terms of preventing further conflict.

Consider the free tool Mint.com to help you organize your information and assist with the creation of an accurate budget.

 

The AFI requires asset and debt information as well, however, those sections of the AFI are more important in a divorce than in an action to establish custody for unmarried parents or in a modification.

 

If property division is an issue (because you are going through a divorce), you will need to identify your assets.

 

You should itemize all of the assets on a spreadsheet (use Mint.com for a free resource to build your asset picture), detailing the date the asset was purchased, the purchase price, and the estimated current value.

 

For some assets, such as the home, this is fairly straightforward, while other assets will be more difficult to assess. It’s unlikely that most people have kept records of the purchase date and price of every piece of furniture, collectible, and other home furnishing they own.

 

It’s important to make as complete an itemization as possible, however, remembering to also check the contents of any self-storage facilities or safety deposit boxes.

 

If you don’t have access to information, we will use the discovery tools to request the information from the opposing party.

 

Four categories of assets to consider:

 

  • Marital residence and other real estate including lots, vacation homes, cabins, etc.
  • Intangible assets, such as financial and retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, etc.
  • Business interests.
  • Physical assets, such as furniture, artwork, vehicles, etc.

 

In addition to identifying the assets, you will need to identify the debts.

If you have more than a few debts, you will want to itemize debts on the spreadsheet, detailing the amount of principal owed, interest rate, creditor, and account numbers.

 

Five categories of debts to consider:

  • Mortgages, equity loans and other debts secured by real estate
  • Auto loans and other debts secured by physical assets
  • Credit cards, including store-specific cards and gas cards
  • Student loans
  • Tax liabilities

Some of the records and documents to photocopy:

 

  • Tax returns
  • Pay stubs
  • Statements for all financial and retirement accounts
  • Statements for all loans and credit cards
  • Vehicle titles
  • Photographs of physical assets, such as china, crystal, artwork, furniture, computers, etc.

 

This can be a time-consuming task, but time spent photocopying supporting records and creating a thorough itemization will be a huge advantage.

 

It’s common for the leaving spouse to have limited access to the marital residence and its contents after moving out, which allows assets to disappear or be damaged.

 

The itemization will also prevent additional unscrupulous and unethical behavior on the part of the other spouse, and it will save money by reducing the work to be done by a lawyer who bills for his or her time.

 

 

While you are gathering all this information to complete the AFI, it still represents potential evidence, so you will want to file it away in the appropriate folders within the relevant legal issue.

 

Some evidence will be relevant to more than one legal issue. In that case, I recommend making a few copies of the evidence and placing all relevant evidence in each section of your disclosure/discovery folders.

 

Additionally, you will want to document what you have received and when from the opposing party. You could add a tab to your spreadsheet or simply create a separate folder for what you ex has disclosed and when. You can then take a copy of anything relevant to your issues and place them in the relevant folder.

 

What if you don’t have the information you need?

What if you have done all this work, you have dutifully disclosed and created disclosure statements and your ex is refusing to give you anything! This happens all the time, even when people are represented by attorneys. So, what can you do to get the information you need.

 

First, you can send a letter requesting the information you need and pointing out the mandatory disclosure rules in the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.

 

Next, you can use the following discovery tools to formally demand your ex give you what you need. With most of the tools below, the opposing party will have 40 days to respond to your requests.

 

Finally, if you still don’t have what you need, you can consider filing a motion to compel. Before you are allowed to file the motion to compel you must make a “good faith effort” to resolve the discovery dispute. That means even after you have 1)asked nicely 2)provided discovery requests and 3) waited 40 days, you must still ask again before filing your motion to compel. This could mean you make a call, send an email or write a letter giving your ex a final deadline before filing your motion to compel.

 

If after all of that, your ex still won’t comply and the motion to compel is granted, you will also be awarded your attorneys fees. It is mandatory and not discretionary. Since you are representing yourself, I suggest you request monetary sanctions- the equivalent of your ex paying your attorneys fees. This sort of bad behavior should be punished. You can’t have a fair fight if one side won’t play by the rules. Additionally, the rules are designed to put everyone on an even playing field, working with the same information in order to achieve a fair result. If you can’t get information, it’s difficult to settle a case, forcing you to spend more of your precious resources in the emotional abyss of a family law case.

 

What are the available “discovery tools”

 

You will notice that not everything is covered by the mandatory disclosure rule 49. There may be things you want that your ex is not required to disclose. Use the discovery tools to request anything even remotely relevant to your issues. Which tool you use depends on what you are requesting.

 

Note* These legal documents do not get filed with the court.

 

Interrogatories 

A frequently used and very useful discovery tool is interrogatories. You can send both uniform and non-uniform interrogatories to the opposing party. Interrogatories are questions that must be responded to in writing by the opposing party within 40 days of receipt. This locks in the answer of the opposing party and provides valuable information you can use in making your case. As an example, the uniform interrogatories ask for the party to list all bank accounts, assets, insurance policies, pending litigation claims, etc. If your case has hotly contested issues, consider using the uniform interrogatories as a fantastic discovery tool for your case. The answers are almost ALWAYS useful.

 

Request for Production of Documents

Like the interrogatories, a Request for Production of Documents asks that the other party deliver to you the documents/things you are requesting within 40 days of receipt. You can ask for any and all relevant documents including Quickbooks files, criminal convictions, drugs tests, even medical records. You can even ask for a computer or tablet to have a forensic evaluator search for money or evidence of crimes like child pornography or drug dealing. This is a fantastic tool to accompany interrogatories.

 

Request for Admissions

Requests for admissions are used less frequently than the two tools above, but can provide valuable information and insight for less money than the cost of a deposition. In a request for admissions, the opposing party is asked admit/deny questions and must either admit or deny the questions that you ask.

 

Depositions

Arguably, depositions are the most powerful discovery tool available to you as a litigant. A deposition allows you to ask any question that you would like of the opposing party (with few exceptions) under oath and on the record. This gives you the ability to test out questions and determine the opposing party’s demeanor and ability to answer difficult questions. It also locks down their story. You can depose both parties and witnesses by serving a “Notice of Deposition” upon the party or witness(es) you intend to call. Then, you will want to schedule a court reporter to take the deposition. Give yourself enough time to get the written transcript well before trial.

 

Subpoena

A subpoena allows you to get documents from third parties such as banks, or command a witness to attend a hearing. A subpoena must be issued by the clerk of the court and served upon the intended recipient.

Each discovery tool can help you to achieve a given objective. As always, know your strategy and what you must prove to determine which tools to use. Consider the cost benefit analysis of each decision and take advantage of either a certified legal document preparer, lay legal advocate, or an attorney for further information.

 

What If you don’t want to follow the rules? Here are two client stories related to the disclosure and discovery issues for you to consider.

  1. A client story- undisclosed assets

The client had been married for 30 years. She had raised and home-schooled 6 children and helped build and manage the family business that supported them. She had been a committed and devoted Wife. The “baby” was 10 and still at home along with his sister who was a senior in high school. Honestly, Dad didn’t seem all that interested in the kids anyway. She discovered he had been leading a double life. His online dating profile stated he was 10 years younger and earned $500k/year- twice as much as he actually earned running their dental practice.

We had been working together for a year on her very complicated divorce. She had received her divorce decree, but items were missing. The judge failed to divide all of the property! She was devastated. She just wanted to be done! We had two options: appeal or motion for a new trial on the property issues and ask that the Judge simply divide the assets. We did the latter and the Judge granted a new trial. Ug. This was not ideal.

In the meantime, we kept digging. This is when we found huge amounts of undisclosed accounts. All while Husband was claiming he had no money to pay child support and spousal maintenance, he was sitting on $100k in a hidden bank account!

So, what happens when you find hidden money?

First, you get an emergency order freezing the funds so they cannot be spent by your lying, cheating, no good, dirty, rotten spouse.

Then, you prove at trial that the funds were undisclosed. Because we have done our job and affirmatively played by the rules disclosing everything, and we have sent discovery requests followed by letters requesting all documents, we are given ALL of the money.

That’s right. When one spouse hides money during a divorce we can open the case and be awarded all- not just the community portion of the money.

It was a good day and a great victory for my client.

Billie Tarascio

 

Letter- The Doctrine of “Clean Hands”

 

There is a legal defense known as the doctrine of “clean hands.” It can be most easily translated as “S/he did it too” (insert bratty voice here). Anyone who has children or who has been around children is familiar with the commonly used defense.

Johnny comes to you looking for vindication and says: “Suzy took my blanket and she won’t give it back!” You talk to Suzy who says “But he took my doll!”

This scenario plays out in courts all over the country with a slightly different variation of the facts. The clean hands defense most recently reared its head in a case I was involved in regarding hidden income.

I represented Father. We believed that Mother was hiding thousands of dollars in rental income each month, which should be factored into Father’s child support obligation. Mother owned two homes, a rental and the home where she resided. We believed the rental property was owned free and clear and the residential home carried a mortgage. Mother simply stated she had a net rental income of $50/month. She refused to supply the mortgage documents.

We started our pursuit of discovery with a letter to the opposing counsel requesting clarification on the subject and reminding him that the documents and questions we were asking were well within the mandatory disclosures required under rule 49. When we did not receive an answer to the letter, we sent uniform and non-uniform family law interrogatories clearly and unequivocally requesting that Mother supply us with each property she owned, what was owed on each property, who lived in the property, and a rental agreement for any rental property.

While Mother responded to many of the questions within the interrogatories, she did not answer the questions regarding her properties. At this point, we are very close to proving our allegations that she has the additional income through her avoidance. Our next step is to file a motion to compel. This motion asks the court to compel Mother to hand over the information and answer the interrogatory. If it is granted, attorney’s fees are mandatory, meaning Mother will have to pay Father’s attorneys fees associated with the discovery attempts.

On the day of the hearing, we set out to make our case on both the rental income and why Mother should pay Father’s attorney fees due to her failure to comply with the rules and respond to our reasonable requests. Father offers testimony about why he believes Mother is hiding income and why she has acted unreasonably and cost him additional attorneys fees. We have planned well and executed our strategy and the Judge seems to be aligning with our position. Then Mother’s attorney begins cross-examination of Father. The last question he asks is: “Isn’t it true you also have rental income that you have failed to disclose?” It is clear from Father’s face that he does, indeed, have rental income he failed to disclose. Father attempted to explain that it was only very recently acquired, and, it is only a minimal amount of rental income. But the damage was done. The Judge stated he would use both parties income from their AFI. Father would not get attorneys fees and Mother would not be imputed the additional rental income in the child support calculation.

What is the moral of the story? It is essential that you comply with the rules of procedure in family court. Here is a link to the whole set of the rules. Unfortunately, if you miss something, or fail to comply with the rules, the opposing party may use it as a defense. In this case, my client spent thousands of dollars perusing information and attorneys fees. His failure to mention a $30 rental income on his updated AFI, cost him thousands of dollars in overpaid child support and attorneys fees.

 

Our duty to disclose is ongoing. If something changes, you must disclose.

 

This post was written by Attorney Billie Tarascio of Modern Law. We hope you enjoy the legal information and understand that it is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney.

 

 

How to File for Divorce

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This article is step one in a complete manual on How to File for Divorce. Many people want to know how to get a divorce, yet finding step-by-step instructions from actual qualified professionals is very difficult. Only a lawyer can truly guide you through the process and we know divorce lawyers are expensive—too expensive for the majority of people. But we have good news!

This guide was written by local divorce lawyers who know the laws, the procedures, and tips and tricks to make your life easier. Access Legal is owned by attorneys, but is not a law firm—it’s a company designed specifically to help people representing themselves in Arizona family court.

If you’re looking for answers to something specific, use our quick links below:


The initial filings

MarkerEvery case starts with either a Petition for Dissolution/Legal Separation or a Petition to Establish custody, paternity, and/or child support.

In a nutshell, you are either getting a divorce/separation/annulment or you have had a child with someone you are not married to and need to establish custody/parenting time and/or child support.

For anyone going through these legal events, the same process must be followed. This section will describe the first step of your case, the initial documents. You will learn what to file, where to file, how to serve the opposing party and how to respond. I will offer tips on drafting and filing your documents and the path of least resistance to get your opposing party served. By doing the first step correctly, you set yourself up for ultimate success.

First, determine what type of case you have:

  • Divorce with Children
  • Divorce without Children
  • Covenant Marriage Divorce with Children
  • Covenant Marriage Divorce without Children
  • Legal Separation
  • Annulment
  • Initial Establishment of Legal Decision Making, Parenting Time, Paternity and Support (or any combination of the issues)

You will file a Petition for (fill in any of the above case types that apply to you) and all accompanying documents to start your case. If you have children and you are filing for Divorce, your Petition will be accompanied by a family court sensitive data sheet, a preliminary injunction, a notice of right to convert health insurance, an affidavit of minor children and a notice regarding creditors.

If you are filing a Petition without children, you will not need to provide the affidavit of minor children or the parent information program. Check in your county to find out the exact accompanying documents you will need. There is nothing more frustrating than driving to the courthouse, waiting in line, and getting the clerk to look at your documents only to have them rejected because you don’t have a specific supplementary form required by the county.


Drafting the Petition

Response to Petition for Dissolution With ChildrenWhen drafting your Petition you have the option of being very specific, very vague, or somewhere in between. This is a strategic decision that depends on the facts of your specific case.

You may want to use vague language by asking for “an equitable distribution of property” or “reasonable parenting time to be determined by the parties” in order to leave yourself room to refine and change your position as you move through discovery. You may find through discovery that separate property exists that you were previously unaware of, you may decide to sell the house, you may exchange property for spousal maintenance, etc.

By keeping your initial documents vague, you can avoid making inconsistent statements to the court while refining your position and leaving yourself open to all possibilities. You should avoid making inconsistent statements to the court whenever possible. For instance, if you ask for $2500 per month spousal maintenance in your petition, $1200/month in your motion for temporary orders, and $3500 in your pretrial statement, the judge is likely to be annoyed by this lack of consistent information. I have seen judges award attorney’s fees against the inconsistent party. Being vague avoids this problem.

Another reason to keep some statements vague is to avoid inflaming or angering the opposing party. For instance, if things are quite amicable, and you and your spouse have talked through many details that you agree upon but you are still negotiating a spousal maintenance and child support number, consider stating only that you “may be eligible under the statute for spousal maintenance in an amount and duration to be determined,” or ask for “child support to be ordered pursuant to the Arizona guidelines.”

If you believe that your spouse or ex is unlikely to respond to your petition, then you must draft your petition very specifically. If an opposing party fails to respond to a petition, you become eligible to seek a default judgment against the party. You will be awarded everything in your petition—ONLY everything in your petition. For that reason, if an opposing party doesn’t respond but you have failed to include a parenting plan in your petition, you must file an amended petition, serve the opposing party, and wait for the allotted time frame again.

There are some things you must include in your petition or you will be barred from changing your position. You must state whether or not significant domestic violence has occurred during the marriage. Do not omit this fact. If domestic violence has occurred, make sure to include it in your petition. This factor is pivotal in the decision of legal decision making and parenting time.

Similarly, if you and the other party agree on everything, you can arrange for a strategic default by crafting a petition specific to your agreement and one that addresses all outstanding issues. Then, the other party need not respond or pay the fee for responding. The Petitioner can seek a default judgment as a fast track way of getting divorced or getting a custody order entered.

While there is no need to use “legalese” when drafting your petition, you will want to make sure that you write in a clear way that lets the judge know what you are asking him or her to do. You do not need to say: “COMES NOW, Donald Duck, Petitioner of the land of Disney, to hereby request that henceforth he be granted sole legal decision making.” But instead you could say something to the effect of: “Petitioner, Donald Duck, requests he be granted sole legal decision making.” Then you can set out your reasons. Have a friend or family member edit your document and make sure it is written clearly. Grammatical or spelling errors are not uncommon and will have no actual effect on your case; it is more important that the substance of what you are asking for is clear and you have addressed all issues.

 

Filing the Petition

You can DIY your Arizona Divorce with Access Legal Membership

You can DIY your Arizona Divorce with Access Legal Membership

Your Petition must be notarized and for that reason is not eligible for e-filing in Maricopa County. (Not all counties have e-filing, so make sure and check with the local courts). You should take three or four copies of your documents with you to be stamped: one for you, one for your attorney (if you have one), one for the judge, and one for the opposing party. You should also expect to pay a filing fee when you file your petition. The filing fee in Maricopa County is $318 as of this writing.

If you are unable to physically take the Petition and accompanying documents to the courthouse, either because you don’t drive or because you work business hours, you can hire a “runner” to take the documents for you. Many legal document preparer companies will facilitate the filing for you, or an attorney’s office can facilitate the filing for you. When you get to the courthouse, you will go to the filing clerks and either take a number or wait in line. At the counter, the clerks will examine your paperwork to make sure everything is there. They will file stamp your documents, collect the fee, give you a case number, and assign a judge. You will then take one of your file stamped copies to the judge’s box and deliver the document.

Next, we will talk about how to serve your petition.


Service of the Petition

MarkerThe day you serve the petition on the opposing party is a very important day. Not only does that trigger the time from which the opposing party must respond, it also “severs the community.” That means any debts incurred or income earned after the service of the petition will be separate property and debt. You won’t be divorced yet, but you are slightly less than married because you are free from the community property rules.

Along with the petition, the following documents must be served on the opposing party:

  • “Family Court Cover Sheet”
  • “Summons”
  • “Preliminary Injunction”
  • “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) With or Without Children”
  • “Notice of Right to Convert Health Insurance”
  • “Notice Regarding Creditors”

You may serve a party in a number of ways. The first and most preferable means of service is by acceptance of service. If the opposing party will sign an acceptance of service, service can be completed quickly and easily and without additional costs.


Sample Letter of Service

createHere is a letter/email that we regularly send in order to encourage an opposing party to accept service:

Dear Daisy,

Ms. Tarascio has been has hired by Donald Duck to assist with an annulment of marriage. I have paperwork for you that I would like to get to you. We would like to avoid both the cost and embarrassment associated with having you served via process server. We are hoping that you agree and will accept service of the documents.

Accepting service means you would need to provide us with a notarized copy of the attached Acceptance of Service, which acknowledges that you have received the documents only, not that you agree with them. You may access a filed copy of the documents along with the acceptance of service using the link provided.

Once you have acceptance of service, you generally have 20 days to respond if you are within the state of Arizona, and 30 days if you are outside of the state. In the event you are willing to accept service and need an extension, we can generally be very accommodating to your extension requests. If you are unwilling to accept service, we will need to hire a process server and we will seek reimbursement of those costs from you through the Court.

Please let me know as soon as possible if you are willing to accept service, or if you have any questions. While we cannot give you legal advice, we do keep a list of Arizona divorce attorneys who can give you a free consultation and will work toward a resolution without charging unreasonable fees. Having committed attorneys on both sides will result in faster resolution and lower overall fees. Let us know if you would like the list of attorneys.

 

Feel free to borrow whatever language is helpful in encouraging your opposing party to accept service. If they agree, you will need a notarized copy of the acceptance of service to file with the court. This serves as the “Notice of Service” and is essential for your court file.

In the event that acceptance of service isn’t possible and the party is in Arizona, you can hire a process server. Process servers must be licensed in the state of Arizona, so you cannot have your brother, friend or neighbor serve the documents for you. You cannot serve the documents yourself either. Process servers generally charge between $40-$100 to serve documents depending on the person, how far they must travel, and how many attempts must be made.

Another alternative is having the sheriff serve documents. This is always an option if you are seeking to serve an order of protection; it may be possible for other documents as well.


Service via registered mail

registered mailService through the mail is also a viable form of service.

Sometimes a petitioner may not know the whereabouts of an opposing party. In that case, we must make every effort to locate the party by using a private investigator, social media, contacting relatives, etc. After we have exhausted these possibilities and still cannot find the party, we can ask the judge to allow “alternative service.” Alternative service is most often service by publication in a newspaper. This takes weeks if not months and is not the preferred method of service, but it is an option when we have no other way of finding an opposing party.

No matter how we serve your opposing party, you must file a “notice of service” with the court to indicate how and when the opposing party was served.


Filing Your Response

If you have been served with a Petition inside Arizona, you have 20 days to respond. If you are located outside the state of Arizona, you have 30 days to respond. Receiving a Petition can be gut-wrenching, even when you knew it was coming. If you are blind-sided by a Petition, you are likely hurt, angry, scared and may be overwhelmed. It is easy to bury your head in the sand, but you can’t! You must respond to the Petition.

When drafting your response, many attorneys use an admit/deny format. A response may be as simple as “I admit paragraphs 1-6. I deny paragraphs 7-12. I’d like to be awarded attorney’s fees.”

The problem with the admit/deny format is that you cannot read the response without the petition next to it. Your entire case is controlled by what the petitioner has written. Instead, I recommend writing your response as a counter petition, so that anyone can pick up your response and know exactly what you are asking for. Instead of stating, “I deny paragraph 12”, consider saying “I disagree that the Petitioner should have sole legal decision making. Instead, Petitioner and Respondent should share joint legal decision making. Both Petitioner and Respondent have always been active parts of the children’s lives and should remain that way after divorce.” Anyone reading your response to paragraph 12 knows what you want and why you want it.

Note: Many people ask if they should be the Petitioner or Respondent. There isn’t really a right answer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. As long as you know how to play to your case strengths, your status as Petitioner or Respondent should have no bearing on the outcome.

 


Motion for Temporary Orders

MotionforPre-DecreeTemporaryOrdersWithChildrenA motion for temporary orders may be filed with either the Petition or the Response, or anytime after a Petition has been filed in a given case. The motion requests an expedited and temporary order on an issue while the case is ongoing. Since it may take a year or even more to secure a divorce, a temporary order can be a lifesaver if you need child support, spousal maintenance, you want to sell the house, or you need access to community property controlled by your spouse. In fact, you can get a temporary order for almost anything. Some people need a temporary order on where a child will go to school, a parenting time schedule, who will control the family business, etc. If you have a pressing issue that cannot wait, file a motion for temporary orders.

When drafting your motion for temporary orders, you cannot be vague. In this motion, you must tell the court specifically what you would like. This is particularly difficult when asking for spousal maintenance. You don’t have the opposing party’s Affidavit of Financial Information AFI (more on this later), which is a key document when determining how much to ask for. Consider asking that the opposing party pay certain bills and try to ask for only the cash that you need. Regardless of what you are asking the court to do, be specific about what you would like and why you need a temporary order.


E-filing Divorce Documents

what you need to know to e-file family court documents in Mariopa County

How to e-file documents in Maricopa County. Step by step instructions for e-filing

In Maricopa County many documents can be e-filed. This means you upload the document within the system and the clerk files the documents for you. (Not all counties have e-filing, so make sure and check with the local courts). It can usually take up to 24 hours after you have e-filed for it to be accepted by the court.

As of this writing, documents that are filed after the initial Petition and proof of service documents may be e-filed. That means you can e-file any motions, responses, notices, or replies.

Here are the instructions for how to e-file a document:

  1. Set up your initial account here: https://efiling.clerkofcourt.maricopa.gov/fdlogin.asp
  2. Print and sign your document for filing. Scan and upload to your computer as a PDF.
  3. Log in to your eFiling account and click “File Now.”
  4. Enter your Case Number and click “Confirm Case”; make sure that the Case Summary, shown in green, is for your case.
  5. Click on “Browse” next to “Select Document” and find your PDF version of the document on your computer; double-click on it, or click on it once and then click “Open.”
  6. Scroll down the choices on “Select Filing Type” to find the most appropriate/applicable category for your document.
  7. Fill in the “Document Title” using the COMPLETE name of your document (this will be on the right side of page one of your document, just under the Case Number).
  8. Click on “Upload Document” and look for the words “You may submit this filing” in green. You should also see your document’s title on the right side of the screen.
  9. Click on the “Complete Filing” button, and it should take you to a new screen labeled “Confirm Your Filing.” Verify the information, and click “Submit Filing.” This should take you to a “Filing Complete” screen.
  10. Print the confirmation page of the filing and mail with your document (if not required to be served pursuant to applicable rules of procedure, etc.) to the opposing party or counsel.

Sometimes there are filing fees associated with the documents that you have to file. In that event you will receive an email from the clerk stating exactly how much is owed and for which document. Only after you have paid the filing fee will the clerk actually file stamp and accept your document. Regardless of whether a fee is owed, you will receive an email from the clerk once your document has been accepted. At that point you will be able to access the document via the electronic court record (ECR), which we will talk about next. You can then print the documents with the file stamp and send a copy to the opposing party.

E-filing can save you much time and money by avoiding the costs of sending a runner to the court, avoiding actually traveling to the court, waiting in line, and filing your documents in person.


Electronic Court Record (“ECR”) Account

The ECR is another great example of how technology can make life easier and more convenient. It allows you access to all documents filed with the court in your case. The ECR is available for all documents filed since 2005, and all probate cases dating from 1997. ECR access is not available for juvenile cases, legal support staff, and pro hac vice. Registration is easy and simple; however, an Arizona driver’s license is required. It is important to note that the ECR and eFile systems are separate and require separate registrations. If you are not currently using the ECR, you can create an account by following the instructions on the link below:

https://ecr.clerkofcourt.maricopa.gov/Registration.aspx 

Once you add a case to ECR you can access documents for that case by clicking on the case. Your screen will then show the lists of court documents in the top half and preview the documents in the bottom half. The preview toolbar allows you to download and print the document.

IMPORTANT: The Preview feature requires Adobe Acrobat reader. If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can download it here for free:

https://get.adobe.com/reader/

If you ever need help navigating the ECR, you can reach the ECR technical support team at:

Phone:            (602) 372-5375 (press #2 > press #6 > press #4)

E-mail:           ecr@cosc.maricopa.gov


Default Judgment

deskThe amount of time you must wait in order to file for default judgment depends on the waiting period for the particular type of documents you filed. For instance, even though the opposing party must respond within 20 days (if you’re in Arizona) to your petition for dissolution, there is a 60-day waiting period in Arizona from the date of service until you can actually get a divorce.

If no response has been filed by the deadline, then you can request a default hearing. In order to have the hearing set, file an affidavit of default. You need only mail or hand-deliver one copy of your affidavit of default to the other party. See the timetable below for the various times the other party must wait. If the last day falls on a weekend or holiday, then the following business day will be the day when you can file the default papers. You will need to serve the opposing party with the default paperwork and they have an additional 10-day grace period within which they can file a response.

After the 10-day grace period has passed, you can call the court to schedule your default hearing. In Maricopa County you can schedule the hearing online. Make sure to have your pleadings ready because they will want to know information like your case number and date of service.

For your default hearing, you (and several dozen other litigants who will have their hearing in the same session) will need to bring:

  • Three copies of your proposed decree
  • Three copies of an Order of Assignment
  • The certificate that states you’ve attended the required parenting class
  • Three copies of your proposed signed parenting plan
  • Three copies of a completed child support worksheet.
  • Support worksheet
  • Wage information for both parties (if you have it) to support your child support worksheet numbers
  • A 9 x 12 envelope addressed to the other party, stamped with three standard postage stamps
  • A copy of any prior child support orders
  • A birth certificate for each of your children

You will be seated in the courtroom on the day of your hearing, along with the others who are waiting for their default decree. When it is your turn the judge will call the case by stating your last name and that of the opposing party last. The judge will examine the petition and the other paperwork you have brought. She will be looking to make sure the petition matches the proposed decree. She may ask you questions and may even make changes to your decree. On one occasion a mother was asking that the court order joint legal decision-making. After the judge asked the mother some questions she determined that the father was currently in jail for assaulting the mother. Since the statute required the judge not order joint legal decision-making when there was significant domestic violence, the judge signed the decree awarding sole legal decision-making to the mother.


Changing Judges

consultOnce the judge is assigned to your case, I recommend you do some research on the judge. Find out how he or she rules or has ruled in the past on issues similar to yours. Go online and join forums to see if you can determine a judge’s philosophy on issues you’re facing.

Judges do things differently from one another. They have different opinions, biases, and preferences, and different ways of doing things. They are, after all, asked to make judgments based on their application of the laws to your situation. While this seems obvious, you do have the ability to change judges one time, as a matter of right, before the judge has made a ruling based on the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.

Some people want their issue to be handled as quickly as possible. Some judges move cases along as quickly as they can and actively manage their calendars and cases. Others wait to even set a trial until the parties have exchanged all information and they indicate to the court they are ready for a trial. Some judges have preferences on school choice issues, parenting time schedules, how they feel about the right of first refusal, etc. Some judges are very strict about deadlines; others will allow almost everything to come into evidence.

If you decide to change judges, you need only file a “notice of the change of judge.” This is not discretionary and it will be granted. This has a practical effect of slowing down your case, which can be advantageous or not depending on your circumstances.

Really, we are talking about matchmaking cases and personalities. With that being said, changing judges means you are rolling the dice again. You can’t elect the judge you want. In the event you cannot find enough information online, or from friends, you can either sit in the judge’s courtroom to hear how she or she rules, or you can talk to a local attorney. One of the benefits an attorney has is the history of going before a judge many times and learning their personalities and preferences.

In our next chapter, we will tackle discovery and disclosure.

Webinar Replay: “Divorce 101: What You Need To Know Before Filing Divorce”

The webinar “Divorce 101″ aired June 16, 2015

What You Need To Know Before Filing Divorce Papers

View The Webinar HERE

If you’re starting out with a divorce process and doing it yourself, you’ll be learning all kinds of terms and hearing legal mumbo-jumbo that’s going to be overwhelming at first. Family Law Attorney Billie Tarascio presents Divorce 101 what you need to know before filing the divorce papers, to give you a walk through of what you’ll need to know, what other people do during divorce, and what the road ahead will look like.

It’s about an hour long, so you’ll want to save this link and come back to review sections as you need.

This webinar is designed for anyone who is handling their own divorce case as a self-represented party. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on: this video is a MUST-SEE for anyone who is doing their own divorce paperwork.

The webinar will cover things to think about before filing divorce papers. How to create objectives, strategy, how to draft your initial documents, what to expect it a temporary orders hearing, how to conduct discovery and disclosure, and more. You will learn how to prepare for trial, how to identify witnesses, and when you need to seek the advice of an attorney. This webinar is for anyone who has not gone to law school and is going through a family law case in Maricopa County. From start to finish you have a quick rundown of what to expect every step of the way.

RELATED

For a quick review of Divorce 101, check out the article link here.

 

Divorce D-I-Y

Access Legal: Divorce D-I-Y

What’s the new Access Legal Membership I have been hearing about?

There are more than 100,000 people in Maricopa county alone representing themselves every single year. We want to help them all, and we need your feedback to build a better resource for self-representing litigants.

  • SO…what’s the membership option?
    • Unlimited documents
    • Unlimited support from a certified paralegal
    • One low fee of $199 per month.

This is a trial, so you cannot find this option via the website. Contact us directly for the opportunity to try the membership.

Access Legal is a company that grew out of Modern Law specifically to help those people who couldn’t afford an attorney or who were representing themselves in court. This is a “do it yourself” resource, but you can do everything by yourself that you normally would have an attorney to do. Access Legal is a legal doc prep company that comes with resources, documents, support and step by step instructions.

What can I accomplish with Access Legal?

You can do everything you want to do without hiring an attorney to negotiate for you and appear for you in court. You can use Access Legal to negotiate and litigate property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. You can use it to have your divorce granted by the court. You have the legal right to do all of this yourself without hiring an attorney.

How much does Access Legal cost?

There are a couple of options: the option available to the public right now, allows you to pay for the documents that you need. Most documents are around $100. However, we are running a membership experiment that I can offer you.

If you would like to be a member, the cost is $199/ month and it includes unlimited documents and unlimited support from a certified legal document preparer. I can send you a list of available documents atmhttps://accesslegaldocs.com/documents-and-pricing/

 Access Legal can create documents statewide.

Many resources are free. Documents are all around $100 and come with a free review and consultation with a certified legal document preparer. This is a local paralegal who knows the law and the procedures associated with Maricopa and Pinal county family law cases.

Instead of paying expensive lawyers to plug your financial information into forms, you do it yourself. Instead of paying legal staff to run documents to the courthouse or to your spouse, you do it. We provide the education, forms, and advice and you do the rest. You draft and edit your own documents, negotiate your own deal, and feel the pride and control of knowing you didn’t turn it over to someone who leaves you out of the decision-­‐making process. When it’s over, you can be satisfied and proud that you achieved your divorce resolution at a fraction of the price.

What’s the difference between Modern Law and Access Legal?

A CDLP can give you legal information but not advice. A CDLP cannot represent you in court, negotiate on your behalf or prepare or give “legal opinions.” They can tell you about procedures, what the law says, their personal experience or the experiences of others. They can also advise you when they believe you need the advice of an attorney.

What do I get when I use Access Legal?

  • Divorce and family law documents.
  • Webinars and E-books on representing yourself.
  • You tube instructional videos
  • Articles

Can I really get a divorce without a lawyer?

Many people do. 80% of all divorces are completed without a lawyer. We don’t make any promises other than to answer all your questions, give you the documents you need, and educate you to the best of our ability.

Is Access Legal the right approach for me? Maybe, maybe not, it all depends on you.

  • Are you willing to consider an alternative to the traditional lawyer/client relationship?
  • Are you willing to take on more of the work yourself?
  • Do you have what it takes to manage decisions about your property, children and finances?
  • Can you rise above emotions, make good decisions, and guide yourself to a positive outcome?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, and if you’re willing to do the leg work, edit some basic documents, and negotiate with your spouse, then, yes, the Access Legal system will work for you.

Access Legal is not the solution for everyone. You may need someone to guide you, step-­‐by-­‐step, through the divorce process. Your situation may be complex. Your spouse may be abusive or uncooperative. In those cases, you’re better off having an attorney take control of your case and drive it to conclusion.

 

Certified Legal Document Preparer?

By: Doug Nebel, Certified Legal Document Preparer (CLDP)

Certified Legal Document Preparer

A certified legal document preparer (CLDP)  is someone who is certified by the state to help prepare legal documents for people who do not have lawyers. Some of the requirements to become a CLDP include passing a background and fingerprint check, passing a rigorous examination, and having at least two years of law-related experience (usually by working at a law firm or a court) and/or at least 24 credits of law-related education. Because of this last requirement, many CLDPs are also paralegals. Unlike a paralegal, however, a CLDP does not work under the supervision of a lawyer.

A CLDP must make it clear to any customer that the CLDP is not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. However, according to the Code that governs CLDPs, he/she can give a customer “general factual information pertaining to legal rights, procedures, or options available.” For example, a CLDP cannot answer the question, “Should I ask for spousal maintenance?” but he/she can show the customer the statute regarding what the court considers when deciding whether to grant spousal maintenance (in this case, ARS 25-319).

Why Would I Use a CLDP?

In a family court matter like a divorce, unless the relationship is particularly contentious and/or the community property/debt situation is particularly complex, a person may benefit from using a CLDP, especially at the beginning stages of the case; after all, a CLDP is less expensive than hiring a lawyer, and many of the documents required to begin a divorce proceeding may seem complicated and intimidating. In short, you may save money but still rest easy knowing your documents are correct.

How Does Access Legal’s CLDP Help You?

When I decided to become a paralegal and CLDP, I focused on Billie Tarascio and her firm, Modern Law. I believed in Billie’s vision of low-cost, pay-as-you-go legal services. I was lucky enough to join her firm right at the beginning of the creation of Access Legal, a DIY legal-document-generating software platform. Access Legal is a business that has already helped many people with their family law proceedings, and I am proud to have been a part of that.

Access Legal customers get complimentary access to CDLPs including me to answer questions on their documents. The Access Legal software makes it simple for people to create a free account, input their information just once, and then generate the documents they need specific to their particular case. Of course, if they have any questions about next steps in their case, we’re standing by to offer assistance.

Billie Tarascio’s creation of Access Legal’s CLDP services has allowed her to expand on her vision of improving Maricopa county citizen’s access to legal justice.

3 Ways to Save Money During Your Divorce

3 Ways to Save Money During Your Divorce

Divorce is expensive. There is absolutely no way around it. Between the court fees, process servers, legal fees and paralegal/document costs, the average divorce costs $20,000. But there is hope. With proper planning and preparation, there are ways you can save money during your divorce. Follow these steps to rack up the savings, so you can start your new life in the best financial position.

1. Determine Your Objectives

Think about the issues that must be resolved in your case, including:

  • Custody
  • Parental rights
  • Property division
  • Debts
  • Alimony
  • Attorney fees

Then consider the range of outcomes that you can live with for each issue. Really consider your best and worst case scenarios and the happy medium you can live with. If you’re expecting to have everything exactly as you want it post-divorce, you are either not being realistic or are in a very rare situation. Instead, set yourself up for a win by asking, “Where can I be flexible and give my soon-to-be ex what he or she wants, and where will I stand firm?”

It’s important to have a clear picture of this before you start. It’s easy to get caught up in responding to the other party, but the process will be easier and less emotionally draining if you are clear on what you want. Plus, you’ll strengthen your case if you maintain as much consistency as possible in your family court document trail.

2. Gather Your Resources

Once you have a practical idea of the issues you will be addressing, you can begin gathering your resources. Gathering your resources refers to both financial and emotional resources.

Financial

Many people end up borrowing money from family, friends, retirement accounts or home equity to fund their divorce. Consider how much you are willing to spend to achieve your objectives, and do a cost benefit analysis associated with your best and worst case scenario. For instance, if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, you should be prepared to defend your position and make whatever short term arrangements you need to in order to protect your future. If you are your spouse have no children and are dividing debt, it isn’t worth it to hire a lawyer to duke it out.

Emotional

Also gather your emotional support resources. One of the reasons people end up spending so much money is that they tend to use their lawyer as a friend or sounding board. While a certain amount of emotional understanding should be expected from your attorney, you should not go to your attorney for advise and support. They are not equipped to give you good counseling, and they are far too expensive in that role.

Maybe you don’t have friends or family to talk to, or you’d rather speak to a professional. Counseling doesn’t have to cost a fortune, for yourself or your children. There are free or inexpensive counseling resources in Phoenix, including:

Arizona Family Resource Counseling Center

10000 N 31st Ave A-105, Phoenix, AZ 85051

Phone: 602-843-0000

3. Know Your Options 

You have options for not only whether or not you hire an attorney, but how you use the attorney or what resources you rely on to represent yourself. For an in-depth exploration of your options for legal counsel, read our blog Is Hiring a Family Law Attorney a Waste of Money?, which thoroughly covers the following topics:

Representing Yourself in Family Court – the DIY Approach

There are resources available to you if you plan to represent yourself, including Access Legal’s family law document creation software. Access Legal’s team has spent the time to build software that guides you step-by-step through completing your Arizona family court documents. Unlike some companies that try to saddle you with generic, multi-state legal documents, Access Legal’s docs are created by an Arizona family law attorney to comply with specific local laws. Register for a free account to browse nearly 50 available documents. There is no cost until you’re ready to purchase a document. Hint: 18 of the documents are free to create!

Hiring a Family Law Attorney

If you’re thinking of hiring an attorney to navigate your divorce or family court case, consider working with him or her on a limited scope basis. There are many steps in your divorce that you can complete on your own, including nearly 50 documents that you can easily create right here on Access Legal. Determine what you’re comfortable doing for yourself, and rely on your attorney to fill in the gaps. Not all family law attorneys will work on a limited scope basis, but you should be able to find several in Phoenix who will.

Is Hiring a Family Law Attorney a Waste of Money?

 Is Hiring a Family Law Attorney a Waste of Money?

Should You DIY in Family Court?

Between 80%-90% of individuals court represent themselves in family court in Phoenix. Sometimes this works out very well, and other times, when errors or omissions occur in paperwork, it can be disastrous. Hiring a family law attorney is not the right path for everyone, and clearly the majority decide to do without. If you decide to represent yourself, here are our tips for creating the best possible outcome for you and your family.

1. Do the Cost/Benefit Analysis

Say your ex wants to modify your child support order. Should you hire an attorney? Let’s examine the business case. If your ex is asking you to pay an additional $200 per month for your 14-year-old until she is 18, your “maximum exposure” (additional cost) is $9,600.00. Knowing that, you can determine how much you are willing to spend fighting the modification or how much to negotiation to do. You can design a budget to protect your financial interests. It would, of course, be inadvisable to spend $10,000 fighting that child support modification.

2. Take Advantage of Free Resources

Before you file anything, educate yourself about your local laws and procedures. Check out any local free resources geared toward education including seminars, webinars, articles, and/or free consultations with attorneys. Join us for a free upcoming webinar on child support, parenting time and legal decision making. There are also resources geared toward self-represented litigants like Access Legal, where you can create the professional quality documents you need by filling out easy, step-by-step forms. Access Legal provides the actual documents and resources you need when involved in a Phoenix family court case. Arizona has a specific set of laws that dictates the steps of your case, the documents you need and way those documents should look. Be wary of companies simply providing “forms” for all states. They are not likely to offer all of the resources you need in order to protect yourself.

3. Doesn’t Have to Be All or Nothing

Consider using an attorney on a limited scope basis. Just because you decide to represent yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t use an attorney for anything. Many attorneys are now offering “limited scope” or “unbundled” legal services. This means that you hire an attorney for pieces of your case, but not to do everything. This is an excellent option for those who have complicated issues but don’t have $20,000 or more to spend on an attorney. Consider doing the preliminary paperwork yourself, gathering documents and information and then hiring an attorney to represent you in court. By doing some of the work yourself you can cut down on the overall costs and still get many of the benefits of having an attorney involved. You can truly craft this option to your case and budget.

Make sure you find an experienced attorney (one with at least two years experience in YOUR area) and one who is familiar with practicing limited scope legal services. Inexperienced attorneys will not be able to equip you with the knowledge you need when they are not responsible for your case. Likewise, if an attorney is unfamiliar with limited scope legal services he or she may not offer the best resources or parameters for working together.

 

Many of the documents you need for your case can be found at Access Legal Docs, including a modification and response to a child support modification. Consider consulting with an attorney while you DIY. Call us with questions, we’ll walk you through it.

Fatherhood: The Investment You will Never Regret Making

This is a guest blog post from Kent Evans, who is providing valuable insight on our roles as parents.

Have you ever invested in a “sure thing” only to lose your money? Maybe a friend gave you a hot stock tip and you tried to ride the wave. Or, perhaps you found that local startup and jumped in quickly so you could get in on the ground floor. You just knew these were winners! You were glad to invest and eagerly anticipated the return as you leafed through travel magazines and perused new home floor plans. But the returns never came. In fact, it got worse and worse, never better.

The planned gains quickly became losses, and as the daydreams of green turned into nightmares of red, you knew your money was never coming back. You quietly (or loudly) mourned its loss and held a personal wake in honor of the dearly departed dollar bills. For some of us, this has happened on a small scale; but, for others, this approach led to financial ruin.

Even so, we knew there were risks when we invested. We read the prospectus (or maybe just the back-of-the-envelope scrawl penned by the wild-eyed entrepreneur). We have heard the adage that financial investing is all about balancing risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the greater the potential for reward. Every investor searches for the holy grail of low risk and high reward, only to find that these two characteristics hardly ever align.

There is one arena however where this is perfectly true: our investment in our children. This is one place where an amazing economic reality exists – we never end up regretting the time we invested with our children. The returns are often exorbitant, generating immense relational value; and, the risk is completely non-existent. In the end, this investment actually leaves our emotional bank account more full than when we started.

I suppose one could invest so much time with your children that you neglect your spouse or cause your health to fail. You can only eat so many funnel cakes at the state fair before the effects (and the flab) eventually set in.

However, has it become cliche for fathers to over-invest in their children? Are we observing a national epidemic of kids who suffer from over-connection with their dads? Have we amassed statistic upon statistic of the ill-effects on society of all these way-too-fathered children? Hardly.

Fathers, we understand risk and reward. Money given to one thing often means money not given to some other thing. We get that and readily accept it as a cost of doing business. Yet, when it comes to our most precious commodity – our time – why wouldn’t we put that time into an investment with infinite return and infinitesimal risk?

Do we realize that our money may actually be increasing in quantity; but, our time is not. Time is a finite resource. None of us know how much we have left, but there is one thing we each know for sure. The amount of time we have left on this earth is less than we had yesterday. Our time is dwindling, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly than we know.

So, let’s commit that while we have our children around, we fathers will back-up our dump truck of time at our front door and unload it completely all over them. We will shovel our currency of time into the lives of those little ones. It is a risk-less investment and once we have made it, we – and our children – will be all the richer for it.

What’s one way you’ve invested in your child lately?

Do I Really Have to Take a Parenting Class?

Do I really have to take a parenting class?

Yes, you do.

In Arizona, every parent with a divorce, legal separation or custody (legal decision making) case has to take a parenting class. The good news is that you can take these at a variety of locations including online.

Topics include:

  • How to talk to your child
  • How to face your own feelings
  • Long distance parenting struggles and how to keep the other parent informed
  • How to build an effective support system
  • How to deal with an uncooperative co-parent
  • How to adjust to an absent parent
  • Bridging the gap for parents who were never married
  • Reduce child support and visitation conflicts
  • Avoiding long, expensive, no-win custody battles.

Most people report satisfaction with the quality of the program and hope and pray that the other parent is taking notes.

For a link to the online class, check out: http://online.divorce-education.com/attorney

It will also cover:

Respectful Communication Skills

Studies show that effective parenting after divorce is directly related to parents ability to respectfully communicate with one another. CIBO identifies 5 major ways to improve communication including: I-Message, Reframing, Self-talk, Stop-Look-Listen, and Active Listening.

Anger Control

Parents who can control their anger are more likely to engage ex’s in a manner that is most likely to lead to amicable results and limit the effects of the separation on their children. By focusing on skills training, CIBO teaches conflict resolution, mindfulness, and self-talk.

Ending Loyalty Conflicts

Loyalty conflicts cause the most damage to children. We focus on how parents involve their children in these conflicts unintentionally, and change that.

For a full version of the handbook, check out:

http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/SuperiorCourt/FamilyCourt/docs/pipManual.pdf

Divorce 101- What You Need to Know When Representing Yourself

Divorce 101- What You Need to Know When Representing Yourself

This is a follow up to the four part series recently published on How to Represent Yourself in Family Court. That series covered the procedural and practical aspects of representing yourself. Now, we get to the substance of the law. While we recommend you seek legal advice to determine how the law applies to your facts, the more information you have, the better prepared you will be to either meet with an attorney or represent yourself.

Divorce 101

The first question is whether or not their are minor children of the marriage. If you do not have children, the issues to resolve are in list one. If you have minor children from the marriage then you will need to address additional issues within list two.

List One:

Property and Debt Division: All of the property and debt that has been accumulated during the marriage (or co-mingled with community property/debts) will need to be divided and assigned to either party. The general rule of thumb is that each person will take roughly half of the community debts and assets.

Start with a list of all of the property, when it was acquired, and identify its value. Then look at the debts in the same manner. Start brainstorming on ways the debt and property can be divided in line with your objectives for the divorce.

Other ancillary issue that may come up include community waste, separate/commingled property, etc.

Spousal Maintenance: Is one spouse eligible for spousal maintenance or asking for spousal maintenance. This is a tricky legal issue. The court applies a two part test to determine if someone is eligible and, if they are eligible for how much and for how long. While the test is a bit complicated the court is essentially trying to determine 1) does the requesting spouse need spousal maintenance? 2) Does the paying spouse have the ability to pay? 3) How much does the requesting spouse need and what amount/duration is fair under the specific circumstances?

If a couple agrees on an amount and duration the agreement is typically “non-modifiable”. If the court enters an award, that amount and duration are typically modifiable.

Attorneys Fees: Almost everyone requests that their attorneys fees be paid by the other party. The court will order one party to pay all or a portion of the fees of the other based on reasonableness of the parties (or lack thereof) and/ disparity in income between the parties. If you are representing yourself, the court will not award you attorney fees.

 List Two:

Legal Decision Making: Legal Decision Making was formerly known as “legal custody” this refers to who makes the major decisions for the child as to school, religion, medical decisions and personal care. There is a preference for two fit parents to share legal decision making. Exceptions exist where domestic violence and addiction issues are present. Please seek counsel if either addiction or domestic violence are issues in your case.

Parenting Time/Parenting Plan: In Arizona, all parents are granted “parenting time”. Only third parties or grandparents are granted “visitation.” Arizona also requires that a specific parenting plan be put into place that includes a regular schedule, vacation schedule, holiday time, transportation, periodic review of the plan and a way for parents to resolve disputes. You will be required to submit a specific plan. I would encourage you to use the access legal document to assist you in developing your plan. Customize one to fit your needs.

Child Support: In Arizona, child support is ordered for children under 18 yrs of age or those who have not yet graduated high school. The child support calculator will determine the presumptive amount of support. Arizona child support guidelines cover all of the ins and outs of the calculator and can be a very valuable resource.

These constitute the major issues facing a couple going through divorce. Each item has subsets of information and nuances. For more information, contact us directly at info@accesslegaldocs.com.