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Family Law 101: Know your rights!

On a scale of 1 to 10 for scariest kinds (types) of attorneys, some would argue a family law attorney is around a 9. At least that is what they say about the attorney on the other (opposing) side. That’s because in most cases your marriage is ending or you are fighting for custody of your children. Both highly charged with emotion: love and hate.

Regardless of your fear, going through a dissolution or custody dispute without a professional can be disastrous. Ever try to work on your car without a mechanic? How about operate on your own knee? The need for a family law attorney is essential. Good family law attorneys will discuss all your legal options and help you sort through the emotions. My business card says, “Attorney and Counselor At Law.” And, it is never truer than in a family law case.

There are a number of questions that a family law attorney may be able to help you answer, such as: Is dissolution the answer? Are there alternatives to dissolution? How should I protect myself during the process? How do I maintain custody of my children? How do I survive after dissolution since I don’t have a job? Is our property community or separate? Do I need a protective order?

During a dissolution or custody case, your entire life may be examined. The community property can be divided in a “fair and equitable manner.” That does not necessarily mean it will be divided 50/50! This includes the equity in your home, your automobiles and vehicles, the family bank accounts, and your retirement. Even your unused vacation time could be divisible.

Do you remember the private conversation you had with a friend? Or, that E-mail you sent your partner? Communications between the parties can be used as evidence. Comments you made to others may be used against you.

The decisions you make in your family law case will greatly affect your future and the future of your children. Thus, you need to be fully informed of your rights and the process. Most attorneys like me charge a consultation fee which is less than their hourly rate and does not require a big down payment. The consultation allows clients to get all the information they need before retaining an attorney.

Here are some tips to follow when going to your family law consultation:

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
I encourage clients to bring as much paperwork as they can to the consultation. Most of the documents will be used for filing or answering a family law case. Clients should try to bring W-2s, tax returns, paystubs, court orders, any communications between the parties, medical reports, and police incident reports. It is important for your attorney to get the full picture. Providing this information early will save you time and money because your efforts won’t be duplicated by the attorney.

Ask Questions
Be prepared with a list of questions for your attorney. This is YOUR consultation. Do not be shy and there are no stupid questions.

When you leave the attorney’s office, you want to understand your rights and the direction your case will be going. A family law case can move very fast in the beginning. If you don’t understand the process, ask the attorney to explain the process slowly and in plain English.

Conclusion
Dissolutions and custody disputes are an unfortunate part of some relationships. Protecting yourself and your children should be the priority. If you have been served court documents or think you need assistance protecting your rights and the rights of your children, contact a family law attorney. A consultation with an attorney will help you sort through the legal and emotional issues surrounding your case.