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Entries in divorce planning (11)

Tuesday
Jun252013

Divorce Finance: What is a Retainer Fee?

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerVisitation & Custody Lawyer

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

What is a retainer fee and how does it work? Essentially, a retainer fee is, and works like, a down payment for legal services and expenses. It is required to engage the services of a family law attorney. The fee will be put into an account earmarked for you, the client – and serves as security for fees earned. 

Some attorneys draw funds from the retainer account as services are rendered. Others apply the retainer only to the final bill – the clients pay their monthly bills in full. In that situation, the initial retainer, or what is left of the retainer, is returned to the client on completion of their legal matter.

The retainer fee serves two purposes. Obviously, it ensures that you are serious about pursuing a matter and that the attorney will get paid for the work done – most reputable law firms will require one upfront. But the retainer fee also protects the client. Once you submit a retainer, it ensures that the lawyer won't take on other clients pursuing interests that are adversarial to yours.

When seeking a divorce for example, the retainer ensures your family law attorney only represents you, not you and your ex or your ex's family, etc. If the attorney is serving as a mediator, the retainer ensures that the mediator can never represent either party, against the other party.

The retainer does not represent the total amount of fees a divorce will cost – it is merely a starting point. Clients are expected to pay all fees and costs for work done on their case.

Divorce Tip: the more reasonable you and your spouse can be in resolving matters to mutual benefit, the more likely it is that the retainer will cover your divorce costs from initial filing to resolution.

Remember Ben Franklin's maxim: Time is money. The faster a case is resolved, the less you spend on attorneys' fees.

It is important that you select an attorney you trust, and who will not churn a case (drag it on). Please read my last blog, How Do I Find a Divorce Lawyer for more information.

 

What is a Fee Agreement?

 

In California, non-contingent matters (personal injury lawyers tend to work for contingency fees for example, most other legal matters, including divorce, are non-contingent) require an executed Fee Agreement between the client and the attorney, for any case that will foreseeably exceed $1,000 in costs.

The fee agreement will include a description of the legal services provided, responsibilities of both the attorney and the client, and the costs that will be charged to the client, such as:

  • Hourly rates
  • Court Costs
  • Service Fees
  • Other rates, fees and charges

It is important that you understand your fee agreement so there are no surprises in your bill.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Divorce Lawyer in our Family Law Practice Group. Contact her via email vnellis@lewitthackman.com.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Wednesday
Mar272013

California Family Law: How Do I Find a Divorce Lawyer?

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerChild Custody and Support Attorney Los Angeles

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

For many people thinking about divorce, the question of how to find a divorce lawyer can be as stressful as deciding to get married in the first place, or whether or not to take a job across the country.

Aggressive Divorce LawyerIt's no wonder. Divorce will cost you money in the short run – but your future, as well as your children's future, will also depend on how adept your attorney is with handling you, your spouse and the legal matters.

Here are three factors you should consider when hiring a divorce attorney:

 

Do you want a "bulldog" divorce lawyer?

 

Think again. Your attorney should care about you enough to listen to you and then explain your options in an understandable way. You want someone who not only garners respect from you, but also the respect of opposing counsel and judges. If s/he is argumentative or unnecessarily aggressive – that  just causes more conflict, which will cost you more money. Most clients prefer a solution-focused advocate.

You'll also want an attorney you feel comfortable with simply because you'll need to reveal highly personal information. If you can't explain your situation fully, the attorney can't represent you at full capacity. 

 

How much does a divorce cost?

 

Hidden Assets DivorceHere in Los Angeles, there's a full spectrum of fees (usually about $100-800 per hour in Los Angeles, plus expenses) depending on the experience of the attorney, and his or her reputation and professional ratings. Most family law attorneys require several thousands of dollars as an upfront retainer, which serves as security for their fees.

A Los Angeles divorce can cost you several thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It depends on how complex your situation is, how organized you are in providing financial records, and whether or not you and your spouse can compromise.

If you and your spouse can be reasonable, my colleagues and I recommend divorce mediation to keep your costs down and resolve your matter quickly. Read my blog, Divorce in Los Angeles – 5 Things You'll Need to Know for more information.

 

What do you get in a divorce?

 

Be careful here, of hiring a divorce lawyer who tells you what you want to hear instead of giving you an honest opinion of what you, or you and your children, may be entitled to.

Ultimately a family law court will make the final decision. A good divorce attorney will know California family law inside and out, and will honestly tell you what you can expect and why.

Your divorce attorney should also know the judges in your jurisdiction, and the styles in which they run their courtrooms. There's nothing worse than hiring a disorganized lawyer who goes before a judge with little patience for wasting time. This could affect the final judgment, and cost you more in the long run.

 

These are the main factors to consider when hiring a divorce lawyer. Don't be afraid to ask questions in the initial consultation – the way the attorneys respond will give you a better idea of who is the best fit for you.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Divorce and Divorce Mediation Attorney in our Family Law Practice Group. Contact her via email: vnellis@lewitthackman.com.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Wednesday
Aug012012

Divorce Planning Checklist: 5 Financial Steps to Take Before Filing for Divorce

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerDivorce Attorney

 

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

It's no secret that divorce is almost never easy, with the huge emotional and financial tolls it takes on you, your children, other family members and even your business. Yet nearly half of all new marriages are now projected to end with a trip to a family law court. Despite the many difficulties and adjustments that need to be made, 50 percent of newlyweds will eventually choose to divorce.

Divorce Planning AttorneyAs a family law attorney, I have some advice: Try to preserve the relationship.

That may sound odd coming from a divorce lawyer, but if there's any way at all to reconcile, you should pursue that glimmer of hope. Undergo family counseling, give or accept apologies, make compromises whenever possible. Even if you decide later to divorce, if things are amicable, it will be less difficult emotionally and cost less money.

If none of that works, you may find some comfort in knowing you tried, and you'll want to find all of the emotional validation you can get. Then start prepping for your financial future.

 

How to Prepare for Divorce – Five Financially Savvy Steps

 

Since divorce can be costly, I always recommend divorce mediation for couples who might be able to work out differences in a timely and reasonable manner. I NEVER recommend using an online divorce service though – initially a cheap way to get a divorce, that path can lead to much bigger financial problems in the future.

As for what you need to do before getting a divorce, start here:

 

  1. Save Money: Are you the spouse that's moving out, or the one staying put? Either way, you'll need cash to stock or maintain your household. Hopefully, you've been saving your own money in your own account since your very first job. If not, you should start socking funds away the moment the word "divorce" crosses your mind.

  2. Inventory Your Assets: List your business assets, real estate, vehicles, major appliances, furniture, jewelry, family heirlooms and anything else of value. Note the items that you think should be considered your sole property, i.e. something left to you from your family's estate, etc. Take photos of the more valuable items, and copy insurance policies or certifications of these assets.

  3. Tally Your Debts: The expense of maintaining a second household will come as a shock for most families. Figure out what loans and expenses you have, if you'll have any tax liabilities later in the year, what your kids spend on day-to-day lunches/snacks/entertainment, etc., and what expenses you can eliminate right now.

    Determine which credit cards and other debt obligations belong solely to you, to your spouse, or are co-owned. If you don't have any credit cards of your own, you should consider getting one for emergencies.

  4. Become a Super Sleuth: Will your spouse tell you what he or she makes, or do you already know? Many people, especially if both parties are working professionals, do not know how much money their partner earns in salary, bonuses and benefits. Time to dig out those old tax returns and W2s. If your spouse owns a business, you may need a forensic accountant.

  5. Separate the Money: Time to maintain separate bank accounts. Working together, you should be able to divide savings accounts or checking accounts and expenses.

    If you suspect you'll be financially "punished" the moment you ask for a divorce though, talk to your attorney about taking steps to secure some resources.

 

Whatever you do, realize that this is not the time to procrastinate. You and your partner should work out your problems if you can. If you can't and/or you think your spouse is hiding assets, get a lawyer, save money, and gather as many financial facts as you can before filing for divorce.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Family Law Attorney who represents high profile clients in divorce, visitation or custody, spousal or child support, division of assets and divorce mediation proceedings. Contact her via vnellis@lewitthackman.com for more information.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

Wednesday
Apr252012

Grey Divorce | Things to Consider When Divorcing After Decades of Marriage

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerSpousal Support Attorney

 

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

The Japanese call it Retired Husband Syndrome. Here in America, the phenomenon is not so cut and dried.

We simply call it Grey Divorce, a trend that sees twice as many marriage dissolutions for the Baby Boomer generation now, than there were 20 years ago, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

You may have seen the trend for a while: Tipper and Al Gore splitting after 40 years of marriage; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins after 23 years; or even the 99 year old in Italy who jammed the news wires last December because he sought a divorce from his wife of 77 years. (The gentleman cites infidelity as the cause, though his wife's affair occurred in the 1940s, and he himself never knew until recently.)

The reasons are varied, ranging from extra-marital affairs, to more financial independence for women, the restlessness of empty-nest syndrome, or the ever-present "growing apart" phenomenon we hear of so often.  A change in lifestyle (like retirement) can accentuate a marriage's problems, and the differing goals of each partner can put strain on a relationship.

Whatever the cause, couples undergoing a Grey Divorce have unique problems in the dissolution process. Sure, the children may be grown so they won't have to worry about child custody or visitation schedules, but there are other elements to consider.

 

Older Divorcing Couples & More Valuable Assets

 


Spousal Support – Many Baby Boomer couples will live longer than the generations that preceded them, and they tend to be healthier than those generations as well. If the spouses are retired there is fixed income that now needs to be used to cover expenses for two households. Thus, one spouse may need to return to work to make ends meet.

People going through a Grey Divorce should remember to consider their future needs.

Retirement Benefits – Whether a spouse took care of the children or worked outside of the home, both parties in a Grey Divorce will need, and be entitled to, retirement benefits. The retirement accounts will be divided.

Financial Management – It's often challenging for a spouse who hasn't handled the finances before to have to do it all of a sudden. It's important to work with a CPA or financial planner to make sure enough money is set aside for taxes, and that a budget is established to meet living expenses.

There are other considerations as well. Older divorced people who don't have any children should think about updating their retirement and estate beneficiaries…9 times out of 10 the beneficiaries are the ex-spouses.

Whatever the reasons for a divorce, there are always obstacles that will need to be considered carefully before they can be overcome. An experienced family law attorney can help with many of these, and recommend insurance or estate planning professionals to help with the others.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Divorce and Family Law Mediation Attorney in our Family Law Practice Group. You may contact her via e-mail: vnellis@lewitthackman.com.

 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

Wednesday
Sep072011

No Fault Divorce in California: Over 40 Years of Benefits & Consequences

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerChild Custody and Support Attorney Los Angeles

 

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

Believe it or not, it was the coastal “blue” states who first and lastly signed no fault divorce bills into law. 

Former governor Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969 which changed California family laws and set precedents for no fault divorces with other states for the next 40 years – while New York’s former governor David Paterson brought the Empire State on board in October, 2010. 

But what is a no fault divorce, and what does it mean for Californians in particular? 

Critics of the law have argued that the law makes it too easy to obtain a divorce. That may be true, considering that 50 percent of marriages tend to end in divorce these days. However, there are definitely some benefits to a no fault divorce:

 

No Fault” means “No Lying”  

 

Before 1970 (when the law went into effect) one party in a divorce had to state specific reasons for applying for a divorce. Oftentimes, when spouses just didn’t get along, a husband or wife had to claim physical abuse, adultery or make some other critical complaint. 

Back then, clients often lied in an effort to obtain divorces.

Aside from the legal muddle of ethical questions and perjury involved, the lying caused other problems. It often created a hostile atmosphere which made it difficult for separating couples to agree on divisions of community property, child visitation, child support, and child custody. 

Additionally, if one side is at fault and the other looks innocent of all wrongdoing, settlements on the above issues generally proved to be unfair to the “at fault” spouse.  

But who suffered the most before 1970? Usually, it was the children, whose parents tended to be hostile and bitter towards each other, and who sometimes saw their relationships with a particular parent decline because of court-ordered restrictions on visitation or custody settlements.

 

Other Benefits of the Current California Divorce Laws

 

 

Because fault is irrelevant when filing for divorce, separating spouses no longer have a “day in court” to tell all that went wrong in a marriage. Some of my clients, specifically those who have been emotionally hurt and angered, are disappointed when I tell them this. 

But not having to testify benefits almost everyone else, particularly victims of domestic abuse. They no longer have to summon up the courage to face their abusive spouse in a courtroom – a California no fault divorce makes it much easier for them to leave a violent marriage.  

 

Marital Advice From a California Divorce Attorney

 

One last thing you should know: Attempting to by-pass the California no fault divorce law with separate, conditional agreements regarding your marriage probably won’t work. 

For example, writing an agreement that assigns one spouse certain property if another spouse has an extra-marital affair won’t be recognized as a valid agreement by the California family law courts – because the judges cannot consider fault when dissolving a marriage. 

There may be other remedies available, like a prenuptial agreement, if you don’t specifically address such marital issues in the agreement – but it would take some forethought and planning by your family law attorney. 

The long and short of it though, is that the no fault divorce laws across the country are mostly beneficial to parties seeking a dissolution of marriage.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a California Divorce Attorney in Los Angeles County. She is a shareholder at Lewitt Hackman in Encino.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
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