Family law encompasses a wide range of legal issues that families can face, such as:
- Spousal Support (alimony),
- Child Support,
- Termination of Parental Rights,
- Division of Liabilities and Assets as a Result of Divorce,
- Dependency or Child Neglect, and
- Protection from Abuse
These are all complex issues. While a family law attorney is not inexpensive, attempting to litigate the matter by yourself can be even more expensive because costly mistakes are very easy to make. This is especially true in a family law context, where decisions made one day in court can impact your life for years to come, and potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. Child support obligations can go on for twenty years, and sometimes even longer. Spousal support (more commonly known as “alimony”) can go on for life. Even minor variations in these expenses become very considerable when magnified over such long periods of time.
Hiring an Attorney
When a family dispute is presented in court, the legal hearings can go on for a long time, as both sides do their best to provide their client with the most agreeable results. Often times, the biggest obstacle people face during this phase is their lack of familiarity with the proceedings.
Trying to navigate through the legal system without an attorney is counterproductive because even the most intelligent and successful laypeople simply do not possess the experience or knowledge to defend their rights successfully. The information and analysis that family law cases require can be very extensive; your attorney will sort through it all and present the necessary details to make your case strong.
What a Family Law Attorney Will Do For You In A Divorce
A contested divorce is not a quick process. To begin, your attorney will file a Complaint for Divorce, which is basically a lawsuit which seeks the termination of your marriage, as well as the equitable distribution of the family’s assets and liabilities, and, in appropriate cases, it will seek child support, spousal support, and other relief. The attorney must be careful to include all necessary statutory notices with the Complaint, as well as an Affidavit of Insurance Information, amongst other things.
The lawsuit will be accompanied by a Confidential Litigants Information Sheet (CLIS) and a Case Information Statement (CIS). The CLIS basically tells the Court who you are and gives some basic information. The CIS is considerably more complicated, and can be overwhelming to a lot of people. It catalogues your assets and liabilities, your income and expenses, an dbasically everything else that the Court and the parties are going to need to properly litigate the matter. The CIS also has all sorts of requirements as far as attachments that must accompany it, such as tax and income information, like W2s.
Once all of this is filed with the Court, your attorney must serve it on your spouse. This can be especially complicated if the spouse does not want to be served, or has gone missing. There are several remedies available to the attorney, and an experienced attorney will know how best to proceed.
Once your spouse is successfully served (or, in the alternative, if your spouse has initiated the proceedings and has served you), the next step is for the defendant to submit an Answer. This is a legal pleading that responds to the allegations in the Complaint.
If the defendant does not answer in time, or at all, the case goes into default. There is a somewhat involved process to move a case into default, which generally requires an experienced attorney. Assuming it is successful however, this allows the divorce to proceed without the other side participating in it. This, obviously, give a considerable advantage to the plaintiff.
If the Complaint is answered by the defendant, the case goes into formal litigation and can head in a lot of directions. If there are children, the parties will probably be required to attend parenting time mediation. Even without children, the case will almost certainly be referred to the Early Settlement Panel (ESP). At this proceeding, your attorney will submit a statement to the panelists (usually two other family law attorneys) to see if the case can be settled, or failing that, if any progress can be made on any of the issues.
If the case is not resolved there, it can be sent to economic mediation. There, another attorney will try to iron out the money-related issues with the parties, to try to get the case settled.
While this is happening, it is often the case that one of the spouses requires the financial support of the other, and cannot reasonably wait until the case to conclude to begin receiving support. After all, divorces can take months at a time. When this happens, an attorney will be well advised to file a motion for pendente lite relief (which is just an unnecessarily complicated way of saying “I want something to happen while the matter is pending”). The most common request in such a motion is for the other spouse to pay spousal and/or child support while the divorce is taking place, with final calculations to be made (and such relief potentially modified) later. These motions can, and often do, seek the other side to help pay the attorneys fees as well, believe it or not.
In the event that, after all of this, the case is still not settled, then it is set down for trial. This does not happen quickly. At the trial, all unresolved issues will be litigated in great detail, and a Family Law judge will do his or her best to determine the relief that the respective parties get.
Sadly, these cases often do not end with the divorce. It is not uncommon for the parties to come back to the court year after year to modify this or that, or because the other side is not complying with the divorce decree, or for any number of other reasons, and it is almost always because something was not done right the first time.
If you believe you would be better off having an experienced family law attorney advocate for you, please contact The Law Office of Jordan B. Rickards, Esq., LLC. Mr. Rickards is a former prosecutor who brings an aggressive approach to his cases, and can help you get the results you deserve.