DO IT YOURSELF DIVORCE?

DO IT YOURSELF DIVORCE and FAMILY LAW MATTERS

For the past 35 years I have practiced matrimonial and family law.  During this period more than half of the clients I represent come to me to “fix” or “undo” what they did when they went unrepresented during their divorce, custody or support matter.

Here are the reasons I hear that they did not use an attorney:

  • Too expensive.

  • Don’t want conflict or to fight, want to get along.

  • Just want it over, in a hurry.

  • Believe it will be fair without involving a lawyer, trust the other party.

  • Can redo it later if it is not good.

Let’s break these down.

TOO EXPENSIVE.    The money they spend to try and “fix” it generally costs more and is less successful than if they hired the right attorney from the beginning.  Often my client realizes they lost more money and assets in their resolution than they counted on and financially it cost them way more than hiring an attorney would. Finally, in many situations the spouse may have to contribute to your legal fees (another reason they pressure you to not hire one).  ALSO, NOTE THAT NO ATTORNEY CAN REPRESENT BOTH PARTIES. DO NOT BE FOOLED.

DON’T WANT CONFLICT.  JUST WANT IT OVER. To completely avoid conflict this generally means that one party has to give the other party what they want.  I see clients generally “give in” to avoid rocking the boat or making the other party upset.  They are afraid and this fear is driving their decision-making. Once they are no longer apart and there isn’t a rush to get out of the situation and fear is not driving the situation, they realize that the “deal” they brokered for themselves is very “one-sided” and not fair and they are stuck with it. This breaks my heart.

TRUST THE OTHER PARTY TO BE FAIR.  First, without an attorney how do you know what “fair” should even look like.  Shouldn’t you know what you are entitled to and explore what you need, not just at the time, but well into the future, before you make choices.  And NO, the internet cannot tell you this, as it does not filter “bad law” or properly explain true applicable law.

CAN REDO IT LATER.  The only way to reopen a divorce (not enforce but do over etc.) is to prove fraud. This is very difficult. Otherwise, if you waive maintenance or other assets or take more debt than you should or not enough of an asset, you are STUCK with this.  If you make a custody arrangement like 50/50 it is REALLY HARD to change once it is started.  In, NYS the case law specifically states that a child’s wishes are NOT enough to change the custodial arrangement.  So, no, you cannot just change it because the kids are older and want something else.

Creating a settlement which involves your family, their ability to live, your life and your future involve the MOST IMPORTANT decisions of your life.  There is absolutely NO RISK in contacting me for a FREE initial consultation to aviod the pittfalls described above

Custody During Covid-19

The laws related to divorce and child custody have not changed in the unusual circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. This means that a parent cannot unilaterally modify a child custody or parenting time agreement without going to court. If this is not an option in their area due to court closures, pauses or other limited access, the parents must maintain the schedule that was in effect prior to the outbreak unless they agree on a modified arrangement.

Transferring children between parents can expose them to an unnecessary risk of contracting the virus, especially if the parents do not live in the same area. Both parents may recognize this issue and work together to address it. If the parents have an amicable relationship, they may be able to agree on a temporarily modified custody arrangement. For example, they may agree to allow a child to spend more time with the parent who currently lives with them, in exchange for spending more time with the other parent later in the year. The parent who lives with the child also may agree to schedule video conversations between the child and the other parent. If you adjust your agreement with your ex-spouse or co-parent, you should put any changes to the agreement in writing and keep a hard copy of the revised agreement.

On the other hand, parents who feel hostile toward each other may not be able to reach an agreement. While you may have serious concerns about the health of your child, you should be aware that violating a custody order can result in a finding of contempt of court and other adverse consequences. Judges frequently reduce the custody or visitation rights of a parent who refuses to comply with a parenting time order, even in relatively extenuating circumstances.

Before taking this risk, parents may want to consult an attorney to file a petition for modfication or possibly work out a stipulation that follows NYS law (not just written on paper and notarized) to submit to the Court to alter their parenting plan. While the modification will not become an enforceable court order until a judge reviews it, it is likely to go a long way to keeping you from serious repercussions of simply “keeping” a child from a parent contrary to the current court order.

 

 

Conference with Clients in age of Covid

In the age of Covid, for all my current clients and those considering obtaining my services in the future, please note the following:

Prior to your arrival the area you will be in will be sanitized with Lysol spray, fresh air shall be circulated into the space (yes, even if 90 degrees), folder will be wiped down with sanitary wipes.

When you arrive you and I will both use the hand sanitizer.  You will be provided a face shield which we will ask you bring back with you for subsequent meetings.  I will be wearing a face shield as well. This allows for protection for both of us, given both the science and the mysteries of the Covid spread.  We will then sit 6 feet apart.

Shields allow us to still see expressions and body language and speak more clearly all critical components in communication successfully regarding matters as serious and challenging as  divorce and family.

When you leave, we will both again use the hand sanitizer.

Remember, in this age of Covid and even before Covid I offer both in person and phone or electronic conferences available at your request.  I look forward to assisting you and will do everything I can to help you reach a successful and safe future.

 

PHASE 2 TIME TO PLAN–DIVORCE AND FAMILY COURT OPEN

Effective June 3rd under Phase 2, essential matters will be heard in person for Family Court.  In addition, non-essential matters will continue to be heard virtually and attorneys can make a request to the assigned Judge to deviate from the Phase 2 Plan.

What does this mean for you?

It means your life can stop being on hold, you can once again start planning for the futre.  The emotional and financial burden on you and/or your children can become unbearable.

If you have a custody, child support or family offense matter that needs attention the legal system is OPEN.  For many of my clients it never really shut down and we have been working together for months. Do you need to make a plan and move your life forward?

If you have a divorce or matrimonial matter you can obtain legal counsel, file in the court system and have your matter addressed.  Why keep your life on hold when their are other options available once again.

If you have any questions, please contact me for a FREE initial consultation which can now be held by either phone conference or in person whichever you prefer.  I am here if you need me.

 

COURTS ARE OPEN!!!

You may have already heard that the Court system is beginning to “re-open” for new business starting very soon.  The legal process is a slow even under normal circumstances and this State of Emergency still has a learning curve to it, however, your children, your safety and your ability to live your lives rely on a court and legal system that is able to address your needs and concerns.

Our office NEVER closed.  We have settled divorce matters, obtained temporary orders, assisted clients all through the Coronvirus Emergency.  If you need us we are here.  COURTS ARE OPEN.

Contact us at staceybalduf@gmail.com or 315 622 5202 for your FREE CONSULTATION.

Negotiating Custody Yourself

This sounds like a good idea, right? You are smart, you know your spouse or significant other. You don’t want to spend any money or don’t have money to spend on an attorney.  So why wouldn’t you just go to a mediator or decide to start negotiating custody yourself?

Well, here are some reasons to ponder regarding your ability to successfully negotiate.

  1. Do you realize that when you settle certain matters, once it is in a court order, you cannot just go back and change something that no longer works or that you no longer want or because you didn’t understand something or did not get legal counsel. So many think I can “fix it” later. Well you cannot without meeting certain legal standards which are difficult.

  1. Are you aware that the order will not change just because your child gets older and does not want to do it anymore. In NYS there is no age where a child decides–just the opposite.  I have actually had a hearing where the child was 17 years old, because one side would not agree.

  1. Do you understand each and every possibility that exists today regarding your parenting situation. There are some very creative ways to address issues.

  1. Have you planned for what it looks like in 5 years, the issues and lifestyle.

  1. Do you have the knowledge and ability to put things in an order that would allow for modifications later, and no— you cannot just put in that you will modify it. That does not always work with the overtaxed courts.

I have been a practicing Family Law Attorney for over 30 years. I have successfully represented fathers, mothers, and children.  I offer a free initial consultation so give me a call or email before you decide to negotiate the most important thing in your life alone.

Virtual Court Proceedings

COURT IS OPEN!

In an effort to try and get non-essential matters before the Court, New York State Chief Judge has stated the following:

Beginning April 13th Judges are  authorized to schedule conferences at the request of attorneys and can be available during normal court hours to address discovery disputes and other ad hoc concerns.  Judges have also been urged to decide fully submitted motions.

These appearances will be virtual and by skpe or phone and  may be conferences with attorneys only.  We will have to see what the instructions will be from the Administrative Judge in each District.

If you have matters of concern, it is time to prepare the motions and get them before the Court and see what they will schedule.  Contact an experienced attorney who has not stopped working since this Coronavirus outbreak began and has been working for and with clients and successfully getting court interevention when possible.  Give me a call 315 622 5202 or email staceybalduf@gmail.com

LAWYERS AND THE CORONAVIRUS

These are some very difficult times during this Coronavirus for the people I work with and for.  Many of you are calling about parenting time that is going badly, children that are being exposed to potential virus or other inappropriate and risky circumstances. balduf_legal_advice_experience_divorce_attorney

Some of you need money to get by that is currently not coming in.

Some of you need to have an Order of Protection to stay safe.

Many of you see spouses dissipating assets that you will never retrieve.

I can no longer tell you exactly what the steps are for court intervention or tell you for sure you will get heard however, what I can tell you is that since this Emergency has been put into place I have had a matrimonial Order to Show Cause, signed by a Judge (it took quite a bit of persistence) and three Orders of Protection granted, one which even limited parenting time (supervised).

I have also spoken with and met directly with people at the courthouse who have given me additional insight as to what steps to take to continue my representation of my client’s interest.

Beware of the attorneys  out there who are in need of revenue and they will tell you whatever you want to hear so that you pay them—I am not one of those attorneys.  You will always get the straight story from me.

If you need help, give me a call, it is free.

Remember, much of what we do does not involve court for quite some time, now is a really good time to come in (or have a phone conference) and make a plan for divorce.

DON’T OVERPAY FOR LEGAL FEES!

Not all attorneys have the same experience.

Not all attorneys have the abilities.

Not all attorneys respond to client’s promptly.

AND ATTORNEYS DO NOT ALL CHARGE THE SAME FOR THE SAME WORK!!!!

What does this mean for you?

  1. READ

  • Read over the family court or matrimonial retainer agreement they give you very By the way, they must have a written retainer agreement for you to review. Take it home and review it prior to going to the office and signing, to make sure you understand it.

  1. ASK THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:

  • Do you charge a nonrefundable retainer regarding your legal fees? Do not be fooled, not all attorneys charge this.  It means you are paying a minimum amount whether or not the attorney has to work for it. So, if you settle with two hours work you still may pay for 8 or 10 etc. work not done. I do not charge a nonrefundable retainer. You are only charged for work done.

  • Do you get back retainer funds not used regareding your legal fees? You might be surprised to learn many attorneys have a minimum amount no matter what work is done?   You get back any retainer money that remains when my work is done.  Again, you only are charged for work done.

  • Do you charge a minimum hourly fee  for legal fees? Does the attorney charge you a minimum fee or for the actual time spent on your matter. This can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. There is never a minimum hourly fee for court or anything else.  Again, you are only charged for work done.

  • What is your retainer amount fregarind legal fees? What is your hourly rate?  This is the amount of money that the lawyer gets up front before they begin work. Some attorneys have a lower initial retainer amount however the hourly rate is so much higher than other attorneys that this retainer is used up really quickly and you are asked for MORE money sooner than with attorneys how charge a lower hourly rate.  THE HOURLY RATE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR. My hourly rate AND retainer are a reasonable amount given the area and economy and I try to work with clients. 

  1. UNDERSTAND:

  • That the amount of money your attorney charges for legal fees is NOT a sign of their ability. Some of us believe that everyone is entitled to experienced and dedicated representation, not only the wealthy.

  • That even if your spouse will have to contribute toward your legal fees, they seldom are ordered to pay the whole amount and often if your attorney charges more that the “going rate” the courts take that into consideration when awarding fees for the other side to pay. What does this mean for you:  YOU COULD OWE THE ATTORNEY MORE MONEY THAN YOU EXPECTED.

Child’s Therapist- Legal System

I often have parents who tell me that their child’s therapist supports their position and insist that I tell the Court and the Attorney for the Child to be sure and take that position into consideration before rendering a recommendation, position or decision.

For over 30 years, with NO exception, therapists are seldom the supportive expert that my clients believe them to be.

This is not to say that a good therapist is not helpful. They can be:

  1. They can help the child understand and deal with the custody arrangement. Including one they may not like.

  2. They can offer therapeutic sessions between parties.

  3. They can work with parties to develop a parenting schedule.

But don’t be fooled.  This seldom results in their being a very good witness for you if things break down.

My clients do not believe me when I explain to them that therapist generally:

  1. Treat the child and do not want to damage the therapist relationship by getting involved in the court proceeding.

  2. Cannot be an expert for parenting plans as they have not done formal evaluations for that purpose or spent enough time with all parties.

  3. Are not willing or able to offer a professional opinion as an expert.

  4. If testify, often rendering something supportive comment regarding the opposing parent. Therapists are generally all about both parents having a relationship, not winning a legal case.

It is also VERY important to note that the therapist does not disclose to the parent all that they learn or know.  I often have therapists who disagree with my client’s position, however, do not feel it is helpful to discuss that with the client as it does not further the treatment of their client.  The takeaway here: YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE THERAPIST IS TRULY THINKING!!!! 

Recently I sent the following email to a child’s therapist.  I did so as I had a client who insisted that I had to make the Attorney for the Child and Court understand that her child was being detrimentally affected by Dad’s behavior and that the therapist couldn’t wait to tell everyone that on behalf of the child. This is how it went…

Dr. ________:  Can you please clarify some points for me. 

Are you able to testify as to the following if needed: 

Do you have a professional opinion as to what is best for a custody situation or parenting time. 

Do you have a professional opinion as to whether your client is being influenced by either party or by their behavior as to his desire to live with Mom. 

Do you have a professional opinion as to any negative effects the  current parenting schedule  would or does have on your client.

 Please feel free to add anything else you believe relevant or important for me to know.  I look forward to talking with you next week.  Thank you.

Response:

Hi


I am not in a position to testify or provide opinion as to any of those items.

When first meeting with my client, the purpose was to function as my client’s treating therapist, with no role in custody or parenting plan determinations. I intend to maintain that role, so any information I provide would be factual and likely redundant.

Thank you, 

 

Older posts «