What to Look for in Hiring a Divorce or Family Law Attorney

Once you make the difficult decision to pursue legal action such as a divorce, paternity action, or a a post judgement modification or enforcement motion in a family law matter, the next decision you are faced with can be as equally difficult. Will you hire an attorney and, if so, which attorney will be best suited to represent your best interests in your legal matter? There can be many attorneys to choose from and the internet may seem to be overloaded with information and options.  Below are some tips for what to look for in hiring a divorce or family law attorney.

 

If you do not have a direct referral to an attorney, most people start their search with an internet search with terms such as divorce attorney or ____ (fill in the blank with the type of attorney you are search for) attorney in your area.  This brings up a list of attorneys or firms who practice that type of law in that certain geographical area.  The attorneys or firms who appear on the first page or high up in the search results are often the attorneys or firms who have the best reviews or have the highest volume of cases in that particular area.  This generally means they are also the most experienced attorneys in that practice or geographical area.  Generally, people choose attorneys from those who appear first in those couple of pages.  From there, when searching for the right attorney, you may want to review an attorney’s or firm’s website, online reviews, and schedule a consultation. When doing this, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind. For example, a website can be very helpful in showing whether or not an attorney has kept their page up to date,  whether  they write articles or blogs, which can offer helpful information and tips and also provide insight into whether the attorney, or whether their firm, is truly knowledgeable in that area and stays up to date with the laws that apply to family law.  Websites can also provide information as to which specific areas of law an attorney or firm practices, how experienced they are, or whether they have won any awards or are members of any specific organizations.  For example, please review our website at www.nkmfamilylaw.com. All of this information can give you a better idea about how experienced an attorney is in the area you are searching for.  The more experienced an attorney, the better chance you have at receiving a positive result in your matter and/or obtaining the best possible advice about what may happen in your case.

 

When searching for an attorney, it is important to find out how the attorney how their fees are charged.  Some attorneys and firms charge an hourly rate and calculate your fees by the amount of time it takes to work on your matter. When you are considering attorneys, it is important to ensure that you will get an itemized billing statement on a frequent basis. Other firms may bill at a flat rate based upon the work that needs to be completed in your matter. That may be a cost-effective way to handle certain matters, but it may also be difficult to know if you are going to get the attention and dedication to your case once your flat fee has essentially “run out.” It is important to know what services the flat fee will cover, and if any future fees may be required if your matter becomes more time intensive, or if something changes in your matter, that would require additional fees and how much.

 

It can also be very helpful to look at online lawyer client reviews to help you when choosing an attorney. While many of these reviews can give you a better understanding of how the lawyer practices, it is also important to keep a few things in mind. Attorneys have certain ethical obligations that prohibit them from making any in-depth comments about client’s cases.  So, if you encounter a bad review of an attorney, keep in mind that the attorney may not be able to respond to the commentator, whose review may or may not be truthful or relevant to the quality of services that the lawyer or law firm provides. It is also helpful to remember that anyone can leave a review, including an unhappy or unsuccessful opposing party, which has been known to happen. There are also cases where a client is in the wrong or is the cause of the problems in their own case which causes an unfavorable result.  These clients often are the ones who leave negative reviews which really do not accurately reflect the competency of an attorney as a whole.  You should take into consideration the above if the majority of the reviews for the attorney or firm are positive, except for one or two.  To determine for yourself if the reviews are accurate, it may be best to review the attorney’s or law firm’s website and utilize a consultation with the attorney or law firm to decide for yourself if that attorney will best represent you in your legal matter.

 

Finally, you may be able to schedule a consultation with one or several attorneys to see who is right for you. Some attorneys and law firms offer a free consultation, while others may charge a fee for their consultation.  Whether there is a charge for a consultation or not does not necessarily indicate the quality of that attorney’s or law firm’s services.  Instead, consultations, like job interviews, are helpful for both clients and attorneys to ensure that there is a good fit for any future legal representation.

 

These examples show why it is important to consider many factors when choosing the best attorney to represent you in your family law matter. After reviewing our firm and our attorneys, we are confident that you will find we fit all of the above criteria.  If you wish to contact our firm to see if we can best represent you in your upcoming or pending family law matter, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Holiday Tips for Parents Going Through Family Law Matters

Now that the holidays are upon us, we want to remind parents who are going through family law matters of some helpful tips to ensure peaceful holidays for your family:

  1. Do not wait until the actual holiday to confirm plans/details. Be sure that you and the other parent are on the same page well before the actual holiday, so you do not have any conflict.  Keep in mind attorneys take off time over the holidays too so allow plenty of time to be able to contact your attorney, or so that your attorney can contact the other attorney, in order to resolve any disputes.
  2. If you have a disagreement about placement and the holiday is now upon you, follow your court ordered agreement and keep the peace. Take detailed notes of what happened and connect with your attorney about any concerns or violations of the court orders after the holidays.
  3. Unless there is a legitimate safety concern for your children, police contact should be a last resort, especially over the holidays.
  4. Do not speak ill of your ex in front of your children or around your children. This includes not speaking ill of your ex even to other family members at a family gathering while your children are in ear shot, or allow friends or family to make such comments around your children. There is no reason while your children need to hear about your conflict over the holidays.
  5. Do allow your children to talk about their other parent with you. Holidays are difficult for children when parents are separated, especially if this is new to the children. You should, however, support your children if they tell you that they miss their other parent. Consider allowing a phone call or Facetime chat, so that your children can connect with the other parent.  Perhaps in return, your ex will give you the same courtesy when you are not with your children during a holiday.
  6.  Above all, remember the holidays are about your kids. Ensure to the best of your ability that you make the holidays positive for your children. Maximize your holiday placement time with your children by spending quality time with them creating memories and new traditions.

If you have any questions regarding your family law matter, please contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation.

Happy Holidays to you!

 

Tax Reform Bill May Have Significant Impact on Divorce Issues

 

The Tax Reform Bill that is currently before Congress includes a provision to eliminate the ability to take a tax deduction for alimony, or maintenance, payments.  If passed, this provision could become effective as early as January 1, 2018. This means that a divorce, legal separation, or modification orders entered into after December 31, 2017, would fall under the new guidelines of the Tax Reform Bill. Currently, the spouse who pays maintenance, or alimony, pursuant to a Court Order, can deduct those payments from his or her income. It is also important to remember that the proposed Tax Reform Bill may be subject to revisions, and must be passed into law, so these changes are not guaranteed at this time.  However, many people are concerned about the effects the new tax reform bill

will have on them, particularly if they are paying or receiving maintenance (alimony) or may in the future.  Therefore, we believe it is important to begin discussions of these possible changes as soon as possible.

The current tax law may allow for more money to be available to the parties for maintenance purposes as the higher income party may not be taxed at a higher income rate because he/she is paying a portion of that income to the lower income party, who will claim that maintenance as income at a lower income bracket. Because the proposed Tax Reform Bill will  no longer allow the higher income party the ability to deduct those maintenance payments on his/her tax return, he/she may be taxed at the higher income rate, and there will be less income available to the parties when calculating support. In effect, the proposed Tax Reform Bill increases the amount of taxes paid by a divorced couple then what they would have paid previously because the tax bracket of the payor does not change.

This tax proposal has a far reaching effect to any case in the U.S., includingWisconsin, that requires one party to pay maintenance to the other party, regardless of when the final divorce order is entered.  While an order to pay maintenance may exist before January 1, 2018, it will still be subject to modification in the future. Therefore, if either party requests that maintenance be modified, it will then be subject to the new provisions of the Tax Reform Bill.  As a result, the paying spouse will then no longer be able to deduct maintenance on his/her income taxes.

There may be other aspects of the proposed Tax Reform Bill that could help off-set the effect of these changes to the tax code for divorce couples, such as the proposed increase of the child and family tax credit, and the proposed change in the tax brackets for all filers. However, it is difficult to say what else may effect parties who are divorcing, or are divorced, as it is not clear what the final bill will include, and how some of those provisions may effect divorcing parties.

These examples show why it is important to consider the proposed tax changes and resulting consequences related to support at the time of divorce, or when considering a modification of support.  If you believe that you will need to address maintenance issues in your matter, whether it is before the date of divorce or in determining a modification of maintenance after divorce, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

 

The In’s and Out’s of Electronic Filing in Wisconsin

 

In most counties in Wisconsin, electronic filing (“eFiling”) is now mandatory. So, if you do not know about it yet, it’s time to learn the in’s and out’s of eFiling.

To participate in eFiling, you must set up an account.  This applies whether you are an attorney or self-represented litigant. Once you have an account, you are able to “opt-in” to current cases, or begin an initial filing. To do either of these, you need to enter the case information, upload the documents you wish to file and pay the required fee.  Most files are required to be in PDF format.  Be sure to click through and follow all of the steps, as you will see confirmation of filing if you have done it correctly. If you click out of the screen before you receive confirmation of filing, you likely have not properly filed the document.

Some of the benefits of eFiling are that it saves time, may save money and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This type of accessibility allows you to view your eFiled case at any time by logging into the eFiling website.  You also receive electronic notice of any document filed in your case by the other party as soon as the Court receives it in.  Proponents of eFiling indicate that it will also “decrease data entry, improve the speed with which information can be retrieved and shared, reduce staff time and storage costs, and improve storage security.”

eFiling also changes public access to a court file. The public can still access public records on computers in the offices of the clerks and registers in the courthouse. As for confidential records, only authorized individuals can request a temporary access code that will allow them to look at files in the courthouse. The clerk or register will print copies on request at the current price per page.

One of the more unattractive effects of eFiling is that the court loses the oversight it previously had for accepting and rejecting filings. While there is still an ability for the clerk to reject a filing once filed, there is no current ability to stop the filing at the onset. Another difficulty is the simple fact that it’s a new system. So, it is not uncommon to encounter errors or delay along the way as the persons tasked with navigating this new system attempt to efficiently guide the eFiling users. While the eFiling system is still a constant work-in-progress at this early stage, the benefits seem to be outweigh the occasional frustration.

If you have additional questions about eFiling, the Wisconsin Court System website has created a “Frequently Asked Questions” page that provides helpful responses for new users. You can access that site here:  https://wicourts.gov/ecourts/efilecircuit/faq.htm.  Many people may be intimidated by this process when trying to file divorce on their own.  However, clerks are generally available at the courthouse to assist you in this process.

If you have other questions related to filing a matter, please feel free to contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with one of our attorneys.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Honest with Your Family Law Attorney

More often than not, people hire family law attorneys during a difficult time in their lives. Understandably, some of the facts that may lead you to seek counsel may not be easy to discuss with an attorney. However, it is imperative for the attorney who is representing you to know all aspects of your case and for you to be honest with your divorce or family law attorney.

In the early stages of a case, the attorneys in our firm will often ask “What would the other party tell me about you if they were sitting in my office today?” The reason we ask this question is to find out any negative or difficult facts in a case that will likely come up during litigation. Your advocate counsel needs to be informed of all potential issues that you are aware of, so that we can properly advise you of what next steps should be taken to benefit you throughout your case. More importantly, if there is a “bad fact”, your attorney can address it proactively.  We will not judge you or think poorly of you but we do need to know of any issues which may negatively impact you in a divorce so we can assist you in addressing these issues.

An example of this would be if someone came into our office and admitted to being an alcoholic if they have minor children. With that knowledge, we can advise our client to seek treatment, attend meetings and hopefully be in a position to provide proof of a solid period of sobriety by the time this issue would make its way into court. If we are not made aware of this issue and/or if the first time we hear of this issue is in court from the other attorney or party, we will not be in a great position to defend this allegation or to show what steps have been taken to address this concern. In this example, if your attorney knows about your condition, she can be honest with the court about your issues and, more importantly, she can tell the court what you are doing (or have done) about it.  When your attorney knows all facts, good and bad she is able to control how the information gets into the court.

It is also important that you continue to update your attorney throughout your case, even if those updates are difficult to discuss. Using the example of the client who is an alcoholic, it may be the case that the client relapses during the pendency of the action and is too embarrassed to tell his/her counsel. The fact is, not telling your attorney “bad” facts is far worse than sitting through an uncomfortable conversation with your attorney about mistakes you have made. Once the information is disclosed, you and your attorney can brainstorm ways to address the issues. The court is likely to find out about it anyway.  You want your attorney to control how this information is presented to the court.  The only way for that to happen is for you to be 100% honest and open with your attorney.

There also may be situations where you do not want to disclose certain information.  Your conversations with your attorney are 100% protected by client confidentiality rules and your attorney must not reveal any information given to her in confidence.  However, if presented with all of the facts, your attorney can either discuss with you ways to protect this information, explain to you why it must be disclosed (in the instance of financial information) or, again, find the best way to disclose this information in a way that is most beneficial to you and your case.

As attorneys, we cannot protect clients from their actions that may negatively affect their case. If a client continues to take actions that negatively affect his/her case, despite the advice of his/her attorney, it may result in a situation where the attorney no longer believes they can represent that client’s interests. However, if clients are honest with us throughout the process and listen to the advice we give to them, we are in a better position to help advocate for our client’s interests.

If you wish to speak with an attorney about a difficult family matter, please feel free to call our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

Tips for Divorced Co-Parents Before the School Year Begins

For parents with children, summer is often a time to relax and recharge before another busy school year begins. One of the best things you can do for your children who are traveling between two homes is to use the summer time to work with the other parent to prepare for the upcoming school year.

  1. If you have a different schedule in the summer vs. the school year, be sure to have a clearly defined “school year” placement schedule and “summer” placement schedule in your legal paperwork. That way, both parents know definitively when to switch from one schedule to the other. A suggestion: “the school year will be defined as one (1) week before school begins, not including the first day of school, until one (1) week after school ends, not including the last day of school.”
  2. Depending on how old your children are and how your children are doing in school, discuss strategies for how you will stay on top of homework, studying and assignments at each of the households. While it is great if parents could be on the same page with all of this, many parents who have separated “parent” differently. For example, in one home it may be the rule that all homework must be done right after school before you can play outside, etc. Whereas, in the other home the rule may be that you can play outside right when you get home from school, but you cannot watch any TV after dinner until all of your homework is done. While it would be best to have the children have the same routines at both homes, that may not be achievable. So, it is important that the children at least have the same expectations (i.e. homework must be completed before bed) at both homes and that the parents are committed to be on the same page for that big picture goal.
  3. Make sure that you decide how involved your children will be in extracurricular and/or school-related activities before the school year begins. Many parents in Wisconsin have joint custody, which means you have equal rights to make major legal decisions, including decisions about school, for your children. Therefore, it is important to connect with the other parent before school/activities begin to make sure you are on the same page with how involved or uninvolved your children will be after school and on the weekends. This is particularly important when one parent wishes to sign a child up for a sport that may have practice every day and tournaments/games on weekends. That almost always means that some of the scheduled activities fall over the other parent’s time, which needs to be approved by that parent. By working this all out ahead of time, you protect your children from conflict or from having to be involved in a disagreement between the parents where ultimately one parent becomes the “bad guy” to the children. The “bad guy” is usually the parent who is not in agreement with the activity the child wants to do- even if there are valid reasons for disagreement.
  4. Prepare early on for how you will successfully spare the school staff and coaches from uncomfortable encounters with you and the other parent. For example, if one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent, discuss early (and privately) with your children’s teachers that each parent will be scheduling their own parent/teacher conference. If one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent at your child’s soccer game, divvy out the games as soon as the schedule comes out and plan to attend only games that the other parent will not be attending. In an ideal situation, ex-spouses will be able to be around each other and behave appropriately for the sake of their children. However, this is not always the case. So, it is important to strategize ways to avoid putting your children or their teachers/coaches in uncomfortable situations.

 

If you wish to speak with an attorney about co-parenting strategies and helpful ways to address these issues in legal documents, please call our office at 414-258-1644 for a free ½ hour consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.