Hi there,

Lawyers like to use arcane language, or at least language that only we use.  GAL is shorthand for a guardian ad litem, which is Latin for a guardian for the litigation, which is an arcane term for a person appointed by the judge in a divorce case generally to perform certain investigatory services in a custody or parenting matter.

The GAL is usually someone with a mental health background, although they can be a lawyer. Often the Family Service officers are appointed to do a similar investigation, usually in cases where money is a real issue. Some of the best investigations I have seen have been done by FSO’s. Like anything else it depends on the individual doing the work.

When two parents cannot decide on who should have custody, when there are allegations by one parent or both parents of abuse or neglect, when one parent has been accused of having mental health issues or drinking issues, or when there are removal issues (when one party wants to take the kids and move out of state) then a GAL may be an appropriate choice. It is an expensive and time consuming choice as well. Often … Keep reading

Hi there,

I keep getting sidetracked from the 10 Steps In The Divorce Process by breaking news stories and I have to admit this one (Mel Gibson’s divorce) is a bit tacky!

Admittedly when Mel Gibson married he could have had no idea as to how phenomenally successful he was going to be. He also, given his very public religious convictions, probably did not anticipate a divorce, but still…

Most states, including Massachusetts, recognize the validity of prenuptial agreements.  Mr Gibson hails from Australia, so perhaps at the time he married it was not an option; but here and now if there are, or may be, considerable assets, a prenup is a good thing. Prenups are important to consider if you or your spouse is marrying for the second time and there are children of the first marriage; if there is an inheritance expected in the future; if one party or the other has an interest in a family business. Prenups cannot decide anything regarding children but pretty much everything else can be dealt with.

I do have a warning, or perhaps caution is a better word, prenups do require partners to talk about finances but the process can … Keep reading

Hi there,

Absent a trial (and at least 95% of all divorce cases settle without one) a deposition is often the only time the parties to a divorce testify under oath.  It is one of the most effective tools the lawyers have, both to find out what has really gone on and to discover what kind of a witness their client and the other side will be.  Any good attorney will spend time with the client preparing him for the deposition. A while ago I came across a really good description in the Missouri Divorce & Family Law Blog.

Then yesterday a buddy of mine sent me the following insane video as to what not to do at a deposition. It rates as the most incredible piece of bad lawyering I’ve ever seen.

Best,

Nancy… Keep reading

Hi there,

Discovery is the point in the process where the attorneys, using various legal tools, are able to quantify just what is going on financially, as well as with other concerns, such as custody or parenting issues.

The first financial discovery tools are the Rule 410 production and the financial statement, both of which are described in a prior post. Once those have been exchanged, the attorneys usually move on to Requests for Production of Documents (RPD) which are expansions on the Rule 410 production. If yours is a case where there are business valuation issues or a need for a forensic accountant (more on those in later posts) then those experts will chime in here with a request for the documents they will need.

At the same time as the RPD is sent out, the attorneys often will exchange Interrogatories, which are a limited series of questions to be answered under oath. Generally the lawyers also ask what are called Expert Interrogatories, where we request information from the experts and their reports so that both sides know what all of the valuations are. These experts can range from real estate appraisers, business … Keep reading

Hi there,

For most divorcing couples the legal process begins with filing what is called the complaint. This is a form (PDF) which sets out the basic information the Court and the other side need. In addition to the obvious, it asks where you last lived together as this tells the court whether or not you have filed in the right county and whether Massachusetts has jurisdiction.

It lists the children, asks if anyone has filed previously and also asks what are the grounds for divorce. Massachusetts is a "no fault" state, we call it "irretrievable breakdown." In practical terms this means that either a person can get a divorce without the assent of the other party and without having to prove the other party at fault. Which brings me to the fault grounds. We have a lot of choices; irretrievable breakdown (two kinds, with an agreement and without one) and fault grounds:
• Adultery
• Cruel and abusive treatment
• Utter desertion continued for one year
• Sentence of confinement in a penal institution
• Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium or other drugs
• Gross or wanton … Keep reading

Hi there,

Glad you’ve followed through to the last tip!  Read on for information to assist you in completing your search for the right attorney to handle your divorce.

Remember, and keep remembering, the purpose of the initial consultation -it is to enable you to decide if the person conversing with you is going to represent you in the divorce process. That person is going to be your guide, your advocate, your advisor, and something very close to a best friend during an incredibly stressful time in your life. There are important specifics, but the most important thing is this: at the end of the interview, do you think that this person will do his or her very best for you?  Specific questions:… Keep reading

Hi there,

We’re getting closer!  Hope these tips are helpful in your search for the right divorce lawyer.

An interview with a prospective lawyer is called a “consultation” or an “initial consultation.” Some charge a fee for this, others don’t. Don’t make the mistake of interviewing only those who offer free initial consults. Most of the best require payment for their time whether a prospective client retains them or not. Find out ahead of time if a fee will be required, and how much. If your spouse is unaware that you are talking with divorce lawyers, you might want to bring cash or a money order, rather than paying by check or credit card in a joint account.… Keep reading

Hi there,

As in most other professions, the best attorneys usually charge the highest legal fees. By “best” we mean those attorneys who obtain favorable results for their clients in most cases. They usually have many years of experience; have only one area of “concentration,” and rarely stray into other areas. This is especially true in the case of divorce lawyers. In and around Boston, Massachusetts, experienced family law practitioners will charge at least $250.00 per hour of work. Many of the best charge $500.00 or more. “Billable time” includes time spent in meetings with the client, opposing counsel, and other individuals such as expert witnesses. Time spent in research and drafting letters and pleadings is, of course, billable time. Most attorneys also bill for time spent traveling to and from court, settlement negotiations on the courthouse steps, and waiting for their cases to be called. Time spent on the telephone and the omnipresent blackberry is also billed.

Of course, not everyone needs or can afford the top shelf attorneys.… Keep reading

Hi there,

Hope you enjoyed the first tip!  Let’s continue…

The date on a lawyer’s license to practice is not necessarily an indicator of his/her experience and skill as a divorce lawyer. Unlike medicine, in most places, there are very few “specialties” in the law. In Massachusetts, passing the bar exam entitles the new lawyer to practice in any area she chooses, criminal, contract, civil litigation, real estate, and virtually everything else. A special certification is required to appear before admiralty courts, handle patent and copyright litigation, and a few other esoteric legal areas, but divorce isn’t one of them. Conversely, a relatively new attorney who served as a divorce paralegal while going to law school at night may be a terrific divorce practitioner.… Keep reading

Hi there,

After deciding to get divorced (if the decision was yours), choosing your divorce attorney may be the most important choice you will make. Divorce cases differ widely. Fact patterns are invariably unique, as are the personalities of the parties. What’s of utmost importance to you will be meaningless to some other litigants. Do you want to avoid a “messy” divorce, or do you want an attack dog to savage your soon-to-be-ex? Was the marriage a short one or was it long term? Is there a lot of money in play or are both parties of limited means? If there are minor children, is custody likely to be an issue?

Choosing the wrong attorney can have a major negative impact on the rest of your life.  Your childrens’ lives, as well as close relatives’ lives will be affected as well.

As I write this, we’re entering a new year and a new presidency, a season for new beginings.  This blog, in its beginning stages, will focus for a few weeks on the beginning of the divorce lawyer-client relationship.  The first five posts will consist of my Top 5 Tips on Picking a Divorce Lawyer.

Nancy… Keep reading