Get the Most From Your Initial Consultation

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For prospective family law clients who are interested in retaining my services, usually the first step is for me to meet at my office for an initial consultation.  Long distance clients have the option of a telephone consultation. Occasionally I use Skype but frankly I’m not fond of using it for this purpose.

At the consultation we will discuss your current goals and situation, California family law concepts, your rights, court procedure and any trouble spots I might see.  Of course I will also try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.  It is not a stretch to call this a strategy session.  Beyond the specific issues of your case, as the client, you may also wish to use this opportunity to get acquainted, discuss my background, training and experience, my fees and billing policies, what expenses may be involved in the matte and how we will be communicating during the case (e.g. personally in the office, by phone, by e-mail or by writing).

From my perspective the consultation gives me an opportunity to evaluate your case, assess whether or not I am qualified or well suited to handle your case, and determine if there some factor exists that would prevent me from working with you (such as a conflict of interest).  In a nutshell, I am trying to make sure that we are “good fit” to work together.

Family law consultations usually take about an hour.  However, sometimes it is necessary to meet longer, especially if your case has complex facts or it is an existing case with many documents in the file to review.  If your session goes longer than an hour, I will tell you when time is up and usually give you the option to keep going (also at the reduced hourly rate).  Sometimes this is not possible if I have other appointments scheduled.

I normally charge $100 for a family law consultation.  This is a steeply discounted rate as my customary hourly fee is presently $300.  I accept cash, credit cards, debit cards and (local) checks.  I normally meet with prospective clients in the afternoon or early evening and I’ll try to work around your work schedule if possible.

Here’s some tips on what to bring in order to get the most out of our meeting:<p>

  • Create a list of goals you would like to achieve in your case.
  • Consider making a time-line that shows major events related to the case.
  • Consider making a list of questions you would like to ask me about.  It’s easy to forget them if you rely on your memory.
  • Consider what your budget is to litigate the case – be realistic and be prepared to talk about it.
  • Bring a recent paycheck stub and copy of last year’s taxes.
  • For existing cases with a court file, bring a copy of the file to date.  All pleadings are potentially important, but court orders, mediation reports and motions are essential for me to have a good understanding of your case and give you the best possible advice.  You can send me PDF copies in e-mail if you prefer, but I will not read them in advance of the consultation.
  • For divorce cases, consider bringing a list of your major assets and debts.
  • For cases with custody and visitation issues, think about what your “dream” parenting plan would be.  Try to be as specific as possible and include holidays and vacations.
  • Lastly, bring along any other supporting documents that you think will help me to understand the case better

If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation, please send me an e-mail or telephone.  I am sure you will the find this strategy session very helpful and informative!  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

Photo credit by John-Morgan at Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Keeping it Civil … book review

Keeping it Civil: The Case of the Pre-nup and Porsche & Other True Accounts From the Files of a Family Lawyer

Earlier this summer I read this book by Margaret Klaw despite the unwieldy title.  Klaw is a family law attorney in Philadelphia.  She works at Berner Klaw & Watson, a small boutique law firm where she was a founding partner.  The firm limits itself to family law matters and is comprised of all women.  In her promo trailer, she says she hopes to “pull back the curtain of the headlines and reveal the emotional complexities of family law issues through the real stories of the people [she represents].”

I knew nothing about Klaw before reading this book and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The first part of the title sounded quite lawyerly, almost like it was cribbed from a continuing education seminar, especially the ones where a judge is the presenter.  But the second part of the title made it sound like old TV episode of Matlock promising mystery, drama and intrigue.  My modest hope is that Keeping it Civil would contain some interesting “war stories” from the family law courthouse that I could relate it.  Maybe I would learn something too.

As it turns out, Klaw’s book succeeded on this level.  I did relate to it.  If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be a family law lawyer, this is probably book I’ve seen on the topic to date.  Just keep in mind Klaw no doubt “cherry picked” her cases.  Although I find that nearly all my cases have some interesting aspects, the vast majority are much more routine than the ones she features in the book.  And, at times, family law issues can be very dry, at least for me.  For instance, I don’t get excited delving into the technical details of a QDRO.

Keeping it Civil was very entertaining, informative and thought provoking at the same time.  Klaw split the chapters between interesting family law topics and a detailed account of a high conflict custody trial presented in installments.  The format was a little jarring because the “hot topic” chapters (and clients) were completely unrelated to the chapters about the trial.  However, this was unavoidable unless Klaw split the material into two distinct books (a a reasonable alternative in my view).  Klaw’s writing is clear and not stuffy like some lawyers tend to be.  I believe Keeping it Civil is accessible both to other lawyers and the ordinary reader.  The author has an opinion on each topic but I didn’t feel she was overbearing or preachy.  It probably helps that I agreed with her most of the time.  Your mileage by vary in this regard.  The book is 272 pages and it went quick for me.  If you are a legal junkie and getting a behind the scenes look at a family law trial sounds fascinating, Keeping it Civil might even be a page turner for you!

Buy Keeping it Civil at Amazon here.  It’s available currently on Kindle and hardback.

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Ms. Klaw has a blog called “Family Law Unraveled” here.  Recently she only posts occasionally.

August is Child Support Awareness Month

I’m a little late on this, but August is Child Support Awareness Month.  This program is now celebrated across the nation including California.  The slogan this year is “Your Support Shapes Their Future” – a reminder of the crucial role support plays in the development of our precious children. There’s a long list of related events, but most of them are in Southern California.  These include information fairs, workshops, license release programs and more.

I always encourage my clients to seek child support if they are entitled to it.  Children are expensive and I am a strong believer that both parents should contribute toward their living expenses.  Don’t be embarrassed or shy to ask for it.  And don’t let the other parent stop you by using threats either (it’s more common than you think).

We can often combine an initial request (or modification) for child support with a custody and visitation motion to save attorney’s fees and minimize court hassle.  If you are unsure whether or not you would eligible, have questions about the process or curious how much you are likely to receive, we can talk about it and run the numbers easily at a consultation.  You might be surprised how much it can be!

August is Child Support Awarenesd Month

New Facts & Figures About Divorce

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Here’s some new facts and figures about divorce gleaned from a new article by Dee Lee, a Certified Financial Planner. 

  • Each year in the USA, over 2 million people get married.  Nearly 50% of them will end in a Divorce.
  • 2nd marriages do not fare well.  Apparently experience isn’t much help in this area.  67% will end in a divorce.  For 3rd marriages, it gets even worse: 74% of them wind up in Splitsville.
  • The average age of first marriages that call it quits is 30.
  • New studies (which unfortunately are not cited in the article) indicate that children suffer much more trauma than originally thought after a divorce.  Yikes!
  • Family law is a $28 billion dollar industry each year.  Divorce lawyers in Massachusetts charge an average of $350 an hour.  This is in the same ballpark as Sacramento.  The “cottage industry” includes more than just attorneys: mediators, therapists, CPAs, court personnel, process servers, visitation supervisors, appraisers, authors, book publishers and more.
  • The cost of a divorce is about $20,000.  I recall reading years ago some ABA statistics that the average party in a divorce spends about $10,000 so this would be in agreement.  If a divorce is in your future, it is important to be realistic about the costs and plan for it.

If you have recently been through a divorce, how much was your attorney and what was the total bill? Were you satisfied or did you feel ripped off?  As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Source and further reading:  CBS Boston.  Photo credit by umjanedoan at Flickr (CC by 2.0).

One Week Left to Get 25% Off!

This is one week left to take advantage of the “Olympic Special” offer!  Right now, new family law clients who retain my services can receive 25% off my normal hourly rates.  The offer ends next Sunday at the close of the Olympic ceremonies.  Don’t miss your opportunity to save big, perhaps even $1000 or more!  Family law matters include divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, modifications, step-parent adoptions and more.

To set up a consultation, please contact me right away.  The fastest method is usually e-mail.  My e-mail address is mwcrosson@gmail.com.  I can also be reached at (916)973-8288.

Hello world Redux! AKA Mike’s Legal Bytes has risen from the ashes!

Welcome to my new domain (michaelcrossonlaw.com)!  I purchased it a long time ago but never had the opportunity to do anything with it until now.

I moved my (very old) blog from Xanga here and plan to resume posting on a regular basis.  I imagine many of you may not even know what Xanga is, but 10-15 years ago it was a fun and active blogging community.  Sadly, its popularity pretty much died like other once great sites such as Myspace, Hotbot and AltaVista (remember those?).

This new website and blog is a DYI web design project I hope to have fun with.  My “serious” website is located at rivercityattorney.com.  If you are a prospective client, please visit it for all the details about my law office.  It looks professional and is not “under construction.”  =)

Until next time …

Prenups are Suddenly Hot

Hello Readers!

Way too much time as passed since my last update here.  It’s hard to believe that October is upon us and 2011 is already 3/4 over.  Jack in the Box is already offering “Holiday Shakes” and Walmart has Christmas decorations out!

A POLL OF 200 Family Law attorneys in the U.K revealed that women are increasingly seeking legal advice to inquire about or instigate prenuptial agreements.  Although men still show the greatest interest in prenuptial agreements by a wide margin, women now account for 21% of all requests or inquiries.  The lawyers polled also noted that prenuptial clients are getting younger.  Celebrity culture awareness and greater social acceptance are two explanations for these trends.  Read more here.

SPEAKING OF PRENUPS, the Associated Press reports that a bill in currently pending in Mexico City that would make prenuptial agreements mandatory! If it passes, the bill would require couples to estimate how long they believe the marriage will last and spell out in advance how child custody and visitation will be handled in the event of a divorce. 40 out of every 100 mariages in Mexico City current end in divorce.  In a city of 8.9 million people, that creates a very large family law docket.  The mandatory prenup bill is seen as a potential solution to the “torturous proceedings” that plague the current system.  According to the article, the current system is so dysfunctional, many Mexican citizens just choose to skip it and begin new families.  Technically, this creates a bigamous marriage situation and lots of problems down the road.  The Catholic church is strongly opposed to this legislation.  Full article here.

Sacramento Federal Courthouse (including Bankruptcy Court)

HOT TIP FOR people in the Sacramento area representing themselves in bankruptcy.  A few months ago the Sacramento branch of the Eastern District of California Bankruptcy Court started a “Bankruptcy Assistance Desk” to answer questions about bankruptcy.  The desk is staffed every Friday morning from 9:00 a.m. to noon by volunteer attorneys and help is provided on a first come, first serve basis.  It is located on the 6th floor in room 6-100.  Both debtors and creditors without attorneys are welcome.  I am on the volunteer attorney panel, so you might even see me there once in awhile!

MANY SACRAMENTO AREA residents are already familiar with the invaluable services WEAVE provides for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  On Thursday, October 13th WEAVE, in conjunction with Methodist Hospital of Sacramento will celebrate the grand opening of a brand new Wellness Center in South Sacramento.  According to WEAVE, the Wellness Center will provide “comprehensive health and social support services under one roof.”  The celebration will be from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM with a brief program at 5:45.  Appetizers and refreshments will be served.  The address is 7600 Hospital Drive, Sacramento, CA 95823.  The deadline to RSVP was September 30th, but perhaps space is still available.  Contact Tiffany Kelly via e-mail to inquire (tkelly@weaveinc.org).

IN CASE YOU didn’t know, the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse now offers free Wi-Fi in the public waiting areas.  This makes it somewhat more tolerable when waiting hours to file papers now.  I have tried the service on my laptop several times now and it seems to work quite well.  My only complaint is that it seems to require users to “log in” and agree to the terms of service page too frequently.

As usual, I am currently accepting new clients who reside in the greater Sacramento area in family law and bankruptcy matters.  Please contact me to set up an low cost initial consultation. The easiest and fastest way to reach me is by e-mail.  My e-mail address is mwcrosson at gmail dot com.  I normally meet with prospective clients in the afternoon or early evening and I’ll try to accommodate your work or school schedule.

Until next time …

— Michael W. Crosson

Gray Divorces on the Rise

This past Sunday the Sac Bee had a interesting article about the growing “gray divorce” phenomena, where married couples split after twenty or more years of marriage.  A recent high profile example of this trend was the surprising breakup of Al and Tipper Gore, high school sweethearts who spent spending more than forty years together.

Overall, divorce rates are declining for those born in the early 1960’s and later.  The national divorce rate has dropped from a peak of 5.3 per 1,000 people in 1981 to 3.5 today, matching the rate in 1970.  A major exception to this trend are old baby boomers.  According to the Census Bureau, in 2008 one-forth of all new divorces involved couples that were married at least twenty years.  In addition, in 2008 about fifty percent of all divorced people were members of the baby boomer generation.  A study by sociologist Andrew Cherlin found that marriages of 40 years or more account for 4% of all divorces while marriages of 30-39 years now constitute 8% of all filers.

Older people often get divorced for the same reasons as younger folks.  Often couples simply grow apart as they age and in different directions.  Especially after their children are grown and no longer living at home, “empty nest” married couples sometimes find they no longer have many shared interests, goals or values.  Sometimes older couples split due to infidelity or abuse.  Experts have identified two additional factors that are also fueling the gray divorce trend.  First, life expectancy is much higher.  In prior generations, by the time the children were grown, a couple in their sixties may have felt they were in the sunset of their years.  Now, sixty is the “new forty”.  Many boomers can expect to live productive lives well into their 80’s.  There’s a feeling of “What now?” among empty nesters and many decide the path to greater fulfillment means starting an entirely new chapter in their lives.  Second, overall, there is greater acceptance of divorce in society.

Of course, the main issues that older couples face in a divorce action are different than younger people.  When younger couples split, the primary focus is often on child custody, visitation and support.  Frequently their assets are minimal although their debts can be substantial.  In contrast, with a “gray divorce” the emphasis is usually on property division and spousal support.  Older couples with long term marriages frequently have acquired homes and have substantial savings, investments and retirement benefits.  Some couples will have the added complication of a business.  Often these assets are deemed 100% community property, meaning that husband and wife are entitled to equal shares upon division.  However, that principle is deceptively simple.  In reality, careful attention must be paid to the valuation of these assets.  Husband and wife often disagree on the value of assets and sometimes the characterization of property, that is, whether is community, separate or a mixed asset.  To resolve these issues, it is often necessary to obtain professional assistance from experts such as appraisers, forensic accountants and pension benefit specialists or actuaries.  The division of retirement benefits can be particularly thorny, and often a specialized document (and court order) will be required called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

If you are considering a divorce, please feel free to contact me for a initial consultation (e-mail is best).  We will meet in my office and discuss your goals, issues in your case and how general divorce concepts apply to them, any trouble spots I might see, and how the court procedure works.  In addition, I’ll try to answer any questions that you have.  There is no obligation and the initial meeting is discounted to $100 for up to an hour.  I am confident you will find the consultation very helpful and informative.  And remember, the earlier in the process you contact me the better.  In fact, the best time to consult is me is before any paperwork has been filed!

— Michael

P.S. – Andrew Cherlin recently published a book that delves into recent U.S. marital trends in great detail.  It’s called The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America TodayGiven the relative instability of marriages, the data suggests some surprising application to child custody disputes.    

Photo Credit: “Waiting for God” by *martin* on Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution Generic).

Where do men go after a divorce? Survey says …!

I saw this (100 person) survey on Family Feud this morning:

Q:  A man goes on a honeymoon after his wedding, where does he goes after a divorce?

The top seven answers were listed on the board.

  1. bar or strip club
  2. las vegas or vacation destination
  3. to another women
  4. court
  5. golf course
  6. friends
  7. home to momma (2)

Contestants tossed out these answers that were strikes: a brothel, therapy or counseling and a speed dating service.

Is anyone surprised by the survey results?  If you are a divorced guy, where did you go after your divorce?  I wonder what women do?  I don’t imagine their top destination is a bar or strip club.

— Michael

P.S. I believe this show originally aired on 05.19.10.  A transcript of the episode can be found here.

Bankruptcy Trends and the New Shadow Economy

Personal bankruptcy filings in the US continue to rise in 2010.  Some experts believe we are on pace to exceed 1.7 million filings by year’s end, which is close to the all time record of about two million filings in 2005 before the Bankruptcy Reform Act took effect.  The revisions to the code were intended to curb the number of filings by making the bankruptcy process more restrictive, burdensome and expensive.  At the time, powerful bank and credit card lobbies persuaded Congress to pass the changes to reduce so-called abusive filings.  Few bankruptcy attorneys and judges thought the reforms were a good idea, and now in the wake of the lingering recession and housing crisis, it seems more clear than ever the changes were “bad medicine.”

But the bankruptcy filing statistics only hint at the real depth of the problem.  Perhaps even more troubling is the growing emergence of a group of Americans who are in serious financial distress but can’t be helped by filing for bankruptcy.  This group of debtors are forced into what is known as the “shadow economy” or informal bankruptcy.  It is common now for young adults facing crushing student loan debt and a hostile, shrinking job market.  Under current bankruptcy law, student loans are very rarely discharged.

Another situation where individuals facing financial hardship fail to file for bankruptcy involves homeowners trying to hang onto their homes in the face of lower wages, declining market values and higher monthly mortgage payments.  Chapter Seven is simply not very helpful in this circumstance.  Chapter Thirteen can help homeowners catch up on mortgage arrears but does not offer a complete solution to the problem.  A complete solution would entail granting bankruptcy judges the power to modify the mortgage principle.  However, recent reform efforts in this direction have failed, even though these changes have the potential to avert the tidal wave of foreclosures that have rocked the financial sector over the past three years.

For further reading on this topic, see this recent article from USA Today, “Only a fraction of those in need file for bankruptcy.


S.O.S. — Save Our Shelter!

The Sacramento County Animal Shelter needs your support today!  Due to massive budget cuts, the shelter is desperately trying to keep it’s doors open.   

License your pets now with no late fees thru June 30th!

or DONATE TODAY!

Your donation is tax deductible and can be made online, by mail or in person.

As one of the largest shelters in California, the Sacramento County Animal Shelter cares for more than 15,000 stray, abandoned, abused and neglected animals every year, and urgently needs your help to continue providing care and services to the animals and people of our community.

You donation makes a difference!

Sacramento County Animal Care

3829 Bradshaw Road

Sacramento, CA 95827

(916) 368-7387 (PETS)

For more information on the SOS campaign, click here.

__________________

— Michael