Free Resources for your family law case

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Most people think “Family law” cases are divorces. The truth is that family law cases also include paternity, adoption, and domestic violence cases. There are many websites out there that provide information, but not all are helpful or accurate for your case. Here are some resources, from our firm and court websites, that can help you understand your family law case and decide whether you can represent yourself. Here is some information about the family law case process, links for you to review, and helpful definitions.

 

The process – This is a flowchart of what a typical family law case will look like.

Family Law Timeline

Links – These links provide helpful and accurate information about family law cases.

 

Definitions – This list will explain many of the terms people use when discussing family law cases.

  • Party: A party is a generic term for a person involved in a lawsuit. In your case, you are a party and the other person is also a party.
  • Summons: The document served on you along with a petition by a process server that lets you know a lawsuit has been filed.
  • Petition: This is the document filed that begins the family law case in the court system.  This document has numbered paragraphs that state allegations from the filing party’s perspective.
  • Answer: This is one type of response to the petition in the case.  In the answer the non-filing party admits, denies or states they are without knowledge as to the allegations in each numbered paragraph.
  • Motion: There are many types of motions, some examples include motions to dismiss, motion to enlarge time to file a response, etc.  A motion is a way of asking the judge to take some action in your case.  If a motion is filed, normally the judge is going to require a hearing.
  • Mediation: A meeting between you, your attorney, the other party, and their attorney.  The mediator tries to help the two parties settle the case with terms everyone agrees with.
  • Discovery: Discovery is the overall category of requests for information that take place between the parties. The different types of discovery include a Request for Production, a Request for Admissions, Interrogatories, and Depositions. Discovery is a way of getting more information from the other party. You may want to see additional bank statements or paystubs (Request for Production). You may have some additional questions for the other side (Interrogatories).  Discovery provides the responding side at least thirty (30) days to get the information to you. Discovery can sometimes take months to complete.

I have my first meeting with a bankruptcy attorney – what can I expect?

Help with your finances

This guide will help you understand what the process will be for your first meeting with a bankruptcy attorney.

  • Should I bring documents?

Even though this is an initial meeting, you should consider bringing some paperwork with you. The following is a list of documents that may help you or the attorney understand your situation better:

  1. The most recent 3 months of bank statements (for all accounts – checking, savings, money markets, etc.)
  2. The most recent credit card statement
  3. The most recent 6 months of your paystubs or other proof of income, such as social security award letter, annuity statement, or pension statement
  4. The most recent 6 months of your spouse’s paystubs or other proof (see above)
  5. The most recent 401 k statement or other similar retirement or pension account
  6. The most recent 2 years of tax returns
  7. A list of your household expenses, including cable bills, health insurance, daycare, gas, car payments
  8. A list of your assets/things you own and any supporting documents you may have (for example – deed to your home, title to the car, jewelry appraisals).
  9. Your driver’s license or other valid identification
  10. Any court papers regarding you or any lawsuit you are involved in

 

  • What are we going to talk about?

Every attorney is different, however, most attorneys will want to know some basic information about your situation. This information could include why you are deciding to file for bankruptcy, what kind of income you have, and what types of debt you have. Having the list of documents above will also help you become familiar with how much you spend on gas per month and where the electric bill payment comes from.

 

  • What does the bankruptcy process look like from start to finish?

During your first meeting, the attorney should also discuss the process of a bankruptcy. In Florida, the process may look something like this:

You meet with the attorney, the attorney provides you with a questionnaire to complete, and a list of documents to obtain. When you have completed the questionnaire and collected the documents, you will provide them all to the attorney. One the attorney has all the documents, they can begin working on drafting your paperwork. Once the paperwork is completed, you will review and sign them. Once they are signed, the attorney will file them with the court.

After your case is filed, you will be assigned a judge and a trustee who will review your case.

You will also be scheduled for a 341 Meeting of Creditors. This meeting gives the Trustee assigned to your case an opportunity to ask you questions about the documents you signed, your assets, and your debts. Once the 341 Meeting is completed, the Trustee will wait to see if there are any objections to the discharge of your debts and wait for all deadlines to pass. If there are no objections, you usually receive a discharge of all (dischargeable) debts.

 

  • What does a discharge of debtor mean?

This is what all people who file bankruptcy (called debtors) want. You want a court to tell you that you do not have to pay for those credit cards, medical bills, etc. A discharge of debtor is signed by a bankruptcy judge and is the court order you need to relieve you from the responsibility of having to pay those debts.

Remember though – not all debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy. If you owe money for student loans, to the IRS, or for child support or alimony, these debts (and others) are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

 

  • What are the fees associated with filing bankruptcy?

Most bankruptcy attorneys do not charge a fee for the initial consultation. In Tampa Bay, most bankruptcy practitioners charge anywhere from $1,200 to $1,900 per Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 cases will have attorneys’ fees range from $3,750 to $4,250. Those amounts can also increase each year per bankruptcy court guidelines or due to the complexity or challenge of your case.

There will also be a filing fee for your bankruptcy case. Currently, the filing fee for a Chapter 7 case is $335 and the filing fee for a Chapter 13 case is $310.

 

  • Can I file for bankruptcy without an attorney?

Yes. Although, I would suggest you meet with an attorney first. If you have an asset, such as a car, that has equity in it, filing for bankruptcy without an attorney could mean the car being liquidated by the Trustee and taken away from you. If you are trying to save a home from foreclosure, an experienced bankruptcy attorney will be able to help you understand the process. Having an attorney handle your bankruptcy case means that lawyers get to do the lawyer stuff and you get to go to work, be a parent, etc. and not have to deal with court pleadings and papers.

The story I always tell is – hiring a lawyer for your case is like painting your home. You can do it yourself – you can go to the paint store and buy paint, the blue tape, rollers, tarp, and spend two or three weekends outside painting your house. In August, in Florida, that is not fun. But chances are, you could do a good job painting your own house. On the other hand, you could hire someone to paint your house – a professional would handle everything and they would show up at your house and paint, while you sat inside and drank lemonade in the air conditioning. Of course, that comes at a cost. But when the goal is to discharge thousands of dollars of debt, isn’t it worth it to spend the money on a professional?

 

Where can I find more information about the bankruptcy process?

Florida District Bankruptcy Courts provide information regarding bankruptcy basics, videos, and even resources for emotional support. If you are considering filing without an attorney, you should review the court’s resources. http://www.flmb.uscourts.gov/filing_without_attorney/

5 myths about divorce exposed

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Divorce is expensive

Not true. Fighting and litigation are expensive. Filing paperwork and getting the divorce finalized are not expensive. As long as you and your spouse are able to resolve situations on your own, costs can be manageable. For example, if you and your spouse can decide on a parenting plan/timesharing schedule for your children on your own or through the use of a mediator, you can keep your costs down. If attorneys have to bring that matter before a judge for a decision, you could see a bill for anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 for that one issue. The more issues that have to go before a judge for a decision, the more expensive the divorce becomes. Consider using a mediator to help you resolve matters and find attorneys who can help settle matters between the spouses instead of in front of a judge.

 

There is no such thing as a friendly divorce.

Not true! A friendly divorce in current times could mean an uncontested divorce or a collaborative divorce. An uncontested divorce is a divorce that is filed where the spouses agree on everything. Many times in an uncontested divorce, the parties use lawyers to help them draft and word their marital settlement agreement. A collaborative divorce is where the spouses decide to go through the divorce process in a friendly manner. The spouses work with their attorneys, a financial person (usually a CPA), and a counselor to resolve all issues in a series of meetings before filing of the case. Both uncontested and collaborative divorces are friendly, keep costs down, and allow spouses to move forward quickly and amicably with their own, now separate lives.

 

My spouse cheated. This will be a slam dunk for my divorce case.

Usually not. Courts view divorce as the dissolution of an economic unit, and in many states, bad conduct during the marriage, such as cheating, is not used to calculate the equitable distribution of your assets and debts. Florida is a no-fault state. If the other spouse is not contesting (or fighting) the divorce, the court will not consider the issue at all. In Florida, judges may consider adultery when determining the amount of alimony, but judges are not required to consider adultery. Some spouses may be tempted to use adultery as proof of bad behavior from the other spouse, but most lawyers advise against it because in the end it may not do much good.

 

I get half of everything in equitable distribution.

Not exactly. Equitable Distribution is the term that the Court uses to split up your assets and your liabilities. While there is this idea that everything should be split 50/50, that is not always the case. Many factors play into exactly how everything gets split up. The financial situation of each spouse will play a factor. The careers and work history of each spouse will also play a factor. You should consider meeting with a lawyer to understand how your situation and the factors may affect what you receive in the divorce.

 

I have to get divorced in the state where I got married.

No. Most states require you to be a resident in order to get divorced. That means that the state of Nevada cannot grant you a divorce for your quickie marriage in Las Vegas. In the state of Florida, you must be a resident for at least six (6) months prior to the date of filing for divorce in order to be divorced in Florida. Check the laws of your state for any residency requirements for getting divorced.

Alfred Angelo’s Bankruptcy – Brides become creditors

You may have heard about the Alfred Angelo Bankruptcy filing, leaving many brides without their wedding dresses. But did you know that brides could also be creditors in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case? As a potential creditor, brides may be required to file paperwork, comply with strict deadlines, and may receive a portion of proceeds or even their wedding dresses. Brides should consult with a bankruptcy attorney to understand their rights as creditors in this case.

Are you really from St. Petersburg?

 

That is the question asked most often when I tell people I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. The answer is “yes”. I was born at Bayfront Hospital, attended kindergarten through high school here (Lakewood), and my husband and I now reside in St. Petersburg. I am lucky to practice law in my hometown.

I hope this blog will inspire, engage, and empower you about the law and the court system as it relates to bankruptcy, family law, and small business matters. I hope to inspire you with my love of motivational quotes and funny videos. I hope to engage you with lists and stories that can help you in your everyday life. I hope to empower you with knowledge about bankruptcy law, family law, and small business matters, to help you make decisions for your own situation. I practice bankruptcy and family law. I also assist small businesses in everything from setting up their business to litigation if they need to sue someone or another business. But that’s now how it started…

In law school, I worked with businesses. I was an in-house contract administrator for a media company that helped connect and negotiate contracts on behalf of our artists with larger companies, such as Disney and EA Sports. I also worked with a law firm that represented businesses in litigation. I enjoyed the transactional side of the law – drafting and negotiating contracts – but I wasn’t sure that litigation in court was for me. The plan was to stick with businesses and handle their transactions.

But how rarely does our Plan “A” really work out?

  • I accidentally ended up in bankruptcy law. I worked for a foreclosure defense firm helping homeowners save their homes. Once we learned how valuable a tool bankruptcy was for homeowners, I started practicing. Since the start, I enjoy bankruptcy court, the friendliness of other attorneys, and the structure of federal court.
  • I started practicing family law because a family friend needed some assistance with her divorce case. The judges in family law and the other attorneys were pleasant and I achieved a good outcome for that case. Family law cases are difficult – they are an emotional time for everyone involved. It takes a strong attorney and a good understanding of the law to properly advise a client as to their case. I love being able to support people through the most difficult legal process of their lives and help them come out of it a better and stronger person.
  • But I kept true to my roots. I still represent those small businesses and now I get to help businesses in the community I grew up in. In college, I was a cheerleader. As an attorney, I helped a woman (also a former cheerleader) create a cheerleading program for lower income individuals. I am a huge animal lover and have three rescue dogs of my own. As an attorney, I helped another woman created a non-profit organization to conduct character building programs for abused children by using rescue animals to teach children about compassion, kindness, and renewed self-esteem.

I hope to connect with you, share pictures of my adorable rescue dogs, discuss the law, and make today a little more cheerful than yesterday.