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Your Question Directly to An Attorney
How long does the typical divorce, modification, child support, paternity or other family law case take?
First, there are no “typical” cases. Every case is unique to the issues related to that case and the parties involved. The bottom line that generally determines how long a case is going to take is how many disputed issues there are and how hotly contested those issues are. In the best case scenario, most family law cases “typically” take at least four to six months from the time that the Petition or initial pleading is filed to the time the Final Judgment is entered. However, if it is a strongly disputed case that will ultimately need to go to Trial for a Judge to decide the issues, the case could easily take up to a year, possibly even longer, before the actual Trial and Final Judgment occur. The reason for this length of time is the process and procedure that needs to be followed according to the Rules of Family Law Procedure, Florida Statutes and the existing Administrative Orders that exist in most jurisdictions, and also the evidence that needs to be gathered and acquired in order to prepare a case properly for Trial.
How much is my case going to cost?
There is no way to determine exactly how much any one case is going to cost. Each case is different. The bottom line that generally determines how much each case is going to cost is how many disputed issues there are and how hotly contested those issues are. The more disputed issues there are, and the more strongly contested those issues are, the longer the case is going to take and the more that it’s going to cost. During your consultation, I can give you a rough estimate of how much your case should cost; however, unfortunately, there are no guarantees, as I cannot foresee the future. I can guarantee that we will do everything we can to keep your attorney fees and costs during your case as reasonable as possible, won’t create unnecessary litigation or create issues where none existed previously, and will do everything possible to reach an amicable resolution in your matter (if it’s possible).
What is a Retainer and Cost Deposit?
The “Retainer” is the initial money that is paid to retain my services as your Attorney. It operates like a pre-payment of a certain amount of my time that I am certain your case will at least take. I bill against the Retainer at an hourly rate, typically $200.00 per hour. A Retainer is required in all cases.
The “Cost Deposit” is monies that are paid to address costs that are incurred during a case. Generally, these include filing fees, cost of service of process, travel costs, copies, postage, and other necessary costs. Family law attorneys are not allowed to front costs on behalf of their clients, so all necessary costs incident to representation must be pre-paid by the Client. The initial Cost Deposit is typically the amount that the initial filing fees, plus any other applicable preliminary costs are estimated to be for the first month or two of the case. A Cost Deposit is required in most, but not all, cases. Other “costs” are billed as and when they are incurred. However, no substantial cost (hiring an investigator, taking a deposition, subpoenaing records, etc.) will be incurred without prior client approval and/or the cost for same being received in advance (as per the Florida Bar Rules).
Do I need an attorney or can I do it on my own?
All parties have the right to represent themselves, should they choose to. However, before you choose to represent yourself, you should familiarize yourself with the Statutes and Case Law that are pertinent to the issues in your case, as well as the Rules of Family Law Procedure and the Local Rules pertinent to your jurisdiction. No-one can give you legal advice about what you should or should not do, other than an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Depending on how complicated the issues are in your case, you should at least consult with an experienced Family Law attorney prior to attempting to represent yourself. If you are not completely comfortable with the law, process and civil procedure related to the issues in your case, it is strongly recommended that you retain an experienced Family Law attorney to guide you through the process. This is especially true when you consider the issues that are typically at stake – custody of and time with your children, your home, your retirement accounts, division of all of your assets and debts, your ongoing financial obligations to your children and/or your spouse, etc. These are major issues that can and will affect your life and the lives of your children.
An experienced Family Law attorney will already be familiar with the Statutes and Case Law that are pertinent to the issues in your case, as well as the Rules of Family Law Procedure and the Local Rules in your jurisdiction. Because in most Family Law cases, you only have one “bite at the apple”, it is very important that you know what your potential rights and options are and that the issues in your case are properly determined based on the facts and circumstances unique to your case. Otherwise, once you have given up rights or agreed to something or a Judge has made the decisions for you, there may be very little that you can do to go back and change things. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times people have consulted with me after representing themselves, wanting to know how they get back rights that they gave up (frequently that they didn’t even previously know they had), undo something that they agreed to, or present new evidence to the Judge in order to try to change final rulings that have already been made, only to be told that, unfortunately, nothing can be done to change things now. It was simply too late to change things or get back what they had lost.
My function, as your attorney, is to properly advise you on your available rights and options, and explain to you the law and procedure that needs to be followed, in order to obtain the best possible result for you. Once you understand your available rights and options, as well as the law that applies to your situation, and we have discussed what your goals are and how you would ultimately like the case to resolve, I will file the necessary paperwork to initiate your case or other necessary documents, and will do my best to achieve your desired outcome. I will also strive to keep you from making emotional decisions during the course of your case that you will later regret, as well as from actions that could ultimately harm the outcome of your case. I will be there to guide you and advise you through every step of the process.
How will I know how my money is being spent on my case?
We keep detailed billing and itemization records, down to each copy and each postage stamp, for each client during the course of their case. At any time that you would like an accounting of how your Retainer has been applied so far or how much of your Cost Deposit remains or what your current balance is (if your Retainer and Cost Deposit have been used up), all you need to do is send us an email or letter requesting a copy of your billing itemization, and one will be forwarded to you as soon as reasonably possible, usually that same business day.
What is the normal process and procedure of a Family Law case?
First, if we were the Petitioners, the Petition has to be filed and served on the other party. If the party is “easily” served, it would generally take a few days from filing to serve the other party. However, this can sometimes take several weeks or longer. Once served, they have twenty calendar days to respond to the Petition. Usually, this is done through the filing of an Answer and Counter-Petition. We would then need to respond to the Counter-Petition, which is done within fifteen days. Once these “initial” pleadings are filed, then the case enters “the discovery phase.”
The “discovery phase” is when all of the important financial documents and other relevant evidential information is exchanged between the parties so that important matters like equitable distribution of assets and liabilities, child support, and other financial matters can be properly determined. This “discovery phase” generally takes at least a month or two following the filing of the initial pleadings, if not longer. The length of time that the “discovery phase” takes can depend on how many important documents there are, how complicated the financial issues are, how forthcoming one of the party’s is with their financial documentation, and multiple other variables. Once the “discovery phase” is completed, Mediation is required. If Mediation results in a full settlement of all issues, Final Judgment can be scheduled to occur in about a month. This is the “best case” scenario and would easily take at least four to six months. However, if Mediation does not result in a full settlement of all issues, then all disputed issues must be set for Trial for determination of the matters by a Judge, which can take several additional months due to the current overload of the civil judicial system.
What is Mediation and why do I have to go to Mediation?
Mediation is required in all family law cases in nearly all jurisdictions where there are disputed issues (issues that the parties cannot agree on). Typically, this is due to an Administrative Order that exists in that jurisdiction. Mediation is an informal process where both parties sit down with their respective attorneys (or by themselves, if they are unrepresented) with a disinterested third party (the mediator) to attempt to work out their differences and reach an amicable resolution that both parties can live with. Mediation is an extremely beneficial process as, in most cases (about 85% in my experience), all, if not most, of the issues can be resolved. It is a very informal process, completely confidential, wherein, hopefully, an amicable resolution is reached that will no longer require court intervention (whether it’s on one issue, some issues or all issues).
It is always best, if at all possible, for parties to determine the fate of their own case by reaching a resolution at Mediation that they can both live with and that is in the best interest of their children. Parties can, between themselves, frequently come up with creative solutions to resolve the disputed issues in their case that a Judge would not even have the authority or power to order. A Judge is limited by what the law authorizes him or her to do. And frequently, neither party is happy with the result that the Judge reaches in determining the disputed issues in their case (because the Judge doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your family, doesn’t know your schedules or what is “normal” for your family and is, essentially, a “stranger” in a black robe making life altering decisions that will have a lasting effect on you and your family). Of course, if one person absolutely refuses to be reasonable, then the only alternative is to go to Trial or have a hearing on the issues, and let the Judge decide.
Think of the Mediation process this way – have you ever had two people that you know that had completely opposite views on something that they were fighting about? And have you ever sat down with both of them to get their point of view to determine where they were coming from? And then gone back and forth between the two in order to try to help both of them see the other person’s side and possibly come to some sort of middle ground that they could agree on? If so, you essentially worked as a mediator between the two parties. This is what occurs at Mediation.
What if I go to Mediation and nothing is resolved?
Once you go to Mediation on whatever disputed issues exist in your case, you have met the requirement to have those issues decided by a Judge, if you cannot come to an agreement with the other party. Therefore, if you cannot reach an agreement, or if you reach an agreement on some issues but not others, then the remaining disputed issues will be determined by the Judge that is assigned to the case.
What happens at Trial in a Family Law case?
At Trial, any remaining disputed issues that the parties cannot agree on are decided by the Judge, whose ruling is final. First, the Petitioner will call witnesses and introduce evidence, and then the Respondent will call witnesses and introduce evidence. Both parties will have the opportunity to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses, and only admissible evidence will be considered by the Judge. At the conclusion of both parties presenting their case to the Judge, the Judge will make a ruling based only on what has been presented at Trial. Typically, the Judge does not read the file or read any of the documents in the file prior to conducting the Trial, so it can never be assumed that the Judge is familiar with any aspect of your case. Therefore, it is very important that all pertinent evidence be presented to the Judge during the Trial so that the Judge can make a properly informed decision on the disputed issues.
Your Question Directly to An Attorney
Your Question Directly to An Attorney