FAQ: What Items Should I Bring to My First Appointment With My Attorney?

gorham maine lawyerMany people are understandably nervous or are unsure what to expect the first time that they meet with a family lawyer. In my practice, I provide a free initial consultation by telephone (for cases arising out of Cumberland and York counties), we discuss your situation, I provide an overview of the process, we discuss fees and court costs, and then I send you a follow-up letter of engagement and fee agreement.

After a client decides to hire me, we schedule our first attorney-client meeting and get down to work! I always request that clients try to bring certain documents to our first meeting.

Often times, when clients hire an attorney, they are either interested in starting a new action (whether an initial divorce, or a post-judgment motion), or, they have been served with papers. Sometimes, though, clients will hire counsel to thoroughly review their financial information so they can better decide how to proceed. (Is it the right time to file a modification? What will happen if I file for divorce now, what will my retirement possibly look like? Will I receive spousal support? Will I have to pay spousal support? What will I pay or receive for child support? )

Some attorneys may wait to request information from clients upfront, but the following items will be needed anyways and it is best to start gathering the information as soon as possible. (For example, what if your spouse changes your bank account password?)

In the case of an initial divorce, I normally request that clients bring the following documents (or at least start compiling them) to our first meeting:

  • Your end of year paystub for the past calendar year, and your last three paystubs.
  • Your end of year W2 for the past calendar year.
  • Your tax return for at least the past calendar year.
  • The last twelve months of bank statements from any accounts that you have joint or sole access to.
  • Statements of retirement accounts, pensions, expected social security benefits, etc.
  • Any other documents that you feel are relevant

In addition, I also ask clients to complete a divorce (or other family matter) questionnaire prior to our first meeting that I can review ahead of time. I find that getting all of this information upfront provides for a productive first meeting which hopefully saves in attorneys fees and saves my clients a lot of time and energy.

Family law cases are unfortunately inherently stressful life events to navigate. However, your first meeting with your attorney should not serve to create yet another source of stress. After all, you are hiring counsel to help take a burden off your shoulders and advise you how to best proceed through the family court process. You should leave your first meeting with your attorney knowing what to expect moving forward, and you should hopefully start feeling a sense of relief.

In closing, if you have any questions about what to bring to your first attorney-client meeting, you should never hesitate to ask your attorney!

FAQ: How Much Will I Receive for Child Support? (Or, How Much Will I Pay for Child Support in Maine?)

Flat Fee Divorces in MaineAside from residency and visitation, one of the biggest concerns for parents going through a divorce, judicial separation, or parental rights and responsibilities action is how much they will either receive or pay in child support. As with every legal question, the answer is always: it depends on the facts of your case, which includes the incomes and obligations of both parties. While there are child support guideline amounts, there is no “average amount” of child support in Maine. During case consultations with  potential clients, I can usually provide a ballpark estimate of child support amounts. If you wonder how much you will have to pay for child support in Maine, or how much you’ll receive, or if you think you may already be paying too much or not receiving enough and wish to modify, you should consult with a Maine family law attorney to discuss your situation.

What is child support?

As a matter of public policy, courts prefer that children have a relatively similar lifestyle at both of their homes. Child support is intended to be used for clothing, food, housing expenses, entertainment, health expenses, etc. In order to create some certainty and uniformity in child support cases, Maine uses child support guideline tables. (Last Updated January 2017). If you take a look at the table, you can see what child support presumptive amounts are based upon the parent’s combined incomes and the age and number of the children. For example, if parents have a combined income of $100,000 a year, the guidelines suggest that it costs $243 per week to support an only child. (This amount would not include daycare costs, extraordinary health insurance costs, etc.) Sometimes, people panic when looking at those numbers, but does it mean that a non-primary or higher earning parent will be ordered to pay $243 per week on guidelines alone? No. This number is the amount that both parents would share for support. Final numbers would be based upon a percentage of their incomes and numerous other factors.

In family law cases, we generally look at three different places in order to calculate guideline child support – the guidelines, a child support worksheet, and if applicable, a supplemental worksheet. Finally, if support guidelines can be deviated from (either up or down), the calculations become even more complex. (I’ll blog on that topic another day.)

After we look at the guidelines table to determine the combined income of both parents and then figure out the guideline number of weekly support per child, we then use either one or two child support worksheets. If the children do not equally reside with both parents (“50/50”), then we use the standard child support worksheet : (Last updated by the court on 8/16.). If the child or children lives equally with both parents, then we use a second supplemental worksheet: (Last updated by the court on 8/16). *Word of caution, while both forms provide room for error, the supplemental worksheet can be particularly confusing.

Child Support Examples

I cannot stress enough how unique each situation is. There are multiple factors to consider and no two child support cases are the same. Here are some examples: (If your incomes happen to be the same as these scenarios, you must not rely on these calculations as many other factors could increase or decrease the support in your case.)

Example 1. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with both parents earning $50,000 a year.

In this scenario, assuming that a twelve year-old child and an eight year-old child live most of the time with the primary care provider, and the non-primary care provider pays health insurance costs of $50 per week and no daycare or other extraordinary medical expenses are involved, the primary care provider in this situation would be eligible to receive a guideline support amount of $148.00 a week. This figure may surprise some as both of the incomes are the same. However, the primary care provider would still receive support in this scenario.

Example 2. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with one parent (non-primary) earning $75,000 a year, and one parent (primary) earning $25,000 a year.

In a nearly identical scenario as the one above, but assuming that the primary care provider earns $25,000 a year, and the non-primary care provider earns $75,000 a year, the non-primary care parent and higher earner would pay $247 a week. (This includes the non-primary parent getting credit for paying health insurance premiums.)

Example 3. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with one parent (primary) earning $25,000 a year and one parent (non-primary) earning $ 75,000 a year, with the non -primary parent having existing obligations in another family matter case.

If the primary care provider earns $25,000 a year and the non-primary care provider earns $75,000 a year and pays $50/week for health insurance premiums, but also has a court order for $500.00 a month spousal support (to a former spouse other than the primary parent) and an order to already pay $200 per week for a child outside this scenario, than the new obligation for the non-primary care provider for the two children in this scenario would be $232 a week.

Example 4. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with both parents sharing “50/50” residency, and both earning $50,000 a year, with one parent paying $50/week in health insurance premiums. 

In this scenario, the parties would not be paying or receiving any support. (Well, the $50.00 could technically be split by both parties, but that is likely and hopefully a scenario where both parties would agree how to pay the premium.)

Example 5. Combined Income of $100,000 a year;  with both parents sharing “50/50” residency, with one parent earning $25,000 a year and a higher earning parent earning $75,000 a year who also pays $50/week in health insurance premiums.

In this scenario, the higher earning parent’s obligation to the lower earning parent would still be $247 a week (as it was in one of the earlier scenarios.) This is due to the disparities in income.  Substantially equal care does not always equal out to paying no child support or lowering child support obligations.

 * * * *

FAQ: How Much Does It Cost to Get A Divorce In Maine? Six Factors to Consider

The answer to this question is: it depends. The only way to know how much your divorce will cost is if you can enter into a flat rate fee agreement with your attorney. However, flat rate contested divorces are not possible when issues are in dispute (such as property division, debt and asset allocation, spousal support, child visitation, child support, etc.)

In short, divorces and legal services in general will cost you thousands of dollars. An uncontested divorce will cost you considerably less. If you litigate your case all the way to trial, I guarantee that you’ll be spending a significant amount in fees. When possible, if you can reach a reasonable settlement agreement, you will usually save on fees.

In general, the more time and work involved in a case, the more client meetings, the more phone calls and e-mails, the more court appearances, the more property issues, the more you will have to spend.

There are also other factors such as:

Who is your attorney?

Your geographic area, city/town, law office or law firm, and the level of your attorney’s experience will affect hourly rates. A small law office will generally not charge as much as a law firm, because the overhead and operating costs are significantly less. In Cumberland County, your divorce will likely cost more than a divorce in Aroostook County. Inquire about your attorney’s hourly rates. Inquire how they bill their time. (Do they charge for travel to and from the court house? Do they charge you mileage and tolls in addition to their hourly rates?)

Who is your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s attorney? (Or do they have one?)

The concern when litigating any matter is always – who is on the other side? What is the practice style and/or personalities of the parties involved? Does your spouse have a lawyer and if so, who is it? Or, is your spouse representing themselves (and are they totally unreasonable)? Dealing with an unrepresented party can sometimes bring a host of challenges, but usually divorces proceed more efficiently and smoothly when both parties are represented by counsel. On the other hand, some attorneys have high case volumes and this can create delays in litigation and sometimes unfortunately increase fees for all parties. Some attorneys do not spend as much time counseling clients in setting realistic expectations, and this might delay settlement. For example, if you’re trying in good faith to settle with a spouse who doesn’t understand that XYZ will likely be the outcome in front of a judge anyways and it’d therefore make sense to settle, then you may have an uphill battle.

What are the issues in dispute?

Generally speaking, the higher value of item (or items) in dispute, the longer your case may take, thereby increasing your attorneys fees. Parties oftentimes, for example, don’t waste time arguing over furniture because the value just isn’t there. Spousal support awards can sometimes be lucrative for parties to litigate, if the other party is being unreasonable in reaching a settlement. Property division and marital home equity can sometimes remain in dispute after receiving different appraisals, and a trial before a judge may be needed to make an ultimate finding. In short, the more issues contested in your divorce, the longer – and therefore more expensive – your divorce will be.

Are you willing to settle?

When possible, a settlement agreement (which is very common in family law cases) saves all parties not only financial costs, but emotional costs. Sometimes, a day or two long trial is simply not worth it. If you’re willing to settle, and the other party is being equally (or almost as equally) reasonable as you, you oftentimes can finalize your divorce in a much shorter time period and move forward.

Are you organized?

I ask clients for a lot of information and documentation prior to filing their divorce, and during the divorce process. The faster you can provide your attorney with all information requested, the more you will save on fees. If your attorney has to constantly check-in and request information from you, you can be sure that they will bill you for that time spent.

Do you have realistic goals and expectations?

My job is to help my clients reach their goals while being cognizant of the limits of Maine law and their rights under Maine law. I cannot stress how important it is for clients to have realistic goals and expectations when they hire an attorney. It is very unlikely, for example, that a parent will get complete “custody” of their child. Or, that you’ll get an amount of spousal support that would result in your soon-to-be ex-spouse having a household income even lower than your new household. Sometimes, cases do need to be litigated all the way to a trial. Sometimes, negotiations between attorneys is enough, and sometimes, the help of an experienced family law mediator can help you resolve your case. When you hire an attorney, make sure that you share your hopes, goals, and expectations upfront. Good, experienced attorneys set realistic expectations and work with clients to set realistic goals.

 

FAQ: Can I Get A Flat-Rate Fee Divorce in Maine?

One question I am frequently asked is whether I can offer flat-rate fee family law services. In some situations, I am able to offer clients flat rates. In cases where parties do not have an agreement on issues, I cannot offer flat fees and would require an initial retainer being paid prior to representing you. I then bill out of those retainers at my very reasonable hourly rate. With respect to fees for Wills and Estate Planning, I almost always can quote parties a flat rate.

In family law matters, it is important to note that I am only able to represent one party; my client. In an uncontested divorce, my client is the person who reaches out to me, says they want to hire me, and signs a letter of representation agreement with me. Even in the event of an “uncontested divorce” where both spouses are in agreement, I can only represent one party. Your spouse would then have the opportunity to review any agreement with his or her own attorney.

  1. Uncontested Divorces or Judicial Separation 

If you and your soon-to-be ex spouse have an agreement on all issues in your divorce, then I will likely be able to quote you a very affordable flat-rate fee to file your case and represent you at the final court appearance to place your agreement on the record. The flat rate will depend on the property involved, and whether there are minor children, etc.

     2. Review of Divorce Settlement Agreements or Pre-Marital or Post-Marital Agreements

If your spouse has already hired their own attorney to prepare a settlement agreement (or a pre-marital or post-marital agreement), I can review with you (prior to signing!) to ensure the terms are in your best interest, and are fair and equitable under Maine Law. The flat-rate amount will depend on the property involved, and whether there are minor children, etc.

    3. Drafting of Divorce Settlement Agreements or Pre-Marital or Post-Marital Agreements

Perhaps you’ve already filed your initial divorce paperwork and have reached a full agreement with your spouse that needs to be reduced to writing for the court’s approval. I can draft your settlement agreement for a flat rate.

   4. Review or Preparation of Initial Family Matter Filing Documents 

If you have already drafted your initial family matter paperwork, I can offer you a flat rate fee to review the paperwork with you prior to filing and meet in my office to discuss how to proceed.

   5. Drafting of Divorce Settlement Agreements or Pre-Marital or Post-Marital Agreements

If you are getting married and require a pre-marital agreement or a “pre-nup” agreement to protect your assets in the event of a divorce, I can usually offer flat rate representation. If you are already married and you and your spouse have decided to enter into a post-marital agreement, I can also offer this service for a flat rate.

In short, flat rate attorneys fees are not always possible in family law matters. However, whenever possible, I’m happy to offer flat rates to clients.

 

Welcome to Dorion Law Office’s Family Law Blog

Welcome to my new Maine Family Law blog. Here, you will find my articles on issues and topics surrounding current family law matters in Maine. I will also try and answer frequently asked questions that I constantly come across in my practice.

Information on this site should not be construed as legal advice. The practice of law is fact specific, and no two situations are the same. General legal information may or may not be applicable to your personal situation. If you require legal assistance in the greater Portland area and have questions about whether you should hire an attorney, please feel free to schedule a free case consultation with me.

Best regards,

Kristen R. Dorion, Esq.