Getting Started.

Your family case starts with a short phone call.  We want you to get to know us, so you will be talking with an attorney right away.  During that first call we will gather some basic facts and answer your urgent questions.

We will then schedule a longer, initial consultation to review your situation in more detail.  During our first meeting, we will provide you with additional legal advice and answer your questions.  We will also discuss the available options to help you reach a resolution.

At the end of our first meeting, we want you to be comfortable with your team.  We also want you to have a clear roadmap of what to expect moving forward.  We look forward to talking with you.

Be aware every situation is unique.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.  This post should not be considered legal advice.

Should You Move Out During a Divorce?

There’s no question it can be difficult to reside with your spouse during the divorce process. It may be tempting to separate, but before you do, you may want to consider the following questions (just to name a few):

Where will your children live? Under Missouri Statute 452.310.3, “Until permitted by order of the court, neither parent shall remove any child from the jurisdiction of the court or from any parent with whom the child has primarily resided for the sixty days immediately preceding the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation.” Translation: if you move out of the home without the court’s permission, the children may need to be in the care of the parent who is still in the marital home.

What about maintenance (alimony)? The amount of maintenance is based, in large part, on a person’s need for maintenance. If you move out of the marital home and decrease your living expenses, you may inadvertently lower your standard of living. The court may then determine how much maintenance you need based on this new, lower standard of living. This may result in less maintenance than you would have received had you stayed in the marital home.

Can you afford to move out? Paying for one house with two incomes is hard enough. When you separate, there may not be enough money to maintain two homes. There is no guarantee the court will require one spouse to support the new residence of the other spouse during a pending divorce proceeding. An added benefit to staying in the marital home is that you know it will be cared for properly

Are you able to purchase a new home? If you plan to borrow money to purchase a separate home for yourself while you are still married, you will need your spouse’s consent (and there is no requirement he or she will give that consent). You should be very careful when entering into any contracts for the purchase of real estate if it depends on the cooperation of your spouse – cooperation that is certainly not guaranteed during a divorce!

There are times when it may be appropriate to separate prior to the entry of the divorce judgment. For example, where domestic violence is present or where an agreement to separate has been formalized between the parties and the court has signed off on the agreement. Before you make any big decisions, such as moving out of the marital home, it is important to consult with an attorney.

Be aware every situation is unique. If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney. This post should not be considered legal advice.

What to Expect at a Settlement Conference

The court process can be stressful at times.  This stress can be reduced if you have a good idea of what to expect during each step along the way.  A key part of any litigated family law case is a settlement conference.  Settlement conferences may also be referred to as ‘Case Management Conferences’ in St. Charles County or ‘Pre-Trial Conferences’ or ‘Status Conferences’ in St. Louis City.

A settlement conference is a meeting between the Judge and the attorneys.   Settlement conferences are required per local court rule and if one is not conducted, the case may be dismissed.  This meeting generally takes place in the Judge’s chambers, in private, and without the parties.  In some rare cases the judge will conduct a settlement conference in the courtroom.

During this meeting, the parties will sit separately, either in the courtroom or in the hallway outside of the courtroom.  Parties are generally not required to talk to each other unless they wish to.  Except in rare cases, neither party will meet the Judge at this conference.

At a settlement conference, the attorneys update the Judge on the status of settlement discussions and ask for feedback on outstanding issues.  Most judges will give some feedback with the intention of helping the parties work towards settlement. A settlement conference, by its nature, is an informal meeting designed to help move the parties toward a resolution.

A settlement conference is different from a trial or a hearing in that the Judge will not be making any decisions or entering any orders regarding a case at that time unless the parties can agree. When a party wishes for the judge to make a decision on an outstanding issue, a formal written request must generally be made and a hearing must be set on a different docket than that of the settlement conference, per local rules of the court.

Generally, unless an emergency situation arises, these formal requests would not be placed on a docket for a hearing until a settlement conference has occurred. The next steps following the conference will depend on the outcome of the discussions at the settlement conference.  These steps may include additional formal discovery (i.e. information gathering) and continued settlement negotiations.

The court, in an effort to continue to move cases forward, will most likely set a case for an additional settlement conference to review the status of the matter.  The court may also set a trial date, generally several months away (depending on the case) to allow time for settlement possibilities.  If a settlement is reached before the trial date, the judgment will be entered at a brief hearing and, generally, no trial will be necessary.

Be aware this is a general outline and every situation is unique.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.  This post should not be considered legal advice.

Communication During Litigation: Keeping Your Cool

Let’s face it – litigation can be stressful and heated.  Communication that was once routine may now prove difficult.  Yelling at your spouse when the kids come back a few minutes late (or minus some clothes you sent in the diaper bag), may offer temporary satisfaction, but before you do that, you may want to consider a few things…

First, while your intimate relationship is ending, your relationship as parents will continue for years to come.  In addition to the big events – graduations, ball games and recitals, the day-to-day parenting duties will remain.  You and your soon-to-be ex will need to work together to be sure teeth get brushed and homework gets finished in both homes.  It’s better for your kids to see a positive relationship even under negative circumstances.

Second, you should also be aware your communications could become part of the court process.  The judge may review communications (or lack thereof) and take that into account in deciding parenting time and decision making authority.

Finally, we all know that litigation can be expensive.  Heightened conflict requires more attorney involvement.

Communication during litigation should be brief, businesslike and deliberate – do not be reactive.  When you are angry, you may want to consider waiting a day to respond.  You may even want to contact your attorney.  Never assume your communications are private.  And remember, civil communication goes a long way towards keeping costs down.

Be aware every situation is unique.  This post should not be considered legal advice.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.

Length of a Divorce? It Depends

The answer to this question is a typical lawyer answer – it depends and may be impossible to say for sure. Consider these factors that may impact the length of the divorce process:

  • Conflict:  If an agreement has already been reached, it may be as simple as hiring an attorney to draft and submit the formal agreement with the court. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on basic terms, it may be necessary to involve attorneys and the court to help sort things out.
  • Complexity:  If your situation involves minimal property (think: a checking account, 2 cars and a dog), formal information gathering may be limited.  If your situation involves extensive property (think: investments, retirement, a business, real estate), more time and outside professionals may be needed to fully understand all assets and income.
  • Court Schedule:  In many ways we are at the mercy of the court.  You and your attorney can control some parts of the process, but it is important to keep in mind the court controls its calendar.  Judges have limited time to handle the thousands of cases on file.

There are a few things you can do to help keep things moving.  Consider the following:

  • Conflict: Minimize it.
  • Complexity:  Some of this may be out of your control, but do your best to gather all the requested documents and stay organized.
  • Court Schedule:  Although the court schedule is out of your control, do your best to respond to your attorney as quickly as possible.

Be aware every situation is unique.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.  This post should not be considered legal advice.

3 Quick Tips to Consider When Choosing an Attorney

The decision to hire an attorney is often made during a stressful time.  You may want to consider these 3 quick tips when meeting potential attorneys:

#1 Focus of practice:  Focusing on one area of the law allows for a deeper understanding in that particular area.  Consider this – if you needed heart surgery, would you ask for your family doctor or insist on a cardiologist?

#2 Asking about your goals:  Although an exact outcome can rarely be guaranteed, a successful attorney will ask about your goals, provide feedback on a realistic outcome and will work within the existing court system to achieve them to the extent possible.

#3 Trust your instincts:  You and your attorney will be working closely for the duration of your case.  Your attorney will need to know some of the most intimate details of your private life in order to best represent you.  When you leave the first meeting with a potential attorney, you should feel comfortable sharing these details. 

Be aware every situation is unique.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.  This post should not be considered legal advice.